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There's Golf In Them Thar Texas Hills

THE HYATT REGENCY HILL COUNTRY RESORT (HRHCR), Another important golf destination in this part of the world, is something of a misnomer. Located inside the city limits of San Antonio, it's hardly "country." And there are no hills to speak of. The terrain rolls pretty fair, but the hills that give the Hill Country its name are all to the north and west. But this is a resort with a capital R--complete with gorgeous architecture, grand rooms and great facilities. And, come to think of it, they do have hills--Arthur Hills, designer of the course and a man who apparently had the wisdom to find the course in its terrain rather than trying to impose one on it. (Except for the creek beds, which are really flood washes. There's never any water in them except right after a typical Texas gully washer. Lined by giant, white limestone boulders, all excavated from the property when the resort was being constructed, they look as phony as a Disneyscape. Fortunately they work: I was there one afternoon when it poured--five inches in two hours--and the next morning the course was open for play.) Sprawling live oak and soaring pecan trees provide a touch of grandeur, and the scrub oak, post oak, mesquite and thick brush just off the fairway give the place a nice rough edge. Make that very rough. The one shot you'd better have in your bag when you tee it up at the HRHCR course is a straight tee shot. If you aren't in the fairway, you're going to shoot a big number. Period.

If you are cursed with the burden of a nongolfer in your travel posse, there will inevitably arise a demand for a nongolf side trip or two. Like fish?Sea World is just minutes away. Country music?Try Fiesta Texas, a country-western theme park just to the north. Big John Wayne fan?Head on downtown to the Alamo, where the Duke personally altered history--quite a lot, as anyone who remembers his Davy Crockett turn may have guessed. Just prepare yourself for the huge letdown that's already been experienced by every Texas schoolkid on his first visit: The place is nowhere near as big as John Wayne led us to believe. Next door, belly-up for a drink in the Menger Hotel bar, where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders for the charge up San Juan Hill. Walk along the river that runs through town, but skip the so-so restaurants that line its banks. Visit the San José Mission, south of town. And don't forget to stop by El Mirador, the town's best Tex-Mex restaurant, on Sunday morning for a couple of bowls of Azteca soup, a double portion of huevos rancheros and a basket of flour tortillas. If you haven't eaten breakfast at El Mirador, you haven't visited San Antonio.

For more golf, there are four interesting tracks within a short drive from HRHCR: La Cantera, new home of the Texas Open on the PGA Tour, across from Fiesta Texas; the Quarry Golf Club, just off a freeway interchange, with a back nine that's routed dramatically through an old limestone quarry; Tapatio Springs Resort, in the delightful Hill Country hamlet of Boerne (pronounced "BERN-y"); and Pecan Valley, a pedigreed track (site of the 1968 PGA Championship) that's recently reopened after a five-million-dollar facelift. There's also Brackenridge Park, a venerable 1916 Tillinghast layout--toward the center of San Antonio--whose history and beautiful setting make it worth the trip, even though course conditions are on the scruffy side.

Whatever you do, don't leave home without your cowboy boots. You'll need 'em if you plan to do the Cotton-Eyed Joe at Arkey Blue's Silver Dollar dance hall in Bandera (about twenty miles northwest of San Antonio), the Cowboy Capital of the World. And don't go back home without a sack of Texas 10-15 onions--less famous but even sweeter than Vidalias. Yes, you'll look a little dorky walking through the airport with a gift sack of onions slung over your shoulder. But someday you'll thank me for this tip--really, you will.


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