Tucked a mile or so off FM 725, five and a half miles east of New Braunfels, The Bandit isn't the type of course that's going to get a lot of business from folks who "just happened to be driving by and saw the sign." You can't see the course at all from the main road, the course shares the sign out front 50-50 with the Long Creek residential development, and the sign's not even that big to begin with.
Then again, when your course is booked solid after being open less than a month, drive-up business probably isn't a major concern anyway.
"We're getting a lot of repeat business already," admits The Bandit's Director of Golf, Ken Holubec, with a grin. "We've had people come off the golf course and book tee times immediately for later in the week, and we've sold at least three lots that I know of to people who've played the course and just had to buy a lot."
Developed by Larry Strickland and Lucien Warner, and designed by Keith Foster (the man behind San Antonio's The Quarry, and rapidly becoming one of the premier golf architects in the country), the 6928-yard, par-71 Bandit opened for play on November 1, 1997, but it's already finding a place on a lot of Central Texas golfers' "must play" lists. Quint Alexander, head pro at the Bandit, says, "What's neat is that we've had a lot of people come in and say it's just as good as The Quarry, or La Cantera, which all of us like to hear."
People are saying that because Foster's design sits on some of the best terrain the Hill Country has to offer, and puts that terrain to good use. The course has several holes with elevation changes of nearly 100 feet between tee and green (usually downhill, making for some truly spectacular driving holes), the Guadalupe River running along side the 14th fairway, and Long Creek winding its way around and through 11 of the holes on the course, wreaking havoc on misplayed shots. And it's going to get harder to find wayward balls along the creek bed, according to Holubec. "Normally, it's a dry creek," he says, "but we're in the process of having water all the way through the creek. That'll really beautify the creek."
Long Creek isn't the only part of the course that's still being upgraded, either. While the course itself is already in excellent condition, the pro shop will be in a temporary building until construction is completed in Ô98. "We're going to eventually have three separate buildings," says Alexander, "a pro shop, a clubhouse and grill, and we're going to have a tournament pavilion which will hold about 200 people, so it'll facilitate any tournament. The pavilion's going to sit right over the 18th green, so you can watch folks come in."
"Eighteen is going to be the signature hole," according to Holubec, which means something on this course. "The good thing about 18 is that you have the opportunity, depending on wind conditions and where we set the pin, to play the hole three or four different ways. If there's a north wind, it's not too hard to make a four, but if you make one little mistake it's not too hard to make an eight or a nine." He's not kidding. The finishing hole is a 552-yard, par five, and it can truly make or break a round. From the tees, you see a lone bunker in the middle-left of the fairway and Long Creek running all along the right. The second shot is where the hole gets mean. There are twin landing areas for your second, a safe layup to the left of the creek, where you'll have a tree blocking a direct approach to the pin, or, depending how far to the right of the fairway your drive came to rest, a tricky cut shot to the landing area across the creek. Nail the cut shot, and you're sitting pretty for par or better. Miss it and prepare to start crying. And making the green doesn't mean making it home. Alexander points out, "You really have to watch where you hit the ball on that green. It's got a really severe right to left slope."
The same can be said about nearly every green on the course. The greens are Champions Bermuda, the same grass as the greens at the Austin Country Club and Barton Creek's Fazio course, and they undulate, they bend, they break, they reach up into your pocket and clean out your wallet if you're not careful. "They're great greens," Alexander says. "You get on the greens, if you don't get pretty close to the hole - and by close I mean within 20 feet - you can be in real trouble. You can be looking at a couple of different breaks and ups and downs between you and the hole. And (the greens' speed) is real deceiving."
Holubec agrees. "I think that's part of what makes it interesting. It's like out on the Tour. If you leave it below the hole, you're better off than if you're above the hole."
That's once you get to the green, which can seem like something of an accomplishment in itself. Some of my notes from my round: "No. 1 (421 yds., par 4) - tight fairway slopes right to left, falls off into trees." "No. 3 (520 yds., par 5) - approach to green has water left, bunkers protecting, and death to the right." "No. 5 (403 yds., par 4) - tiny, elevated green with trouble everywhere - go left and find bunkers, cart path, creek and worse - be happy with a bogey." "No. 12 (468 yds., par 4) - peninsula green that kills the greedy - a hot approach has no hope." "No. 15 (624 yds., par 5) - creek cuts across fairway twice, so you have to play target golf if you want to score." (You can score on this hole, though. I parred it with a driver, three-wood, seven-iron, and two putts.)
Tough holes aren't the measure of a course, though. A great course not only challenges, it rewards good shots, and The Bandit does just that. Even on the most vicious-looking holes, well-played shots - even if they're recovery shots - give you the opportunity to card a good number. "The course record is 74" Holubec challenges. "We've had one Tour player out here, Anthony Rodriguez, and he shot a 40-34-74. There've been two other 74s, too." That's in the first month of play. Give people time to build a little local knowledge and the record will fall, but for now, it's worth taking a shot at it.
In addition to the 18-hole championship course, The Bandit has a putting green, a driving range, and something a lot of courses don't have - a graveyard. Holubec says that the graveyard, whose tombstones sit between the putting green and the 10th tee, is going to be a major part of The Bandit's future by linking the course to the area's past. "When Larry Strickland first came on this property about three years ago," Holubec says, "to look for a golf course, the brush was so thick where the putting green is now that he just kind of stumbled upon this old German cemetery. There are seven or eight graves in there, and they date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
A little of the history of it is that those people came over from Hanover, Germany, in 1865 to settle this property. They originally built a cotton gin here.
Two of the kids died in 1901 or 1902, and we did a little research and found that there had been a flu epidemic here around 1900, so the kids probably died from that. One adult died about that same time, so we're pretty sure that's what killed them. It's pretty interesting.
We found a guy in Seguin, and those are his great-grandparents buried there. He gave us a bit of the history, when they came over and why they came over. Right now, we're getting quotes and bids for a monument we're going to put up at the base of the cemetery over there, giving people some of the history of the property, dating back to 1850 or so." Given the Hill Country setting (the course should be jaw-dropping beautiful in the spring), the challenge of the layout, and the added draw of roots stretching back 150 years, The Bandit has a lot going for it. "The golf course speaks for itself," Holubec agrees. "We're going for all the state amateur tournaments. All the USGA events. It's probably three or four years down the road, but we're going after it."
What they're not going after at The Bandit is exclusivity and sky-high green fees that mean most of us can't get on the course. "We're a daily-fee golf course all the way," Holubec says. "For property owners, we'll establish a lower rate, but we're not a membership club by any means. We don't want to be confused with a private or semi-private club."
Alexander adds, "Green fees are $30 Monday through Thursday, which includes half a cart. Friday through Sunday, $40, and we take tee times seven days in advance." Walking is allowed at The Bandit, but given the course's overall length and elevation changes, Alexander advises, "I would think you'd want to ride it first and decide if you want to walk it. You'd have to be a billy goat to climb up to some of those tee boxes."
"Like I said," Holubec finishes, "the course speaks for itself, but what's really going to set us apart is that we have super people here and we're going to concentrate on customer service. Repeat business is what it's all about. We want to wine and dine you so we'll get you back out here next time."
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