As would be expected, the years when the list changes are always tense times for me. For the last six years Golf Digest’s Top 100 list and the courses on it have completely controlled my vacation and travel schedule, so whenever an update to the list comes out it’s a bit of a cross between Christmas morning excitement and final exam anxiety for me. Luckily, the change at the beginning of 2013 was the least damaging of the three changes that I have gone through since I began this quest, so I was pretty happy about that.
Whispering Pines in Trinity, Texas was one of the new additions to the 2013 list that I had neither played nor had any direct member contacts. Fortunately, within hours of Golf Digest releasing the new list on their iPad edition I got a text from one of my friends in Texas who said he would be able to help arrange for the two of us to play there. It’s always so nice when something like that materializes out of the clear blue and I was happy to accept his offer to help.
After a few weeks of back and forth calendar synchronizing we finally had a date planned and were officially on the books. I made a flight reservation to land in Houston and take a car service to Huntsville, Texas where I would meet up with the other guys and spend the night before playing Whispering Pines the next day. After playing Whispering Pines I would ride back to Austin with them and fly home from there. It would be a bit of a whirlwind tour through Texas, but I was OK with that because it would give me an opportunity to see a little more of what Texas was all about outside the big cities.
Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas is a bit of an unusual club in that they have two distinct seasons of operation – a spring season and a fall season. Each year the club opens in early spring and operates for roughly 15 weeks. Just as the dog days of summer and the Texas heat begin to arrive the club closes down until it reopens in the fall for about another 15 weeks. As winter blows in the club shuts down operations for the year and will stay closed until reopening the following spring. It’s a very interesting model but one that makes a lot of sense for a club in their location. Since the vast majority of the members are national members that do not live in the area it’s easy for them to plan their trips during times when the club is scheduled to be open.
After a night in Huntsville we were out the door at the crack of dawn to make the 30 minute drive to Whispering Pines. Once we arrived and checked in at the pro shop we headed to the range to hit some balls and get loose. One thing I have to comment on is the vintage country music that was playing in the background as we knocked balls around on the range. I encountered this at Escondido last year as well, so I don’t know if this is a Texas thing or just a coincidence. Whatever it is, I am a big fan.
Once we got the green light from the caddies we headed to the 1st tee to start our game. The teeing options ranged from 7,473 yards to 5,021 yards and we pretty quickly decided that 6,450 yards was going to be a sufficient challenge for our group. Please note that in the photos below that the course was still waking up from the winter and was not fully grown in on some parts of the course.
Hole 1 – 323 yards – Par 4
We get started here with a nice short par 4 that doglegs to the left. Players who hit driver here will either have to bend it pretty hard or be able to take their tee ball over the trees and carry the bunkers. A hybrid is really all that is needed from this tee.
Below is a look at the approach into the 1st green.
Hole 2 – 500 yards – Par 5
After our short warm up hole we get a chance to take some risks with a short par 5 that is reachable in two for many players. The photo below was taken from the tee. The ideal line is up the left side of the fairway.
Here we have a look a the approach into the 2nd green. Players who are going to try to reach the green in two will have to carry the enormous bunker along the right side of the photo. Players who are laying up can hit a short to mid iron out to the fairway and have an approach shot that does not require a carry over sand.
Below is a look back down the fairway from behind the green.
Hole 3 – 179 yards – Par 3
The first par 3 on the course is a mid length shot that brings trouble into play for players who miss the green. The only really safe place to miss is short and to the left.
Hole 4 – 417 yards – Par 4
This long par 4 doglegs slightly to the right. Balls hit down the right side of the fairway need to be long enough to not be blocked out by the trees.
Here is a look at the lengthy approach into the green.
Hole 5 – 500 yards – Par 5
This hole presents another par 5 with an opportunity to reach the green in two. Hugging the left side of the hole is the shortest path to the green, but be sure to avoid the water.
Players who attempt to hit the green on their second shot will be faced with a shot that looks a little like the below image.
After a layup shot the approach into the green is much less intimidating as the water has been taken out of play.
Hole 6 – 339 yards – Par 4
Here we have another short par 4 but this one doglegs to the right. Hitting driver here is an aggressive play as it could easily blow through the other end of the fairway. A hybrid sets up ideal for this tee shot.
This hole may be short, but it does require accuracy as missing left or right will result in a sand shot.
Hole 7 – 406 yards – Par 4
This hole was one of my favorites at Whispering Pines . . . it also happens to be the toughest hole on the course according to the handicap ratings. A long drive down the middle will give the best chance at making par.
The second shot is not for the faint of heart. Any shot that is struck even a little fat has a very good chance of getting rinsed in the lake. This shot is going to be long for most players so it is intimidating to have to carry water on the second half of the shot.
The green is quite interesting on this hole as well. Below is a look at the green from behind the hole. As can be seen in the photo there are fairly severe undulations on this putting surface.
Hole 8 – 161 yards – Par 3
This hole is a mid length par 3 with a tricky green and lots of sand to the right. Slicers beware!
Here is another look at the green from another angle.
Hole 9 – 383 yards – Par 4
We close out the front nine with a slightly downhill par 4. The bunker on the left can be challenged from the tee, but the safe play for shorter hitters is to aim between the right and left fairway bunkers.
Below is a look into the green from about 50 yards out.
Hole 10 – 376 yards – Par 4
We start off the back nine with a slightly downhill par 4. A tee shot down the middle or maybe favoring the left side will work well here.
Here is a look at the approach into the green. Note that the side to miss on is the left side.
Hole 11 – 367 yards – Par 4
This shortish par 4 has a forced carry over water from the tee, but it really will only come into play for short hitters who mishit their drives. Avoiding the bunker on the right side is a good idea.
Below is a view of the approach into the green.
And here we have a look at the putting surface. It’s another one with large undulation in it.
Hole 12 – 501 yards – Par 5
A good drive on this hole will put the player into position to reach the green in two. The hole bends to the left so getting the tee ball into position off the tee is a crucial to having a chance to reach the green in two.
Here is a look at the approach shot into this green from about 200 yards out. When the hole is tucked to the left it makes getting a shot close to it pretty difficult from the left side of the fairway.
Hole 13 – 402 yards – Par 4
The fairway here is plenty wide so don’t be afraid to let it rip.
Below is a view of the approach into the green.
Hole 14 – 359 yards – Par 4
This hole is an interesting one. The tree in the image below represents the difference between risky and conservative. A play out to the right of the tree is very safe and can be executed with a hybrid. A play to the left of the tree requires considerably more yardage on the shot to clear the water and is going to require a driver for most players.
Again we have a heavily undulating green to be negotiated once the player reaches the putting surface.
Hole 15 – 134 yards – Par 3
Talk about a knee knocker. This shot is pure intimidation. The island green is pretty small and there is literally nowhere to miss. It’s not a long shot so this is a good test of players accuracy with their short irons. If I understood correctly this little island was already there when the property was purchased. Pretty cool.
Hole 16 – 176 yards – Par 3
Two par 3s in a row. That puts Whispering Pines in pretty good company along with Cypress Point and Pacific Dunes. This is another one with a water hazard that needs to be carried. This shot is considerably longer, but it is also much more forgiving . . . as long as the miss is not short.
Hole 17 – 499 yards – Par 5
Here we have the last of the par 5s. Amazingly, from the “Two Pines” tees that we played all four of the par 5 holes fall between 499 and 501 yards which makes them reachable in two for many players. The shortest route to the green starts with a tee shot that favors the left side of the fairway.
Here is a look into the green from about 150 yards out.
Hole 18 – 428 yards – Par 4
The closing hole here is one tough customer. It’s a long par 4 with a carry over water on the tee shot and a carry over water on the approach shot. Long hitters can challenge the bunkers on the left and short hitters can take it out further to the right.
Below is a view of the approach. Shorter hitters will need a long club in their hands to execute this shot. I would guess that this hole gets a lot of play as a three shot hole with players laying up short of the water hazard. It’s a tough shot to pull off if you haven’t hit a great tee shot.
Here is a look at the green from behind the hole. Not only is the hole long and have water on it twice, but the green is a monster as well. No surprise that this is rated as the most difficult hole on the back nine.
All of us in our group really liked the course quite a bit. It was a lot of fun and very playable. The fairways were wide in most places and there were a lot of great shots to be made including some real testers like the island par 3 and the two long approach shots with the water carries.
One thing that we all agreed on is that the course didn’t feel like any of the Texas courses we had played before. To our eyes the natural terrain looked much more North Carolina than Texas which I think gives the course a unique personality. Chet Williams is an architect that I don’t know anything about, but I do know that next time I see one of his courses that I’ll give it a little closer examination based on how much I enjoyed his work at Whispering Pines Golf Club.