The Texas Hill Country is a far different place today than it was when Buffalo Hump and Old Owl were leading the Penateka band of the Comanche people across Edwards Plateau before Texas was even a state. It is a far different place today than when Lyndon Johnson lived in Stonewall as a boy and again in Presidential retirement, or even when Johnny Manziel was slinging touchdown passes for Tivy High School in Kerrville. There are more people, for starters, and more Whataburgers and H-E-Bs. More stunning golf courses, too, with more stunning greens.
The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch is among those stunning courses, a Jack Nicklaus Signature design that stretches across about 500 acres of what was still a family ranch in Boerne, just outside San Antonio, a little more than a generation ago. Nicklaus incorporated the topography throughout his 18 holes, peaks popping up, little valleys carved out. Nicklaus had never ventured into Hill Country — not to design a course, at least — and Cordillera is a heck of a debut. (Even in name, evidenced by a 2016 award from The Dallas Morning News for the “Most Beautiful Hole” in Texas.)
The course had featured A1-A4 bentgrass greens until a switch earlier this year to Pure Distinction bentgrass. Pure Distinction is a relatively new variety from Tee-2-Green in Oregon that is designed to grow more aggressively with easier maintenance — requiring less water and less fungicide while also stopping its growth a little earlier in the season and being bred for heat tolerance, key in an area where average summer highs top 90 degrees.
Director of agronomy Jeff Eldridge researched Pure Distinction, then talked with superintendents and directors at a handful of some desert courses with similar heat climates that had recently re-sodded. After receiving the go-ahead to move forward with the project, he sourced 20 greens worth of Pure Distinction from Detroit and Idaho, shipping across time zones on refrigerated trucks. He shut down the course three weeks ahead of time, then blocked out six weeks for the renovation from A1-A4. “Everything we did then,” Eldridge says, “was push the envelope.”
Eldridge entered the project knowing that he would endure at least a season “before you get to what you’d call normal,” he says. Some collars, for instance, still resemble a patchwork quilt, imperfections bordering beauty. The playability, though “gets up to speed much faster” than other bentgrass varieties, according to Corey Roberson, who arrived last fall as the new director of golf and plays at least a couple rounds on the course every week. A round on the course earlier this week confirmed that. The greens are true. And is there ever a better putting surface than bentgrass?
The Pure Distinction will likely require several aerifications before reaching full maturity, even through plenty of 90- and 100-degree days soon ahead. Eldridge relishes the challenge. “I’m looking forward to this summer,” he says, “and seeing what it’ll do.”
The decision and the maturation of the greens should pay dividends for years to come. The Hill Country is sometimes considered the demarcation between the country’s Southeast and its Southwest. This new bentgrass distinguishes the course even more in a land entirely its own, out there.
Matt LaWell is Golf Course Industry's managing editor.