Plan your next trip with our new Dream Weekend series, which gives you the best recommendations for golf courses, hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing – so you can relax and focus on your round instead of your itinerary. Now on the tee: Austin, Texas.
Austin is best known as the “Live Music Capital of the U.S.,” as well as for its diverse mix of politics and cuisine. They are also serious about their football. Still, this is golf country, too, with a tradition that embraces legends from the late Harvey Penick to Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, who have continued to spread the Austin gospel far and wide. The golf world got a tasty bite of Austin in the spring of 2016 when Texas’ capital city hosted the WGC-Dell Match Play, and enjoyed a second helping in 2017. Here are my picks for a perfect Austin weekend.
Travel and Leisure Tip: If you’re arriving by car or through Austin Bergstrom International Airport, be wary of the dreadful traffic that happens around the city center. Austin has banned Uber and Lyft services, but now all the locals use a similar service called Fasten.
Because our home for the weekend, the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, is only 22 minutes (17.6 miles) from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, we’ve got afternoon golf on tap. We’re starting with the course that kicked off the resort golf boom in Texas, Omni Barton Creek’s Fazio Foothills. Home to the Senior set’s Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf from 1990-1994, the original of Barton Creek’s courses saw the teams of Lee Trevino/Mike Hill and Dale Douglass/Charles Coody both win twice. A longtime member of GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play, this 1986 Tom Fazio design climbs out of valleys and plunges into woods before concluding with the memorable par-5 18th, a favorite hole of George W. Bush, which tangles with a natural limestone cave.
Before or after golf, check into the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, a regular Silver Medal winner in GOLF Magazine’s Premier Resorts Awards. With four championship courses under the Barton Creek banner, two by Tom Fazio, one by Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw and one by Arnold Palmer, it’s clear that the golf elevates this property. Yet equally compelling are the on-site amenities, from the Three Springs Spa, to an 11,000-square-foot fitness center to superb dining, spearheaded by esteemed executive chef Andre Natera.
Tonight, after a morning of travel and 18 holes of golf, unwind at the Hill Country Dining Room, a handsome space that overlooks the Fazio Foothills course that you played a few hours earlier. Nothing too heavy tonight—big day tomorrow. Do the 8 oz. Niman Ranch Filet, Creamed Spinach and the signature White Chocolate Bread Pudding for dessert.
After dinner, head to the wood-floor outdoor patio. Kick back in a rocking chair, sip an evening cocktail, perhaps savor a cigar and gaze up at the vast Southwestern sky.
Travel and Leisure Tip: If your trip is planned for May through August, you must see the South Congress bats. For most of the year you can see swarms of bats flying out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge; peak season is late July/early August. Thousands of bats fly in large groups for feeding time just before sunset. There are many places to stand and see them for free, but you can also take a boat tour on Lady Bird Lake for a more immersive experience.
We have to sample some authentic Tex Mex on this trip—and I like the name of the place–so we’re driving to breakfast at Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop, an East Austin institution since 1962. If you’re hungry and adventurous, try the Joey Rocha Plate: Two eggs any style, with pork carne guisada, potatoes, beans, sausage or bacon and two tortillas. Less food, but no less authentic is the Migas Plate, a concoction of scrambled eggs with crumbled up tostados, topped with cheese, and served with beans, jalapenos, tomatoes and two tortillas.
Next, we’ll tee it up at Grey Rock Golf Club ($40-$79), a wonderful Jay Morrish track in the southwest part of town. A City of Austin course, it’s a sensibly priced, peaceful, traditional layout with no homes lining the fairways. What you will find are mature oaks that knock down every wayward shot, well-placed fairway bunkers and a handful of lakes. They all come into play at the 542-yard, par-5 seventh. Don’t stray.
Now we’re off to lunch near Grey Rock, at the Salt Lick Barbecue in Driftwood. It’s one of Texas’ most famous ‘cue joints, and absolutely one of its best. The brisket is remarkable, the ribs are even better and no matter what diet you’ve committed to, you have to try the blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream for dessert. This is the original location, so they only take cash and it’s B.Y.O.B—but worth the effort. When Ben Crenshaw served the Masters Champions dinner as defending champ in 1996, he had it catered from Salt Lick. Jordan Spieth did the same thing in 2016.
If you’re looking to squeeze in an extra round on Saturday, make the drive 15 miles east of Austin to Lost Pines and the Hyatt Regency. Its Wolfdancer Golf Club ($66-$176) is worth howling about. Situated adjacent to the 1,100-acre McKinney Roughs nature preserve, Wolfdancer is primarily the creation of Chris Wilczynski, then of Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates, who let his imagination run rampant in solving the puzzle of how to route golf holes over three distinct landforms, rolling prairie land, a forested ridgeline and a valley populated with pine and pecan trees. The upper section of the course could fairly be called Texas heathland, with breezes to match. The showstopper here is the 155-yard, drop-shot, par-3 12th, its green clinging to the side of a mountain, which looks like it could give way should a foursome of NFL lineman choose to putt simultaneously. The final five holes occupy a lower terrace, culminating in two holes that overlook the Colorado River. If variety equates to fun, you’ll have a blast at Wolfdancer.
Sightseers who would rather stick to 18 might want to don the orange and venture to the University of Texas for a campus tour. Internationally renowned for their academics and sports programs, the school is also home to the Harry Ransom Museum, chock full of amazing artifacts and to the LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) Library and Museum.
Conveniently, dinner is not far from campus, at Mandola’s Italian Market, at its West Guadalupe Street location, which dishes out superb manicotti, meatballs and a side of great vibe.
Finish off the evening at the Cedar Street Courtyard, down on 4th Street, where four indoor bars pair with a sunken courtyard and an outdoor live music venue for ambience that’s tough to top. Exceptional bartenders mix exceptional cocktails, and the people-watching is outstanding. Go easy, though. We’ve got one more great round to play tomorrow.
Travel and Leisure Tip: Head out for an afternoon at Barton Springs or, a little further south along the Barton Creek Greenbelt, the less-monitored swimming hole, Twin Falls. The springs are freshwater natural pools that make cooling down in the Texas heat much easier and more enjoyable. For a more active outdoor experience, rent a boat or paddleboard at Zilker Park Boat Rentals or Rowing Dock to experience Lady Bird Lake. If you’re not a water lover, drive south to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to learn about the former First Lady’s efforts in preserving natural wildflowers and landscapes.
Stay on-site at the Omni for breakfast at the Hill Country Dining Room. Hey, dinner was so good there, it’s worth the return trip to sample the usual morning staples, all done well.
Finally, we get to our trip concluding round. Actually, the Omni Barton Creek has less expensive golf in its portfolio, but you can’t depart without tackling the best public-access course in Texas, the Fazio Canyons at Omni Barton Creek ($130-$250). The younger sibling to the Barton Creek Fazio Foothills course is an 18-year-old Tom Fazio creation that sits two miles from the resort. It’s well worth the short ride to sample holes that are handsomely framed by oaks and sycamores and that feature the Short Springs Branch, a limestone creek bed that adds beauty and menace. The downhill, 442-yard, par-4 10th will linger long in memory with a stone dappled creek fronting the green and a rocky ledge waiting to ‘DOINK’ a pulled approach, while the 561-yard, par-5 18th is scenic, potentially card-wrecking test, as it slithers downhill between trees and bunkers.
Travel and Leisure Tip: Check out one of Austin’s best outdoor bars. Rainey Street, near downtown, is Austin’s trendiest area for bar-hopping, but once you arrive at Bangers Sausage House and Beer Garden, you might not make it to any more stops. The large, tree-filled outdoor seating area has a stage for live music, plus there’s a dog run. Can’t decide among the many beers on the menu? Try a flight.