La Cantera Golf Club (Palmer) in San Antonio, TX
Tee Time: September 9, 2011, 11:22, 99 F, Breezy
Designer: Arnold Palmer, 2001
Playing Partners: Greg Ryan
Tees: Gold, Par 71 (72.4 rating/139 slope/6,535 yards)
Course Handicap: 11 (8.7 index)
Stats: 93 (52-41); 33 putts; 9/14 fairways; 7/18 greens; 11 penalty strokes
The Palmer Course La Cantera in San Antonio, TX is an exciting one. It features massive elevation changes and stunning views of the resort as well as the San Antonio skyline off in the distance. Along with its sister Resort Course that once played host to the PGA Tour’s Valero Open, La Cantera is ranked one of the best resorts in the country. I will preface this by saying that my score looks schizophrenic for a reason. It was hot and even the wind was burning and I was largely hungover, so the first nine holes was just spent trying to keep triple-digits from my final score as Greg Ryan and his 33 strokes raced out to a large lead in his eventual 4&3 win. There, I’ve made my excuses. Next time I play in heat like this I will wish to see real snowmen, not the two I put on my card.
The Palmer Course opens with a straight-forward par 4 with a two-shelved fairway with big rocks in between. Next was an average par 4 with a massive 70+ foot elevation drop from tee to fairway that I put two O.B. on. Life goes on, the course was very fun in any case. Each hole had its own challenges and each time I was forced to ask how to attack this one. And did I mention the elevation changes?
The par-3 4th hole was also very picturesque, a 177 yard 6-iron over water that I double-bogeyed after putting it way left into some trees. The terrain went up and down like a roller coaster on the way to the turn, which was a sharp dogleg right to a green with the clubhouse as the backdrop and a large creek waiting to swallow up your errant approach shots.
The inward nine were my favorite holes, and not just because I finally sobered up and put up a 41 to my opening 52. The holes all rewarded well-played holes with good birdie opportunities, of which I had multiple and could not cash one in. From holes 10 through 12 was a climb to the peak of the course and featured the fun 288 yard par-4 11th, which I came close to driving and made an easy par. From the 12th green were the panoramic views of the valley below, though the heat distortion made it look as if all of downtown San Antonio was melting like a lava lamp. The straight downhill 13th played 186 yards but was reachable with a 9-iron, do give you an idea how steep it was. There was another par-5 to follow that played along an elevated ridge that provided fantastic views the entire length of the hole as the course makes it way back down the hills toward the clubhouse over the last four holes.
Texas is filled with great golf courses and this certainly is one of them. Troon Management keeps the course in great shape in all conditions and the facilities were five-star, including one very refreshing post-round shower in the locker room. The in-cart GPS course map was a big help as many holes included blind shots that were tough to judge on a first loop around the track. I feel a couple rounds on this course would be needed to know all the blind spots and angles to properly play. Someday I will go back on a trip to play 5 or 10 courses in Texas alone and enjoy 10 very different excellent courses, and the La Cantera Palmer Course will definitely be on that list.
#18, Par 4, 463 yards, 2-handicap, My Score: 5
The long par-4 finishing hole sums up the La Cantera Palmer Course in one great hole. Beautiful water features, elevation changes, open fairways and great views. You tee off with only the top of the bell-tower in the distance as your aiming marker and a well placed tee shot will roll down the shelf and leave a short iron into a well guarded green. Four sand traps and a steep drop off on the right side that will send missed shots swimming make hitting this shallow green with a breeze in your face difficult. I missed just left and failed to get up-and-down for a bogey and the end of my round.
Amenities: A-; the clubhouse is very nice inside and the bell-tower is an iconic symbol of the course. The only thing keeping this score from a 5 is the in-cart scorecard tracker that automatically reset after the 18th hole before we could tally our scores. I had to go back and rebuild our scores from the match play results and hole statistics like some insane Sudoku.
Difficulty: A-; a 5 for first time plays, with the blind shots and elevation changes, but the greens were not overly difficult in terms of break and speed which kept 3-putts off the scorecard. I even averaged less than two putts a hole for once!
Scenery: B+; just the 3 great water holes alone (4, 9 and 18) make this a lovely course. Add in the stretch that plays along panoramic views of the valley below and this is an easy 5.
Value: B-; at $99 for 18, you definitely get the luxury golf experience you paid for, but in comparison to other summer heat rates (the $49 Troon Scottsdale rates for example…) it did feel a bit overpriced.
Overall: 3.4 (B+); this is a great course in a region famous for its great golf. And you have to head into San Antonio along the River Walk. Bars, shopping, food and the awesome water in the middle of it all keep this heart of downtown cool in any weather. More cities should look into this.