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Area's public courses have wide-ranging appeal

Kevin Robbins

The Austin golf community observed a pair of important birthdays in 2011.

The Fazio Foothills course at Barton Creek Resort & Spa turned 25 years old.

Bluebonnet Hill Golf Club turned 20.

The two occupy land on opposite ends of the city, one atop a hill overlooking Lake Walter E. Long in far East Austin and the other carved among the gated neighborhoods and scenic arroyos of West Austin. Bluebonnet and Foothills also represent two distinct but complementary types of public access golf in Austin, where an 18-hole round can range from $19 at one of the historic municipal courses to $225 at a critically acclaimed and nationally ranked course such as Foothills.

The tree-lined Foothills reflects Texas Hill Country golf at its most sophisticated, scenic and strenuous. Golfweek magazine ranks the Tom Fazio design as the No. 38 resort course in America.

Bluebonnet Hill, a popular daily fee course, is more open and windswept, with interesting mounds and reliably consistent greens. The most expensive green fee, including cart: $39 on weekend mornings.

The creation of Foothills and Bluebonnet Hill led to growth in both public and resort golf in Austin.

Barton Creek now operates four courses, including a second 18-hole masterpiece designed by Fazio called Fazio Canyons. A newer resort, Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa near Bastrop, opened a highly regarded Arthur Hills course in 2006 called Wolfdancer.

Daily fee courses now dot the golfing landscape. Before the 1991 opening of Bluebonnet, public golfers had few choices, including Forest Creek in Round Rock and three municipal courses in Austin. Since then, quality courses for the public have sprouted in East Austin (Roy Kizer), Northwest Austin (Avery Ranch), Hays County (Plum Creek), South Austin (Grey Rock), Round Rock (Teravista), Georgetown (Cowan Creek, Legacy Hills and White Wing), Pflugerville (Blackhawk), Hutto (Star Ranch) and the Lake Travis area (Falconhead).

A former golf course operator named Buster Creagh created Bluebonnet after he bought a 142-acre cattle ranch because, he said, "I always wanted to build my own golf course."

He hired an established architect, Jeff Brauer, to help him with the green complexes. Their goal was to make something that looked nice, played quickly and held the interest of players.

They ended up with a jaunty, walkable course that spans 6,590 yards from the back tees and bends in every direction, giving players every golf experience possible: uphill approaches, downhill drives, into-the-wind punch shots and vexing irons against right-to-left and left-to-right breezes.

One hole, the par-4 third, features a wide and shallow green often cut with two holes. It's up to the players to decide which to use.

"The golf course just fit the property," Creagh said. "My vision for the place was to have a good golf course that was not really a long golf course but that met the eye and was fun to play. And that's pretty well the way it turned out."

That's pretty well the way it turned out at Fazio Foothills, too — which is why it and Bluebonnet are as relevant now as they were when they were born.

krobbins@statesman.com; 445-3602