Just two hours east of Dallas on Interstate 20, sits the town of Gladewater. Just a stone’s throw away from Kilgore, this sleepy town of just over 6,000 boasts the motto: “treasuring the past, while embracing the future.” Sitting just off I-20, Tempest Golf Club is doing exactly that. Not only do they treasure the past, but they sit on the cutting edge of hospitality, agronomy and East Texas charm.
Once known as Southern Hills Golf Club, Jeffrey Brauer was hired to renovate and freshen up this property back in 2016. The course officially opened again five years ago, and the strides they have made since then have been incredible to see. The course features five sets of tees that can play anywhere from a pulse-pounding 7,229 yards, to a user-friendly 4,512 from the forward tees. The one slight criticism I might offer the Tempest management would be a needed combo tee that falls somewhere between the blue tees (6,748) and the white tees (6,051), which vary almost 700 yards. Something in the 6,300 to 6,400-yard range would be a nice medium for those who still want to experience some of the elevated tee boxes, but don’t want to play from almost 6,800 yards.
As you approach the property, you are greeted by a massive American flag, which is perched atop a 205-foot pole. The flag itself is 80 feet long and 40 feet high, which makes it one of the biggest displays of the Stars and Stripes in Texas. As you approach the flag, which sits near the driving range and behind the No. 9 green, take the chance to look up and appreciate its sheer size, which will have you whistling the Star-Spangled Banner as you hit some warmup balls and get loose for your round.
The clubhouse features Neptune’s Grille + Bar, which has fantastic food and beverage service. Kennedy, our server, was friendly and welcoming, keeping our drinks freshened up with a nice smile and some light conversation. Neptune’s offers breakfast and lunch options, which are all well executed and tasty. For breakfast, they have a solid selection, including a sampler of eggs, bacon or sausage and toast. If you are looking to carbo-load before your round, then a short stack or waffles are also on the menu. If you want something a little more interesting, then eggs benedict or the chicken and waffles may be more your speed.
For lunch or an early supper, then I suggest the club sandwich or the Neptune’s Burger. The burger is served up a perfect medium with pepper jack cheese, fried jalapeños, thinly sliced friend onions and their “boom boom” sauce, which has a buffalo sauce twang. This burger isn’t for those who can’t handle spice, as the pepper jack, the jalapeños and the “boom boom” combine to bring the heat. Smaller sharable plates are available, as well, including chicken wings, the Poseidon cheese fries or fried pickles.
If you want to step off property for a meal, then check out the Country Tavern, which is about a 10-minute jaunt into Kilgore. They have some of the best cold beers and barbecue you will find anywhere. The brisket, ribs, sausage and turkey are all amazing and can be paired with sides like spicy mac-n-cheese, BBQ beans or potato casserole. You won’t walk away hungry.
As you prepare for your round at Tempest, roll a few putts on their massive putting green, which comes complete with a monument dedicated to the East Texas legends of golf. The plaque bears the names of Jacky Cupit, Buster Cupit, Roy Pace and Homero Blancas, all of whom helped shape the golf landscape of the region.
The golf course layout is simply sublime. With rolling elevation changes, elevated tees and beautiful water features that will challenge even the most well-refined ball strikers. The epic pine trees and rolling terrain are more akin to golf in Georgia than in the state of Texas, which makes this a welcome change from the usual flatter, Oak-lined course layouts we have in DFW.
A few of the highlights of the outward nine include the first hole, which is a 377-yard dogleg left. There is a creek that runs across the hole, which must be carried to reach the fairway. A large fairway bunker on the right side can collect tee shots that chase through the fairway, so the longer hitters may consider an iron or a three-metal to eliminate the chance of finding it. Find the fairway here and nothing more than a short iron should be in-hand, offering the chance to hit one close to the hole on this slightly elevated green and card an opening birdie or simple two-putt par.
No. 3 is the first real example of the elevation changes to come at Tempest. This hole plays significantly downhill from tee box to fairway, and at 470 from the tips, it’s not exactly short. The approach plays over a creek to the putting surface that is well protected by significant mounding and runoffs on both sides. Miss the green on your approach, and the up-and-down can be near impossible. Four is a great score here.
After the tough par-4 third, comes the short, downhill par-3 fourth. Called “Sombrero” for the shape of the green, at just 157 yards, this one seems pretty simple, but club selection is everything here. On windy days, choosing your weapon can be daunting, as anything short comes up in a meandering creek, and anything long and left can find a pair of bunkers. Let the pin placement dictate how aggressive you would like to be. Anything tucked left or right should be a more conservative middle of the green play. When the pin is in the fat part of the putting surface, fire right at it.
The other par 3 on the front is the seventh. This is a classic redan design, with the green sloping hard from front right to back left. Stately pine trees behind the green offer a real Georgia feel, but don’t let the beauty fool you; a pair of diabolical bunkers are waiting to corral mis-hit irons, which can quickly lead to a big number. I will offer one quick pro-tip on this one: if the pin is back left, don’t try to be a hero, just take a conservative line and find the middle of the green, as the bunker on the left with that pin placement is a very low percentage up-and-down.
No. 8 at Tempest is arguably the most interesting hole design on the property. A hard dogleg left that features Rocky Creek sweeping across the fairway, this tee shot requires a precise iron or hybrid short of the water, followed by an approach to a carnival green that has three distinct tiers. Miss on the wrong tier, and you may walk off feeling like you just got punched by Apollo Creed. This is a fun hole, but one that requires your full attention and ball-striking skills.
No. 9 opens a stretch of three par 5s in five holes. It is the second par 5 on the outward nine and proves to be a tricky driving hole. This is a blind tee shot with a severe drop off right of the fairway, and water on the left at about 300 yards. The water can be in play for the longer hitters, but it really isn’t much of a concern for the average Joe. The real money-maker here is the second shot. Hit the fairway, and it can be tempting (the hole is named Temptation) to go for the green in two, but the water that lines the fairway landing zone on the left continues all the way up to short of the green, so any misses left or a little short can be disastrous. As you walk off the green on nine, don’t forget to snap some photos of that American flag on the way back to the cart.
No. 10 is another par 5 with a whimsical tee shot. Players tee up and play over water, and two large fairway bunkers bisect the fairway into an upper and lower landing zone. Carry the traps, and there is a speed slot that can slingshot balls down the fairway and offer a real opportunity to get home in two. The green here is the great equalizer, with three tiers from back to front. End up long when the pin is cut in the front, or in front when the pin is in back, and hold on for a wild ride. The green isn’t quite as tough as the one on No. 8, but it’s definitely a challenge.
No. 12, known as “High Bridge,” features a stunning tee shot of about 185 yards over a small, foliage-lined creek down in a gorge. Bunkers in front and behind the green make this a challenging yardage to judge, but the view is worth the price of admission. And on our visit, the agronomy team was in the process of planning flowers behind the green, meaning in the very near future, this will be one of the most beautiful par-3 tee shots in Texas public golf. I can’t wait to get back to Tempest and see the result.
There are a lot of beautiful holes at Tempest, but I think my favorite might be No. 16. From the elevated tee, you can see the fluttering American flag in the distance, which makes this a great photo opportunity for you and your group. The tee shot plays downhill, but at just 378 yards from the tips, it will make players think. There are four bunkers on the hole and a pair of small creeks to navigate. The initial bunker sits just to the right of the fairway. There are two more about 25 yards short of the green on the left and one that guards the green on the right. This requires a precision shot off the tee, regardless of whether you choose to lay up for position or take on as much of the hole as you can off the tee box. There is also a small lake about 50 yards left of the green, meaning anyone with a big miss in that direction can bring it into play. The green sits slightly elevated from the short-grass and runs from front right to back left, making this approach more delicate the closer to the green you get.
The final hole at Tempest is the No. 1 handicap on the course. This is a bear of a par 4, measuring 503 yards from the back tees. Yes, that’s right, it’s a 503-yard par 4. The elevated tee does make it play slightly shorter, but it is still all you want and a perfect example of why playing appropriate tees is so important. A large serpentine bunker lines the left of the fairway as the hole twists to the right. This is a perfect visual for those who love to play a cut off the tee, although big hitters can bring water on the right into play with too much cut. Find the fairway and this hole becomes much easier, although the green presents one final challenge as it is narrow and deep from front to back. Mounding on the left can kick errant shots back toward the putting surface, so keep that in mind if you are thinking about the best place to miss.
Tempest is also now offering a stay-and-play package. A developer constructed some condos on the back end of the driving range, just a minute drive from the clubhouse, which Tempest sub-leased and is offering for stay-and-play packages. The condos are three bedrooms and can accommodate as many as eight people, meaning you could theoretically house as many as 16 for a Ryder Cup-style guys’ trip. The condos are still brand-spankin’ new, clean and comfortable. There is a small back patio that features a gate to the range, where you can challenge your buddies to some closest-to-the-pin action in the evenings over beverages. There are also plenty of TVs with streaming capabilities if you want something a little more low-key, like a weekend getaway with your significant other, and feel like watching a movie while you’re on property. Pricing is competitive depending on season, starting at just $600 a night for one night in the condo with four green fees. Not too shabby at all. All you need to do is call the pro shop for more information on booking.
Tempest is undeniably one of the most unique public layouts in the state. With all of the elevation changes and some diabolical greens, it is a great test of golf should you want to play the tips, but can also be incredibly enjoyable for the average player from a couple tees in. From opening tee shot to final putt, you will love every hole, and they have arguably the best collection of par 3s anywhere. Course conditions on our visit were acceptable at the current rate, with a few bare spots in fairways from the wild weather we had over the winter. But the layout more than makes up for a few turf issues, and they recently brought back their old superintendent, who is making changes on how they handle agronomy moving forward. Meaning the course should continue to evolve and improve over the coming months.
At the end of the day, Tempest is a great place for your next golf outing. Whether it is a day trip for one round, or a weekend stay-and-play for a couple days, you don’t want to miss out on this experience. I have often called Tempest “Texas’ public Augusta,” and when you play it, you will see what I mean. And, at just two hours away, it’s worth the trip to Gladewater.