CHrisB

Twenty years ago, Waterwood National Golf Club would have been the first course in Texas I would recommend a visitor to check out, ahead of Colonial, Brook Hollow, Champions, Barton Creek, Crown Colony, etc. It used to be one of the most exciting courses this side of Prairie Dunes and was filled with thrilling shots, including maybe the scariest shot in golf, the all-carry 227-yard 14th to a clifftop green.

The PGA Tour held its Qualifying School at WWN in 1978, 1979 and 1981, with players like Hal Sutton, Paul Azinger, Scott Hoch, John Cook, Chip Beck and Larry Mize earning their tour cards.

In those early days, Bill Coore served as the course superintendent and Rod Whitman worked on the grounds crew.

The course was designed by Pete and Roy Dye in 1974 and sits on a unique piece of land for Texas. The course quickly gained a reputation for being a real beast to play (probably too tricked-up and difficult until some changed were made), with no one in the 1979 Tour School able to break par.

There are some really nice elevation changes, and there used to be all sorts of natural scrubby sandy waste areas, many of which have since grown over with grass or trees. The routing is still quite good, with both nines starting on higher ground and tumbling down to the lake before climbing back up to the clubhouse. It really was a one-of-a-kind course, especially in a state that needs all the good golf it can get!

But today it is a shell of its former self, overgrown and poorly maintained, with run-down practice facilities, a run-down clubhouse, struggling to get rounds and resort guests. It is no longer a tournament site as the Texas Golf Association and other tournament organizations found other venues (the private Whispering Pines on the other side of the lake is now a mainstay for the TGA).

I played the course yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon, walking on at 3:00. I was the first player since the 10:54 tee time, though there were some golfers who started after I did. I was charged $10 plus tax to play. Ten bucks!! (If this course was in good shape, with original features restored, it could easily be a $100 course.)

Five greens were un-puttable, newly aerified with as much dirt as grass. The greens that did have grass were extremely slow and grainy, so that the influence of the green contours (which are still interesting) was nullified. WWN, like many Texas courses, has had to deal with a ton of rain recently and so many of the fairways were unmown and mushy, with weeds as tall as 4 inches in the fairway. Looking around, I could see railroad ties sticking up through the high grass and trees—these were ties that once marked the edge of the waste areas. The original tee box on #15 down by the lake, which created a wild, scary tee shot through/over a chute of trees, has been lost.

Still, some of the holes are still so good that it was an enjoyable round. The stretches of #3-7 and #12-16 are still inspiring, and the 14th remains as fearsome as ever (despite the disappearance of the front bunker years ago), especially practically having to tee up in weeds at the 227 yard marker. But knowing what used to be and what could be at Waterwood National, I found myself shaking my head all the way around.

Here is the course aerial. The front nine runs on the left side of the picture, with the 4th and 5th running along the lake. The sandy waste area between #5 and #6 fairways used to be much larger than shown in this aerial, and now is almost completely grown over. The famed 14th is at the top of the aerial, with the back tee box on the point immediately behind the 13th green


Here are some pictures from the course website http://www.waterwoodnational.com. Keep in mind that the course doesn’t look as good as these pictures!

#1, 448 yards with an approach over or around a small rise fortified with railroad ties


The great 4th, 450 yards downhill to a wide fairway with Lake Livingston jutting in from the right


Looking behind the 181-yard 7th, which was once a sandy waste area but now covered with grass


Tee shot at the 507-yard par-5 8th, named "Pine Valley"


From the lay-up area on the 547-yard 10th; if going for the green in two, the player must play from the right of the picture and carry the waste/tree area


The 441-yard 13th, named "Horizon"--the tee shot is blind and tumbles way down the hill--you have to look through a periscope to see if the fairway is clear. The green sits diagonal to the line of play and drops sharply left, right and behind


The all-carry 225-yard 14th, maybe the scariest shot in golf


The 368-yard 16th, doglegging left around a deep bunker and stand of trees to a tiny green surrounded by sand (the sand is not nearly as "clean" as this picture would indicate)



Can anything be done to rescue Waterwood National from its free fall? I don’t know—it could be that this course was simply built in the wrong place (30 minutes from the nearest town of any size and maybe now too far for Houstonians who have way more good public courses in town than in WWN’s heyday when so many would drive up from Houston to play). The resort is as old and run-down as the course, and without a serious infusion of money, I don’t see much changing. Which is too bad—there really is a lot of good architecture underneath all the overgrowth and spotty turf.

David Stamm

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2007, 09:50:26 am »
Thanks for posting this Chris. I understand the photo's are showing the course in it's past glory, but from what I can tell, it looks like a interesting course. Stories like this actually make me mad. Where I live, a course like that would probably be appreciated more because of the lack of quality designs. $10??? If the course is charging that to attract, they are going about it all wrong. Bring the course up to maintenance standards and charge $60-80 and I think they could correct this problem. Golfers in general are funny about going to out of the way places if the course is good and maintained well. I know I'm always willing to make the drive if given the choice.
"The object of golf architecture is to give an intelligent purpose to the striking of a golf ball."- Max Behr

CHrisB

Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2007, 09:58:01 am »
David,

I think they charged me $10 because it was twilight and the course was in such bad shape. Their regular green fees are $45 weekdays and $65 weekends (but again they may not actually be charging this for a while).

Tom Doak had some nice things to say about the course in his Confidential Guide. But then again his visit was in 1981.

I wonder what Pete Dye, Bill Coore or Rod Whitman would have to say if they saw the course today?
« Last Edit: July 12, 2007, 10:04:56 am by Chris Brauner »

David Stamm

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2007, 10:02:55 am »
Sorry Chris. I didn't read that closely enough. Be that as it may, it still annoys me when a good course is neglected. You really wonder, what the hell are they doing with the money? Probably just greedy owners. Wouldn't be the first time.


I'm sure none of them would be too happy. Whatever business someone may be in, I'm sure it hurts to see a creation of yours mistreated.
"The object of golf architecture is to give an intelligent purpose to the striking of a golf ball."- Max Behr

Greg Clark

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2007, 11:16:45 am »
Chris, this isn't the first time the course has fallen into very poor shape.  I believe it was about 5 years ago that a pretty good infusion of money was put into the course and the initial comments were that the course was in very good shape.

The location of the course just really works against it.  I wonder if someone else will step up to put more money into it after the last attempt apparently failed.  Very disappointing to hear the state of affairs there.

Sam Morrow

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2007, 07:05:37 pm »
It's a wonderful golf course and it was great growing up in northwest Houston because I could be at Waterwood in one hour, that said the property today is a sad shell of itself. I know someone at the facility who doesn't expect much if anything to happen. Sadly the same kind of treatment has been given to Del Lago on Lake Conroe also. Even Columbia Lakes has had similar problems. It's a damned shame.
I've met Tom Doak

Adrian_Stiff

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2007, 08:00:27 pm »
Real shame to hear this. Waterwood national made a big impression on me when I played it in 1988. It was not in great condition then and I think we might have been the only pair playing that day. I guess the location is just to remote.. Is it something like 45 minutes North of Houston? Another course i remember was The Club at Falcon point.. anyone any news on that one.
A combination of whats good for golf and good for turf.
The Players Club, Cumberwell Park, The Kendleshire, Oake Manor, Dainton Park, Forest Hills, Erlestoke, St Cleres.
www.theplayersgolfclub.com

Sam Morrow

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2007, 08:20:04 pm »
Real shame to hear this. Waterwood national made a big impression on me when I played it in 1988. It was not in great condition then and I think we might have been the only pair playing that day. I guess the location is just to remote.. Is it something like 45 minutes North of Houston? Another course i remember was The Club at Falcon point.. anyone any news on that one.

It's a solid hour from Houston with a remote locale but for a good golf course people would make the drive. Back then they did. Falcon Point is still around, a tough member course in Katy west of town. It's part of ClubCorp so I can leave it at that.
I've met Tom Doak

Casey Wade

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2007, 08:23:53 pm »
Concerning Falcon Point, Sam Morrow and I played there last year in a match play qualifer for the Southern Texas PGA section.  It was in pretty good shape for early spring, not to mention we played in 30 degree weather with rain spitting on us.
Some people are alive simply because it is illegal to shoot them.

Sam Morrow

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2007, 08:29:17 pm »
Concerning Falcon Point, Sam Morrow and I played there last year in a match play qualifer for the Southern Texas PGA section.  It was in pretty good shape for early spring, not to mention we played in 30 degree weather with rain spitting on us.


It took me a week to warm up afterwards.
I've met Tom Doak

Adrian_Stiff

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2007, 10:40:45 pm »
Sorry Sam, never noticed your previous post which said an hour. Whats Walden like theses days? Also there was another course onthat same road that had been constructed but fell into disrepair, it was maybe 10 minutes south of Huntsville, you could see it from the road.
A combination of whats good for golf and good for turf.
The Players Club, Cumberwell Park, The Kendleshire, Oake Manor, Dainton Park, Forest Hills, Erlestoke, St Cleres.
www.theplayersgolfclub.com

Sam Morrow

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2007, 11:38:01 pm »
Sorry Sam, never noticed your previous post which said an hour. Whats Walden like theses days? Also there was another course onthat same road that had been constructed but fell into disrepair, it was maybe 10 minutes south of Huntsville, you could see it from the road.

No worries, my hour is more like most peoples 90 minutes. I don't know of any other course out in the boonies near Waterwood sorry. I haven't heard a report on Walden in sometime, Casey would be the person to speak with on that one.
I've met Tom Doak

cary lichtenstein

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #12 on: July 13, 2007, 02:52:17 am »
Is it for sale? What would its value be?
Lived Chicago, now Fl, was a 4 handicap, played top 100 US, top 75 World. Great memories, no longer play, 2 back, wrist, shoulder surgeries. I don't miss a lot of things about golf, life is simpler w/o it. I miss my 60 degree wedge shots, I don't miss nasty weather, icing,back spasms and da jerks.

RT

Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #13 on: July 13, 2007, 06:11:07 pm »
Waterwood still out in the booneys?  Nice piece of land across lake from Waterwood that Bill had done a great routing on, this back in 1981.

Steve Lang

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Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #14 on: July 14, 2007, 07:27:38 am »
 8)

Sad Indeed.. the high schoolers love it though!

WWN is a good hour north of us from the Woodlands, which is 30 minutes north of downtown Houston..  we term it adventure golf.. no comparison to Whispering Pines today, but in its heyday, definitely..

Chris.. did you see any gators by the 5th tee? they like to sun out thereabouts..

10 minutes south of Huntsville is only 5 minutes north of Conroe.. on west side of I-45 about there are 27 hilly holes , Panorama Village.. you can see a couple.. it is a vibrant little course/environment there.. tough "interclub" venue if you're a flatlander from I-10 Houston golf plains..

They re-did the greens at Falcon Point last year, much better all around there.. tight tough, shot-making track, full of visual intimidation.. their handicaps travel well..

There's really no reason to go beyond southern Montgomery County (just north of Harris County where Houston is centered) these days..  for some topography.. especailly around Lake Conroe (though most are privates there..)  Walden is in reported good shape per ms sheila..

WWN should be valued like a tear down house in a near-city neighborhood.  I'd bulldoze most of the condos and the resort center/clubhouse due to age/design/mold issues.. expose the layout, shore it up in places.. call it a golf club, not resort.. but you're still stuck out in between major population centers..  

if you build it , they will come, but will they come back?  Only if its conditioning beckons more than its potential..
Inverness (Toledo, OH) cathedral clock inscription: "God measures men by what they are. Not what they in wealth possess.  That vibrant message chimes afar.
The voice of Inverness"

Raymond

Re:Report: The Sad Decline of Waterwood National (with pictures)
« Reply #15 on: July 24, 2007, 06:24:59 am »
I response to the inquiry regarding Falcon Point:
I am now a member at Falcon Point after spending 10 years as a member at Columbia Edgewater in the great Pacific Northwest. To say that I miss CECC is an understatement but Falcon Point is a very stern test of all facets of the game.
It was built in 1984 (Devlin/Von Hagge design)to be an exclusive high end golf course for low-mid handicappers only. Then the collapse of the oil industry in the mid eighties forced a few bankruptcies and ownership changes. It is now a part of the Clubcorp family.
Too much water, pampas grass, and residential lined fairways for my liking but it is well maintained and has a number of interesting holes and some nice greens which test your imagination. Greens were bent grass up until two summers ago when they were refurbished with one of the newer strains of bermuda. When we played this past Saturday my guest and I were commenting on how awesome they were to putt on this time of year in Houston. Again not spectacular but a fun golf course.
I do miss the great courses in Oregon and always look forward to my return visits to CECC and Bandon.

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