Feature Story – Get Lost in the Pines

Feature Story – Get Lost in the Pines

By Gary Krupkin

AG Special Guest Contributor

Turn into the gate, and imperceptibly but inexorably, the hectoring of daily clockwork demands unwind as the roadway bends toward The Lost Pines Resort. Into view comes the hotel; a solid, prairie-inspired building of limestone, wood and Texas welcome. “Howdy’s” all around as the staff greets you like a long-lost cousin bringing good news and great cheer.  There’s nothing pretentious here and the care for your comfort is genuine by design and not charade. Enter a lobby generous with fireplaces, high ceilings, snug furniture and a serene atmosphere is just the beginning of a fond relationship.

The peculiarly inviting aspect of Lost Pines is it is a perfect fit for family gatherings, couples’ rekindling or rendezvous, weddings, business retreats or social extravaganzas. Although P.T. Barnum became famous for barking that there’s “something for everybody”, Lost Pines truly fulfills that promise.

Cafes, restaurants and eateries abound. With eight different restaurants, if you go hungry here, you’re just showing off. The Executive Chef, Frank Majowicz, oversees an array of dining options from the most casual to the utterly elegant. You don’t need a suit and tie, but you may want to wear your starched and creased jeans for dining at Stories, the property’s signature steakhouse. They have an incredibly diverse menu and an aggressive wine selection featuring unquestionably exceptional vintages not usually found around these parts.

Something a bit more casual is Shellers Barrelhouse Bar. However, don’t let the word “bar” confuse you; Sheller’s menu is wonderfully creative with traditional sandwiches (you have try the Lost Pines BLT-G), country favorites (borracho bean and steak chili) and tantalizing delicacies (chorizo Bolognese pasta). You could work all day like a rented mule on the buffet breakfast served at Firewheel Café, but don’t miss the other offerings at the poolside Old Buck’s Café, or on the golf course at Birdie’s Burger Bar.

Whatever your active pleasure, Lost Pines has it. Perhaps not climbing Mt. Everest (although you can scale a 40-foot tower) but just about everything else. Zap along on a zip line, kayak the Colorado, fish along a shore or under a pecan tree, trail ride with horses, mules or perhaps a llama, trap shoot at pigeons (clay only, please), play Cowboys and Indians with a tomahawk and archery adventure (wagon train excluded), twilight float on the river, eat s’mores by a campfire, take a treasure hunt adventure (Blackbeard’s pirates attack only intermittently) or just relax by the glistening pools or on the verdant verandas. My goodness, I completely forgot the most important activity; the Goat Social at the Lost Pines Corral.

With all of these amenities and activities, respite might actually figure into a leisurely stay. The guest rooms and suites are incomparably inviting and gracious. Each of them features soft and luxurious towels, large-screen televisions, snuggy bathrobes, refrigerators and luxurious furniture and furnishings. Room service is only a phone call away, and the concierge caters to nearly every whim. An unforgettable experience are the sleeping accommodations. I do not know from whom Lost Pines purchases their mattresses, but I tried to sneak mine out before I left. Unfortunately, I could not find enough rope to secure it to the roof of my car.

The resort features 491 rooms and 58 suites and all are generously large from the 2,600-square foot private cottage Litton House to the nearly 500 square foot hotel rooms. Most of the rooms feature a balcony and all of them overlook stunning vistas. You may want to ask for a room near the corral as those rooms also feature a symphony of hummingbirds that will enthrall and entertain you. In fact, the carpets throughout Lost Pines are reminiscent of the flora and fauna.  Those carpets are inscribed with the words, “Birds sing in the bushes, which always remain green.”

Especially interesting is the artwork and wall hangings throughout Lost Pines. You’ll enjoy seeing paintings, photographs and prints of the Lone Star state’s famous and infamous. Just roaming the hallways is a historic tour of Texas and spending time reading the accompanying plaques is a joyful experience.

No resort would be complete without a spa, and Spa Django is one of the very best imaginable.  The word “Dijango” translates to “I am awake”. Their services offer pampering treatments tailored to enliven each of your senses through music, art, nature, movement and fun. The facility features 18 treatment rooms, men’s and women’s relaxation rooms, hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms. There is an outdoor heated pool and hot tub area. Spa Django is a remarkable journey for the discriminating lady or gentleman.

What a perfect place for a wedding. Lost Pines offers a host of scenic locations throughout the property from a perch along the lower Colorado River to elegant ballrooms and outdoor patios. The resort inspires your romance and ardor in a way that invites you to share your special day with loved ones amid sweeping Texas hills. The resort is fully-staffed with exquisitely trained professionals that will plan your event, implement even the most minute detail and make your guests feel as special as the bride and groom.

Weddings are not the only events for which Lost Pines is famous. They offer a range of facilities for business meetings of just about any size, conventions and soul-renewing retreats.

Texas hospitality abounds everywhere and leaving is just a momentary recess between the time you leave and the time you return.

Ben Crenshaw described perfectly the experience of playing Wolfdancer Golf Course: “A great golf course makes you want to play it so badly that you hardly have the patience to change your shoes.” And so it is at The Lost Pines Resort Wolfdancer Golf Course, near Bastrop. The course’s charm is self-evident; each hole, whether treacherous or blissful, is framed in a completely natural setting. Trees and marsh abound everywhere, making each hole a unique landscape painting. A cursory look at the scorecard is cunningly deceptive. From the regular tees, many of the holes do not look overly formidable, especially for the vigorous golfer. However, it is an entirely different matter when you play the course, especially when the wind is forcing a shot, and the subtleties of rolls and hills have likely ruined an infinite number of scores.

While some readers may want only a hole-by-hole review, a better sense of play comes from the transcendent merit of grouping holes by reference to par. But, however the player prefers to summarize the course, nobody could argue that Wolfdancer is anything other than intensely enjoyable golf.

To my mind, the outstanding feature of the course are its par-3 holes.  As a group, they are Jekyll and Hyde, but mostly the deathly Hyde. Their character changes daily with the vicissitudes of the wind, tee placement and time of day.

The introduction occurs on the fourth hole, an unusually long and well-trapped beauty. The large green looks infinitely smaller because of the Sahara of sand surrounding the front and entire right side. Bail out to the left and the golfer faces a downhill pitch to a green running away from him as fast as a sneak-thief eluding the police.

Only two holes later, the golfer encounters a captivating one-shotter that broaches no room for error. The online summary of this hole offers that this is “Wolfdancer’s Signature Hole … where accuracy is a must to make par” as if only accuracy were the sole necessity for par on this hole. The tee shot is merely terrifying as the golfer faces a sea of water comparable to the Atlantic. The green does not gently slope; it falls from a precipice on the left to a valley on the right. If the daunting visual is not off-putting enough, the golfer realizes that he must throw his tee-shot through a key-hole to achieve any semblance of a holeable putt once he reaches the green. This hole has done a great deal of mischief in its time.

The player has a par-3 respite until he reaches the 12th, my favorite hole on the course. Standing on the tee looking down onto the green made me wonder what Dante must have felt when he stood on the edge of Hades looking into the abyss. An immediate thought came to my mind; this hole is wonderfully treacherous from the blue tees, but merely horribly diabolical from the whites. I fell as much in love with this hole as did the sailors called to the Siren’s song. A deep, slanting bunker guards the entire left side of the horseshoe green, while a lateral bunker guards the right. Thistle, reeds and scrub reach from the tee to almost the front of the green, and excursions into the gnarly rough are certainly fatal.

If the golfer looks away and chooses to ignore the possible disaster at every corner of this hole, he is treated to a gorgeous view of holes 13-18, the winding Colorado River that curves through the land, the resort buildings and the tree-scaped distant horizon. A par here makes it a hole to leave behind with a sigh of satisfaction.

The final par-3 is of merit because of its length without placing much demand on accuracy. Two bunkers guard the left side of the green and a front right-side bunker is challenging. A steep fall on the right side makes a pitch from that pit difficult. The par-3’s alone make this course incontestably fine golf.

The par-5’s are elegant in their architecture and captivating in their strategic value. Birdies are readily achievable, a par within reach by thoughtful play, and a bogey or worse awaiting the player whose fearless merit is greater than the estimation of his ability.

The third hole, the course’s first par-5, is the highest point on the course. It offers a sweeping panorama of the horizon with a sightline all the way to Austin. This hole seems to go on forever and encompasses an enormous swath of land. Taking some time to soak in the splendor of the surroundings is rewarded many times over. The fairway is pockmarked with what appears to be random bunkers that are wide, deep, long or a combination of all three elements. On closer examination, the bunkering directs the golfer’s strategic approach to the hole, offering multiple routes to players of all abilities. Whatever target the player selects, the tee shot is not one of the most difficult, but certainly one of the pleasantest and gives a full measure of sensual delight. A very well-conceived hole that is imaginative and challenging.

While the third hole is a spectacular example of length, width and sand, the fifth hole is a par-5 of strategic complexity which demands a thoughtful and realistic appraisal of the golfer’s individual abilities. It is not difficult to find trouble on this hole and the hazards are woefully thick and retentive. The wise player steers wide away from the left and does not try to run things too fine. It is a subtle double-dogleg that requires the golfer to carry two hazards. The second shot must carry a deep valley and hold what appears to be a wide fairway. However, what appears to be a generous landing area is, in truth, a demand shot of the highest order. The landing area slopes gently from right to left, forcing a low running iron or fairway wood to the left side of the fairway. Only after coming to the ball does the player realize that the left side of this hole is where, as Gary McCord once said, “the bodies are buried.” Trees and scrub block a direct line for the third shot, and hitting a sweeping hook to the green is fraught with danger. The shot must carry a gorge or creek and hold a green only 28 yards deep that pinches in from right to left.

The course gives the player a par-5 rest for nine holes and offers a relatively easy test at hole No. 14. This par-5 is wide and without significant hazards save for a peaceful pond fronting the green on the right. It certainly is no push-over with several fairway bunkers, but careful attention to making good swings will place the golfer on the green and a birdie or par are well within reach.

The last par-5 is the home hole and a gem of strategic worth. The Colorado River lines the far right side of the hole and any ball finding this water is well askew. The danger is not the river, but a serpentine sand bunker starting at the tee and requiring a 270-yard carry. Pecan trees line the left side of the fairway, so a straight shot is required. The second shot is wonderfully deceptive but not particularly difficult. A bunker-pocked ridge runs though the length of the fairway. Hitting left of the ridge leaves a semi-blind third shot and challenging the bunkers by hitting to the right side leaves an unimpeded pitch to a long, narrow green.

Wolfdancer is a par-72 layout with the remainder of holes being par-4’s. The dignity of this course is that none of the par-4’s are unremarkable. Each of them is cunning in its architecture and places a high demand on a variety of shots. Some of the finest of these two-shot holes are especially memorable.

The second hole is long and places a premium on accurate driving but even more delicacy and courage going into the green. The fairway slopes from right to left with heavy trees ready to gobble up any hooking drive. A yawning bunker awaits balls hit to the right. Find the fairway and the fun begins. A canal snakes down the left side of the hole, coils itself in front of the green and winds away down the right side of the putting surface. It is an insidious beast of a creek with thickets and cattails to warn the golfer away from its watery depths. What makes the shot even more imposing is that the green itself is elevated and narrow. Any shot that is short or that favors the right side of the putting surface will find a watery end.

The seventh is a particularly exquisite example of classic architecture. At only slightly over 300 yards, the strongest players may think of it as a pushover. However, for some unscrutable reason, it is very easy to be either too far or too short on this hole and very difficult to hit the proper distances exactly. A deep and imposing gorge fronts the green and any tee shot of less than 290 yards carry will rest at the bottom. Two wonderfully impressive oak trees guard the right side of the fairway and any tee shot near them forces the golfer to face a blocked shot to the pin. The left side of the fairway falls away into a valley lined with trees. There is really only a single proper shot; a ruler straight drive of about 210 yards, avoiding the oaks, double pot bunkers on the left and the fronting gorge. This notoriously narrow hole is capable of ruining any score and, in the process, deflating the most hearty ego.

While the strength of each of the nines is uncontested, the homeward journey, in my opinion, is the more fascinating with a succession of hills, valleys and a trip through an old pecan orchard.  It is of a truly heroic character.

The 13th hole plays within the Colorado River corridor and majestic trees are abundant and sublime. A dog-leg right, it forces the tee shot slightly left to offer any opportunity to approach the green free from overhanging limbs and thick rough. However, the farther left the golfer drives, the longer the second shot into the green. The hole is the longest par-4 on the course, so making the second shot any longer than necessary demands a perfect tee shot. The green itself is perched on a long, narrow mound with a dramatic drop on the left side into a grove of trees. Designer Arthur Hills paid homage to a classic design element of A.W. Tillinghast by placing a sand bunker on the right side of the green. Tillinghast’s bunker is a chimera; a deception that is an optical illusion. It would appear the bunker is hard-set against the edge of a green. In truth, the bunker is well in front of the green, giving the golfer the illusion of a much shorter shot. The golfer usually underclubs and, to his dismay, finds himself mired in the sand pit facing the terrifying possibility of a 30- or 40-yard sand iron to a pitched green.

The final par-4 of unusual beauty was another short hole, the 15th. At only 333 yards from the back tees it seems a sure-fire par. But, standing on the tee demonstrates clearly the inestimable worth of short par-4’s. The hole dog-legs through ancient pecan trees. A bold tee shot combining inordinate length and height may reach the green. But lacking even a minor portion of either requirement leaves the player facing the impossibility of avoiding dozens of trees before reaching the green in two. Even a perfect drive is not rewarded unless the second shot is true. The green is small, sitting atop a substantial mound and the drop-offs on each side are sharp and unforgiving. Deep bunkers front the green and a gnarl of untamed rough catches shots falling off the back.

Many golfers judge a course simply by the condition of the greens. Wolfdancer’s greens are wonderful and Mr. Hills laid them across beautiful and natural golfing ground. They have a natural conformation without the commerciality of many modern courses that artificially create banks and slopes without thought of guarding hole locations effectively and instinctually. The tees, fairways, greens, and hazards present a splendid test with both a range of terrors and joyous satisfaction.

You would be in fine company if you concluded that Wolfdancer is a course that your soul loves best. Admittedly, it may be a blind and unreasoning affection. But, as testament to the appeal of this course, its mettle, spirit, and allure brings back the same golfers, year after year, with a wonderful constancy of affection. It is without reservation that I recommend you pack up your clubs with a peculiar delight and make your way to Lost Pines Resort and tee it up on this elegant playground.