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There's Golf In Them Thar Texas Hills

If so, they thought wrong. The topsoil was too thin to grow wheat, the Colorado River overran its banks in a devastating torrent every spring, the land was too rugged to run cattle and the local Comanches were not exactly delighted at the prospect of having the neighborhood overrun by newcomers. Succeeding generations of settlers--among them Lyndon Johnson's grandfather--broke their backs trying to eke out a hardscrabble existence in this beautiful but ungiving land.

It took more than a hundred years for folks here to realize that if only somebody could figure out the water thing and build a few good roads, this would be a dandy place to build a mess of fine golf courses.

Which brings us back to Lyndon Johnson, who didn't know golf but did know the Hill Country. For two decades as a congressman and a senator, Johnson expended a big chunk of his enormous energy and political savvy on securing millions of federal dollars for flood-control dams along the tempestuous Colorado and its tributaries. Once tamed, the Colorado became a reliable feeder stream for a series of placid lakes that made the Hill Country suddenly attractive for well-to-do city dwellers from Austin and San Antonio. The Texas legislature, always eager to spread a little blacktop (needed or not), hustled through highway bills to help open up the Hill Country.

Enter Norman Hurd, a wildcat Texas real estate developer who fancied himself an artist creating an empire of beauty. In 1970, Hurd bought up an area the size of a small European country about forty miles west of Austin, cleared out a jungle of underbrush and mesquite trees and looked up Robert Trent Jones's number in the telephone book. Nearly three decades and a couple of small fortunes later, the Horseshoe Bay Resort & Conference Club, once proudly billed as "The Best Kept Secret in Texas," commands the high ground on the south shore of a twenty-five-mile-long monument to the man who made the Hill Country safe for golf, Lake LBJ. Wary of understatement, Hurd built a mega-resort that features a marina with enough slips to park the Spanish armada, a tennis complex with more courts than Wimbledon, a six-thousand-foot private airstrip, a drop-dead beautiful setting and three terrific Robert Trent Jones layouts.

Applerock, the youngest of the three Horseshoe Bay courses, is built on high, rocky terrain with terrific views of Lake LBJ and beyond. When the layout was named the "Best New Resort Course of 1986" by Golf Digest, the magazine's architecture editor, Ron Whitten, called it "as natural a golf course as Jones has produced in many years" and saluted Jones for "an exceptional job of contouring the fairways to fit the existing land." One of the visitor's first impressions on the early holes is how generous the fairways are. But what Jones giveth in fairway breathing room, he taketh away by letting the course conform to the steep ups and downs of the site. This may be one time when you will wish he'd done a little more bulldozing. Native oak, elm and persimmon trees abound, as do descendants of the deer and wild turkeys that fed the early settlers.

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