Over the last several months, we have been on a mission to showcase some of the courses around the area that may be a bit off the beaten path. This month, AVIDGOLFER made the 45-minute trip south of Fort Worth to take a look at SugarTree for the first time in almost five years.
When it opened in 1989, SugarTree immediately became a favorite among local golfers, despite the hike to get there. The views of the Brazos river and the immaculate greens drew players from all over DFW and the course has been steadily busy ever since.
Although it is still a top of the food chain course for the area, over the years, as will happen with any course, erosion, flooding, tree growth and other factors have led to some issues, but a new vision looks to make SugarTree the best it can be once again.
During our visit, we were lucky enough to get an inside look at the course and the future plans from Majority Owner and President of SugarTree, Kel Devlin. If that name rings a bell, it’s because his father Bruce amassed 31-professional victories before turning to a career in course architecture. Bruce is known for designing over 150 courses around the globe, including some local favorites such as Gleneagles CC, The Cliffs at Possum Kingdom and Chase Oaks in Plano.
After hearing of Kel’s pedigree, it is easy to see why SugarTree piques his interest and sparks his creativity to what the course could be in a few short years.
As we toured the property, the first thing we noticed were some recent bunker renovations. If you have played much golf, then you are likely aware of how difficult and expensive it can be to maintain bunkers on a property. SugarTree made the decision late last year to fill in all but approximately nine bunkers, leaving some of the framing bunkers and some strategic greenside bunkers. The remaining filled-in bunkers will become earth bunkers and will still challenge players with difficult lies but help the club with overall maintenance costs moving forward. In addition to the removal of bunkers, drainage projects have been completed in some areas with a few more tributary dams to be installed to help with drainage flow and keeping water features regulated.
The two aforementioned projects will also be accompanied by a massive tree removal program that will eliminate some trouble and dead trees throughout the property. This will open up the landscape and offer players more opportunities to see the Brazos River as well as some of the meandering streams that zig-zag the property.
One of the most interesting projects that SugarTree has completed is the new par-3 course, named “The Grove”. A nine-hole short course meant to refine and polish the short game for juniors and mid-handicappers, or a place for afternoon players to sneak out for a quick loop that won’t take more than an hour to complete. The growing trend of par-3 and short courses was too much for Kel and company to ignore, so they hatched the plan and put it into action. The Grove will open for members of SugarTree on July 4th and to the general public a couple days later.
As far as the 18-hole layout at Sugartree, it is one of the most interesting in the area. The Brazoz River provides a great backdrop to some holes that feature plenty of elevation changes and some great personality. Playing any round at Sugartree might mean you spot any number of critters, from deer and fox, to yes… the occasional serpent. You really feel like you are among nature when you play this course.
The opening hole is a 405-yard par 4 that twists left away from the clubhouse. The fairway bunker that guarded the right side of the fairway has now been filled-in with sod and allows players to miss a little right. Too far left off the tee could result in a lost ball, as there is a water feature all down the left side, that then sneaks a hard left back in front of the putting surface. A long, narrow green awaits, and a par is a good score on this opening hole.
The first par-3 awaits at the second hole. A 185-yard shot with severe mounding long and left of the green and a pond short right, this iron requires precision. Right-handed players can cut the ball into a back right pin, but front left pin placements can be a bit dicey as anything left or long will be a tricky up and down.
One design element I have always liked about courses is when the architects give players a trio of different holes to begin. In this case, SugarTree’s opening three holes are a par-4, par-3 and a par-5. Allowing players a chance to score early if they are hitting it well. The third is a great bending par-5 that is tree-lined all down the left and right with towering Live Oaks. A good tee shot allows players to consider going for the green in two, but the average Joe will be looking to lay up and leave a manageable wedge number.
After the par-5 third, SugarTree offers up another interesting design element. That’s right, it’s another par-5. The 456-yard fourth tends to play longer as it carts players up a hill and back to the left. A 280-yard drive will leave about 180-yards up the hill for a second, but the shorter hitters can play for position with a hybrid or 3-metal off the tee. It’s a fun tee shot back up the hill and a demanding approach.
The fifth is another great hole that uses the elevation changes on the property to expertly route the course. A long downhill par-4 with a blind tee shot is one of the most interesting holes on this par-72 layout. It is possible to hit driver, but the fairway narrows at about the 300-yard mark, which can make it tough to hold the fairway. Another defense is the downhill lie players will face with their approach to a small putting surface. It’s a challenging hole.
No. 6 is like No. 5’s evil brother. This par-4 heads back in the opposite direction of the fifth, up the hill, except this design features a hard dogleg right. Hitting a hybrid or long iron off the tee is an option, but could leave a mid-iron in, up the hill for your approach.
The seventh is as pretty a golf hole as you will find anywhere. At 182-yards from the back tees, this one is a par-3 that plays significantly downhill and can play tricks on you depending on wind direction. There is a water feature short and right, so be mindful of club selection. A shot to the middle of the green and a tidy two-putt is a good way to attack this one.
No. 8 plays as a par-4 that doglegs back to the left as players make the turn for the clubhouse. At 406-yards, this one usually will play with the help of the south wind and it also boasts one other unique feature, as it is a double green, that blends seamlessly into the green for the opening hole.
No. 9 is the third of the par-5’s on the front. That’s right, despite still being a par-72, SugarTree has a trio of par-5’s on the front-nine. This hole takes players right back to the clubhouse, and with a good tee ball, there is a legit chance to get home in two. Just make sure you beware of the water that is to the right of the putting surface, as anything that comes up short and right kicks that way and will end up in the drink. The recent renovations have made missing left easier as a couple treed have been removed to open up the area to the left of the putting surface.
The back nine at SugarTree is arguably one of the best inward nines in the state. It has a ton of character. The par-3’s are great, and the views can be spectacular.
Before you begin the back, you must make your way across the SugarTree bridge, that covers a small pond as you make your way to the 10th tee. The bridge is only a couple feet off the water, so take a look for some turtles as you cross.
No. 10 itself is slight dogleg left par-4 that plays 412 from the tips. A grove of trees to the right can narrow the fairway, making it difficult to hit for the longer players who choose to hit a driver.
The 11th hole has one of the most interesting approach shots on the course. A good drive affords players just a wedge, but to a green that is guarded long by water. Any tee shot that misses right is almost certainly a bogey or worse, as there is no angle to attack the green.
Holes 12 through 15 are three of the best holes on the property. The par-3 12th is a gorgeous hole that plays slightly downhill and over a pond. The pond is adorned with a stone wall that butts up to the green and that wall features a large wooden water wheel that really makes this a great opportunity for a group photo as you prepare to tee off. No. 12 can play anywhere from just 110-yards from the forward tees to a robust 210 from the tips. It’s a great hole and a great test for even the most experienced ball-striker.
No. 13 weaves its way back to the west as you enter the thicker forest just briefly. A tricky par-4 with a fairway that looks like it would be tough to drive a truck down with room on either side. Guess what I’m saying is, the tee shot is a little tight, but the good news is the hole only plays 355, so a hybrid or more controlled iron off the tee is a possibility. It’s a stiff test off the tee, but find the fairway and lower handicaps shouldn’t have any trouble getting away with a par.
Of all the holes at SugarTree, No. 14 has got to be the most scenic. The only par-5 on the inward nine, this hole bends along the Brazos River is spectacular fashion, showcasing the river and the sandbar in the middle of it. The elevated green is protected by rocks and has an infinity look as if anything to the left of it will drop directly into the river. It’s a great hole, especially in the late afternoon, as the hole bends back to the west, allowing for some great views as the sun sinks into the abyss. It’s a must-see hole if you’re a true course architecture buff.
The final three holes give players one final test coming in, as the par-4 16th can be a bit tricky. The dogleg right has a vast native grass filled chasm that can swallow balls of those who try to be too aggressive. A hybrid or iron shot is a reasonable play and will leave players with a short iron to a smaller green.
The penultimate hole at SugarTree is another great par-3. This uphill, 180-yarder has a narrow neck that players must thread their iron through to hit the putting surface. A pond just in front of the tee box makes you give it a second look, but it’s really not in play unless you chunk your iron.
As you make your way down the cart path to the final tee box, the property once again provides a one-of a-kind look to players. A small water feature presents itself as you approach the 18th hole, with a group of rocks you must scale via steps to arrive at the elevated tee. The hole crests in the middle of the fairway and then plays downhill to a crossing creek that can play optical tricks on the player as they prepare to hit their approach. An iron that finds the green can be converted into a final birdie or two-putt par.
The Clubhouse at SugarTree is one of the most interesting you’ll see anywhere. It presents itself more like a fallout shelter than a place to stock up on a sleeve of balls as you pay your greens fee. A steep staircase leads down to the entrance where you walk in and conduct business. They do have everything you might need to stock up for a round. Shirts, balls, shoes etc…
The dining area is upstairs from the clubhouse and is very adequate, with all the regular staples you might need pre or post-round. From beers and cocktails to breakfast sandwiches, burgers and dogs. You can even go big and get the patty melt and pair it with a Sugartree signature Transfusion, which is a combination of Tito’s vodka, ginger ale and cranberry juice with a fresh squeezed lime. It will certainly cure what ails you, whether it be the brown bottle flu, or just a rough inward nine with a few three-putts. It also has a TV to relax and catch whatever tournament might be showing on the Golf Channel while you dine and enjoy your pre or post round beverages.
SugarTree continues to be at the top of the heap when it comes to fun layouts with consistently above average conditions. Year-in and year-out, they boast some of the best greens we see, and with the grand plans to keep evolving and changing to fin the property needs, expect SugarTree to be a great place to play for years to come.
SugarTree Golf Club
251 SugarTree Dr.
Lipan, TX 76462