In late January, 1930 17yr old Ben Hogan stepped onto the tee at Brackenridge Park, just outside of downtown San Antonio and made his professional debut. His auspicious start in that Texas Open, a WD after opening rounds of 78/74 hardly belied the excellence that was to come. The same could be said for “Old Brack” of the day. Tee shots hit from rubber mats into shaggy fairways was the norm for competitors in the early years of the Texas Open. Yet, Brackenridge Park’s great “bones” were there, and her champions list is as good as it gets. Walter Hagen, Joe Turnesa, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, and Jackie Burke Jr. all won there in the nascent days of the PGA Tour.
The players are not Brackenridge Park’s only Hall of Fame legacy, however. The course shares an architectural pedigree with several famed golden age courses that have defined championship golf in America. Winged Foot, Bethpage Black, Baltusrol, and Newport Country Club, along with Brackenridge Park are all the handy work of AW Tillinghast, aka “Terrible Tilly”. In 2008, Architect John Colligan oversaw a superb restoration of the course that brought back fifteen of the original eighteen Tillinghast holes. Most of us won’t have the opportunity to play on those classic New England tracks, but Brackenridge Park offers an opportunity to understand why Tilly’s work is so revered.
I recently played Old Brack and took my video camera along. As you’ll hopefully see, Brackenridge Park is a wonderful time capsule for the game; both on and off the course. The Tudor style clubhouse is perfectly fitting for a 100 year old course, and it houses the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. The practice facilities at Old Brack only include a putting green and short game area, so use that extra time to visit the exhibits. At only 6200 yards from the tips, Brack Park is very short by today’s standards, but it doesn’t play that way. From the tee, Brackenridge Park is one of the most visually intimidating courses I have ever played. Mature trees form narrow “shoots” that you must navigate to find the relatively generous fairways.
Tillinghast was masterful at bunkering his courses, and Brakenridge is no exception. Often, these bunker are placed in a manner that seem more disconcerting than the actual difficulty they present. While modern bunkers placed along the edges of holes challenge directionally, Tillinghast’s “cross” bunkers engage depth perception and distance control as well.
Wonderfully contoured greens are another a signature of Brackenridge, and they are infinitely fun to putt. Note the geometric edges that harken back to the original oiled sand greens. Lastly, Brackenridge Park makes very efficient use of the San Antonio River as it’s only water hazard. Meandering along beautiful curves that flow through the 10th and 18th holes, both par 3’s, the river’s aesthetic harkens back to a different era. Another tributary bisects a few of the back 9 holes, keeping to a “less is more” philosophy of classic course design.
We always rate our courses on 5 “Blurbee” scale, and I’ll give Old Brack a very solid 4. The course conditioning was superb, and the undulating greens rolled fast and true the day I played. The clubhouse staff was friendly and helpful, and the carts (complete with laser range finders) were in very good repair. If there are any negatives about Brackenridge it would be the lack of a driving range and the typical-of-a-muni pace of play. At a weekday green fee of $50, every golfer can have an opportunity to play the work of one of golf’s best architects. A tremendous value if ever there was one. Enjoy the video!