TPC of San Antonio Breaks Ground, Finally

By: Steve Habel

Ground has finally been broken on the resort that will house the new 36-hole TPC of San Antonio. The project got underway after an eight-year fight involving environmentalists and developers that saw the city of San Antonio, golfers and the future of the city's two PGA Tour events stuck in the middle.

The golf resort, which will feature a 1,000-room JW Marriott Resort, will be located north of downtown San Antonio on a 2,855-acre parcel owned by Forestar Real Estate, formerly Lumbermen's Investment Corp. Marriott will develop and manage the resort and retain PGA Tour Golf Course Properties to operate the golf facilities.

The construction work - on the underground sewage system - began June 1, a mere month ahead of a city-mandated deadline. A 29-year non-annexation agreement, which allows the operator of the resort to use its own tax proceeds to fund improvements on the property, would have expired at the start of this month if construction had not started. That deadline was approved in October, when the San Antonio City Council approved a six-month extension of the construction date.

The agreement also states that project developers must meet certain construction deadlines, wage guarantees and environmental safeguards. Forestar was given 18 months to complete construction after the July 1 start date.

Throughout the eight-year fight to build the resort, opponents have expressed concerns that the golf courses would endanger San Antonio's water source since they're partly over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone and would use precious - and often dwindling - water supplies.

"On behalf of [the environmental opponents] 'Save Our Aquifer,' the day this project began was a sad day for democracy and the people of San Antonio for generations to come, especially at a time when water is precious around world," said Amy Kastely, a pro bono attorney representing the group. "San Antonio will be known as a city willing to pollute one of the world's largest aquifers merely to have a playground for the rich."

Construction on the golf courses began in late June. Greg Norman, who has combined a World Golf Hall of Fame playing career with a thriving golf course design business, will design the second course at the TPC of San Antonio, with Sergio Garcia listed as co-designer.

Named as the architect for the other TPC of San Antonio course is Pete Dye, one of America's most recognized designers in. The most recent Tournament Players Club golf course he designed, the TPC of Louisiana, was named America's fourth best new upscale public course in Golf Digest's annual listings. Dye will get input from Texas-native Bruce Lietzke.

The first golf course (the Norman-Garcia track) will be called Cibolo Canyons PGA Golf Course and open in fall 2008, with the second 18 (the Dye-Lietzke collaboration) ready for play in the fall of 2009. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and his staff, in public and private, have expressed aspirations that the San Antonio project will be another jewel in the Tour's necklace of luxury complexes strung from coast to coast. The Texas Open, contractually guaranteed to occupy the next prime schedule opening, knows its future is strongly linked with a move to the TPC layouts.

The course designed by Norman and Garcia will be carved out of the cedar, mesquite and cactus that populate the acreage. "I am excited about pooling the collective resources of Marriott, Forestar, Pete Dye and the TPC Network to create an unmatched resort destination," Norman said. "I am confident that this golf course will positively reflect on the rich history and distinct character of San Antonio."

The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa is set for a March 2010 debut. The resort will be situated in Texas Hill Country in Cibolo Canyons, where streams and towering oak and cedar trees meet the hills. The elements of hacienda-style buildings, beautiful vistas and healing waters will serve as the inspiration in bringing the resort to life. In addition to TPC golf courses, the Hill Country resort will feature 138,000 square-feet of meeting space and a spa. The TPC San Antonio will be a private resort, with play limited to guests of the JW Marriott and club members.

Last fall, the San Antonio City Council agreed to ease construction deadlines and allow the developer to use Edwards Aquifer water for golf course irrigation. In late February 2007, due to some design changes caused by the revised site of the JW Marriott Hotel, work on the first golf course was delayed.

Project backers hoped the first golf course would be opened in time to host the 2008 Valero Texas Open on the PGA Tour (now held at the Resort Course of the La Cantera Resort) and the AT&T Championship on the Champions Tour (now held at Oak Hills Country Club). With a two-year allowance for maturation needed to host a professional tournament, the PGA Tour's Texas Open might be able to move here by 2010.

Course backers believe that if San Antonio is ever going to be considered a major golf destination, the city needs have to have a PGA Tour course. Without such a venue, the region can't compete with Phoenix or Palm Springs or any other well-known golf destination.

Dan Pedrotti, president of Foresight Golf, which owns The Republic course in San Antonio, The Bandit in New Braunfels, Texas, and The Buckhorn in Comfort, Texas, welcomes the PGA. "The TPC course is nothing but good for golf in San Antonio," Pedrotti said. "It helps define San Antonio as the golf destination it already is. Only now it will be recognized on a national and even international level. We already get a lot of tourism from Mexico but I don't think we get as much credit nationally as we deserve."

Pedrotti's also confident visitors who get a glimpse of San Antonio while here on business return with their families. "There's no doubt in my mind that a lot of the tourist business we get is from people who have been here on business before," Pedrotti said. "They may come for business, but they see that San Antonio has something for everyone so they come back with the whole family on vacation."

A reported $300 million will be spent on the golf courses and hotel facilities, which have been in planning since 2001. The PGA of America withdrew from the project in summer 2004 due to protests by environmental groups opposing development on the sensitive aquifer recharge zone in northwest Bexar County, which supplies water to greater San Antonio and other areas of South and Southwest Texas. The PGA also cited its inability to come to an agreement with Lumbermen's (now Forestar) and the market's changing economic conditions.

In mid-December 2004, an environmental agreement involving Lumbermen's and a local water board was met with preliminary approval. To protect the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, the course will be underlain with the most protective system in the country. It involves combining a waterproof clay layer, a closed-loop irrigation system and water-monitoring stations to keep pollutants from entering the aquifer. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said, "The course and resort are going to be a top environmental project that you won't see anywhere in the state of Texas."

In contrast to the resort and its golf courses, the residential portion of the project has been going full speed ahead with about 500 of the 1,800 lots already sold to home developers. The Cibolo Canyons residential community will have homes ranging from the $200,000s to the million-dollar mark. An amenity center, currently under construction, will include a lazy river, lap pool, soccer field and community meeting areas.

Steve Habel is an Austin, Texas-based journalist. Since 1990, he has traveled around the globe covering news, business and sports assignments for various news bureaus, newspapers, magazines and websites. He also contributes to Business District magazine in Austin as managing editor and is the Texas football beat writer and a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated, the Austin-based magazine for University of Texas sports. Habel writes a weekly golf column for The River Cities Tribune in Marble Falls, Texas, and is a member of the Texas Golf Writers' Association.