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Hill Country (Golf) Heaven

Like a few easy bars from Willie Nelson's acoustic guitar, the iconoclastic spirit of Austin is at once comforting and vaguely revolutionary. This capital city on the Colorado River—where every third person you meet, it seems, plays in a band—embraces a tapestry of cultures and personalities, a fact celebrated by the popular bumper sticker keep austin weird. It's home to Grammy winners and Hollywood refugees, Texas statesmen and technology wizards, perpetual grad students and PGA Tour pros (after all, this was where Harvey Penick taught the game to generations, including his most famous disciples, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite). The University of Texas spreads north of the rosy pink granite state capitol, which is about the hair of a javelina taller than the nation's Capitol. The first suggestion of the Piney Woods rises beyond the cattle pastures to the east of town, and the majestic Hill Country heaves to the west. Moody stage lights and a screaming Stratocaster?Those would be the sights and sounds of the indefatigable live-music scene in the Warehouse District and along South Congress Avenue.

Where to Play

Barton Creek, Fazio Foothills ****1/2

The best of the four eighteens at Barton Creek, Austin's premier Hill Country resort, the Foothills course bears all the markings of a showpiece Tom Fazio design. The architect drew on the land's natural features—limestone caves and cliffs and the eponymous creek—and augmented them with man-made rock walls, ponds and waterfalls for aesthetic (as well as environmental) effect. The result is a collection of postcard-worthy holes such as the downhill par-three ninth, which plays over a streambed to a limestone-fringed green. A second-shot course with small, angled greens, the Foothills evolves with symphonic precision, peaking appropriately on the closing holes. The serpentine eighteenth winds past a fairway bunker pouring from a cave near the hundred-yard marker and climbs triumphantly up to the resort grounds. The hole is prettier from the green looking down, so treat yourself to a long parting glance.
Architect: Tom Fazio, 1986. Yardage: 7,125. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Greens Fees: $180-$250 (resort guests only). Contact: 8212 Barton Club Drive, Austin; 800-336-6158, www.bartoncreek.com.

Wolfdancer Golf Club ****1/2

Secluded in pineland a short drive from Austin, Wolfdancer, the centerpiece of the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, opened a year ago to well-deserved fanfare. The course navigates two distinct types of terrain: high meadows above the Colorado River and sleepy pecan groves along its steep muddy banks. The first twelve holes sweep through the open hills, exposed to a frisky Texas breeze that can mean the difference between hitting a six-iron or a sand wedge. From there, the layout plunges into a valley, where errant drives ricochet among the trees. Most of all, Wolfdancer offers something that few other courses so close to an urban area manage to achieve: serenity. The only sound you hear is the wind whishing through the pine needles and pecan leaves.
Architect: Arthur Hills, 2006. Yardage: 7,205. Par: 72. Slope: 137. Greens Fees: $89-$165. Contact: 575 Hyatt Lost Pines Road, Lost Pines; 512-308-1234, lostpines.hyatt.com.


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