I Messed with Texas, and The Rawls Won

I got up early this morning and headed across Lubbock toward The Rawls Course at Texas Tech. There was a lot of construction on the roads and it was dark out, so I got a little lost on the way. But I ultimately got there with plenty of time before my 7:20 tee time. I would be first off, which was perfect because I knew I had a very long day of driving ahead.

Other than the few staff members and a ton of maintenance workers, I was the only one there for awhile. Talked with the guy in the pro shop for awhile because I had to wait until they officially “opened” the course at daybreak. Nice guy who told me a lot about the course. I hit a few balls on the range to try and warm up. The weather today was gloomy, cold and very windy. I was already feeling sore and stiff from the last few days of driving and golfing, so I could already tell it was going to be a tough round.

I teed off around 7:15 and never really warmed up. The wind was howling and it, combined with the challenge of the course and my poor play, took a lot out of me. The course is built for windy conditions there in Lubbock. The city is in the “high plains” of the Texas Panhandle (3000+ feet above sea level, which most people don’t realize) and gets some unpredictable Midwest weather systems.

The course is a true links style layout that was designed by Tom Doak. I’ve played a couple of his courses previously (Old Macdonald and Pacific Dunes in Bandon, OR) so I knew this course would have some bite. It was definitely in the same links style. All in all, though, it wasn’t quite as tough as either of those courses, but it was still plenty challenging. Links golf always takes some getting used to, especially after perfect weather on a lush mountain course like I had yesterday at Paa-Ko Ridge.

The fairways were firm and fast with lots of undulations and hidden trouble spots. The rough was also cut tight, so the ball would run right through in a lot of places. At The Rawls, you can expect a ton of extra roll. Normally, my drives top out around 240 yards these days, but I hit one here that went 330. And it wasn’t a fairway with a ton of downslope either. The ball just hit hard and ran a mile. That was one of my few highlights today as I played horribly for the most part.

The biggest challenge I faced was the fairway bunkers. There are a ton out there and with the extra roll and wind in my face, I happened to end up in a bunch of them. They all have gnarly deep faces, so most of the time I had no choice but to take my medicine and punch the ball out safely with my wedge. The greens were firm and fast, but receptive on high approach shots. Only problem was that high shots were harder to judge with the heavy winds, so it still felt most comfortable to play more low runners up to the greens. Just hard to get them to stop sometimes.

Unfortunately, The Rawls is not in peak season conditions yet. Definitely doesn’t look like their website. The guy in the pro shop told me that it’s usually early summer when the native grasses come in thicker and create a more pleasant visual feel on the fairway. However, they do make it more challenging because you do not want to hit your ball in the thick stuff. I was in some of the tall grasses today and that was punishment enough. Can’t imagine playing out of when they are full, deep and thick!

Overall I enjoyed my experience at The Rawls Course. Very much a change of pace from what I’ve played on this trip so far, but a worthy addition to the list. It was also a great deal compared to everywhere else I’ve played so far. I was expecting to pay $50-60 this morning, but he charged me a “special” rate of only $36 (with cart included–it would be a great course to walk, though). Also he gave me a free bag tag to add to my collection for simply filling out a survey for Troon, the golf management company that runs this facility.

Some pictures from The Rawls Course at Texas Tech (5/7/12):

(I will warn you these will not look too pretty after the last couple day’s worth of photos, but links golf is hard to photograph and especially tough to show on a dreary day. Close-up photos around the greens and bunkers show best, but there are a few with some distance to put the flatness of the overall landscape into perspective.)

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I finished my round in just under 3 hours, then hit the road for a long drive through the Texas panhandle (up through Amarillo and then east along the I-40). I stopped in Amarillo for a bite to eat and totally blew it. I was looking for a nice little downhome Texas cafe or something like that. I didn’t want to get too far off the beaten path so I stayed along the freeway. Got off and saw nothing but the typical fast food chains. Then I happened upon a big truck stop with the Buckhorn Family Restaurant attached. Good enough.

Got a late breakfast (chicken fried steak and eggs) that was nothing too spectacular, but it filled me up. Then as soon as I got back on the freeway I looked on the other side and saw The Big Texan, which has a crazy looking facade and is one I also remember from Man v. Food. Looked way more interesting and more representative of the Texas style I was looking for, but it was too late. Oh well.

Other than that, the drive through Texas and into Oklahoma was pretty uninteresting. I made it all the way here to Tulsa, where I am now writing this blog post. Tomorrow, I’ll be playing at Forest Ridge in Broken Arrow and then driving up toward Kansas City. Should be another fun day of great golf and another grueling day of driving!

DAY FIVE: 497.3 Miles

Previous Day: Paa-Ko Ridge (NM)

Next Day: Forest Ridge (OK)

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