News Article | 2/27/2005

Top 50 shakeup: Vaquero No. 1

Three years ago, when golf course designer Tom Fazio visited his two newest Texas clubs – Vaquero and Dallas National – he made a bold prediction.

He said that one day three of his Texas golf course designs would make the top three of The Dallas Morning News’ annual rankings. He moved a step closer to prophet status in 2005 as Vaquero in Westlake leapfrogged Colonial – No. 1 the last two years – to claim the top spot. Dallas National, No. 2 last year, dropped to fourth. The top four courses were separated by less than two-tenths of a point.

“I’m not surprised that Vaquero is No. 1,” Fazio said. “It wouldn’t have surprised me if you said Dallas National was No. 1. But Vaquero deserves it.”

It’s the attention to detail and commitment to the overall experience that Vaquero general manager Michael Abbott credits for Vaquero’s quick ascent (the course opened in May 2002 and was No. 3 in the rankings in 2004).

“We always set out to build a place that would have great tradition and value,” Abbott said. “We hope Vaquero passes the test of time. From the moment you drive in the gate, people joke that it’s ‘Vaqueroville.’ You can leave everything else behind.”

The Club at Carlton Woods, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course in The Woodlands, continues a rapid move up the rankings at No. 3. It was No. 20 in 2003 and No. 8 in 2004. The 7,368-yard par-71, which opened in June 2001, hosted the Texas State Amateur last year.

A statewide panel of club pros, amateurs, architects, writers and others involved in the golf industry rated the courses on a 1-10 scale. The rankings are determined by the courses’ average score. To be ranked, a course needed to receive votes from at least 20 panel members who have played the course. This year, 92 panel members participated.

While several courses climbed in the rankings, others dropped. Another Fazio course, Briggs Ranch in San Antonio, went from 11th to out of the top 20. The Cypress Creek course at Champions Golf Club was No. 1 in 2002. It is now No. 8. The biggest drop was Georgetown’s Cimarron Hills, which fell from the top 50 after debuting at No. 15 last year.

As Fazio points out, which course is the best in the state is a matter of opinion. If you ask Texas’ most famous resident, President Bush, Barton Creek’s Fazio Foothills Course in Austin gets the nod.

“That’s what he told me at a fund-raiser last year in Cincinnati,” Fazio said. “It was nice to hear the president say that. It’s nice when people enjoy the courses you design.”

Fazio has four courses in the top 20 this year, with three of those in the top 12. His designs in Texas continue as he’s scheduled to open a course in The Woodlands in September. He’s also designing Escondido, a course in Marble Falls.

Fazio said he’s amazed by how quickly Texas has become a golf destination. He took groups from 50 of his courses to Dallas National and Vaquero last year for an annual tournament, and many of them expressed an interest in having the tournament at both sites annually.

Fazio also is astonished by some of the changes in the golf design industry. Gone are the days when architects could only design holes with what they had on the land. Now, he said, as long as you have investors willing to spend the money, you can make flat land around Dallas into a hilly course that looks like another part of the country.

“There are high expectations in Dallas and Texas, and that’s good,” Fazio said. “What town is better to build these kinds of courses than Dallas, because of its reputation of making things happen?”