THE FIRST THING TO REMEMBER ABOUT BartonCreek, on the western outskirts of Austin, is that it is primarily a conference center. (The name, in fact, used to be Barton Creek Conference Center.) The second thing to remember about Barton Creek is the Barton Creek Country Club, a separate entity that controls the four golf courses at Barton Creek. The third thing to remember about Barton Creek is that the first two things have a profound effect on how the place is run and what the independent traveler can expect.
Barton Creek consists of a modern but architecturally undistinguished building perched on a hillside that gives you nice views across the golf course to the next hillside and the fancy houses that have spread out over west Austin faster than mesquite. (That's Darrell Royal's over there on the left.) Access to the golf is restricted to club members, their guests and resort guests, so you'll have to bunk in one of the complex's 147 rooms and suites, which is no price to pay: Barton Creek has every imaginable amenity, including a glossy European-style spa that may tempt you to give up golf and take up fitness. But if you can tear yourself away from your personal loofah body buffer for an afternoon, you'll discover right outside your door the real reason for spending a few nights here.
Master designer Tom Fazio was given a couple hundred of the prettiest acres this side of Eden to work with, and he let the land have the last word. Not that there was ever any question of doing otherwise: Not even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be daft enough to bulldoze the dramatic cliffs, rushing waterfalls and rugged terrain that make Barton Creek such a treasure. Fazio Foothills, the older of the two Fazio courses at Barton Creek, plays long at 6,956 yards, but you'll wish it were twice that long.
Fazio Canyons, which opened in January, is too new for a fair evaluation, but the setting is perhaps even more dramatic than Foothills. Both courses are available to resort guests on alternating days.
Of the two other courses in the rotation, Palmer Lakeside, thirty minutes away, is a good, fair Arnold PalmerEd Seay track with terrific lake views and enough bite to keep you awake. Crenshaw Cliffside, on the other hand, is a Ben CrenshawBill Coore design with immense, flat, uninteresting greens and with some holes cantilevered over terrain that's simply too severe for a golf course--not one of Gentle Ben's best efforts.