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.