The Woodlands Detail
This review is written from the white tees, which are only 6086 yards. The blues are 6946, and are playable for bogey golfers, but only if you're comfortable hitting your three iron a lot. As the name "Woodlands" implies, there are a lot of trees on this course, and the fairways tend to be kind of narrow. The white tees are plenty of golf course!
The first hole gets you immediately into the spirit of the course. It's a short par 5, at only 486 yards. But it's also kind of narrow, with a kink in the fairway right off the tee that keeps you from using your driver. Stray too far right and you land in a pond, or run out of fairway. Try to cut the corner on the left, and that tree will reach out and grab you. But if you can manage a couple of straight 200 yard shots, you're coming into the green with a wedge.
#2 is a 389 yard par 4, playing uphill. It's a bit narrow, and a driver may not be the best choice here. Go with a three wood or a long iron. Your best approach is from the right side -- there's a nasty bunker in front of the left side of the elevated green...
The third hole is a short par 3, playing 149 yards. I wish I could tell you that the best way to play this shot is to hit a high soft shot landing in the middle of the green, scorning to even notice the bunker on the short left side. Unfortunately, my actual experience was to shank a nine iron into the woods on the right, where it took me two chips to get on, and three putts to get down. The woulda coulda shoulda way is better...
The fourth hole is a modest par 4, playing 340 yards. There's a fairway bunker perched on the left side of the fairway, just to encourage you to hit an iron off the tee. Instead, I decided to fly the damn bunker, and let fly with my driver. Yes, you guessed it. I pulled it left into the woods, from which it never returned. The green, which you can easily reach in two with a sensible tee shot, is fronted by a bunker on the left, and its own little "valley of sin" -- a swale in front.
Number 5 is another short par 4 (343 yards). There's a rough area that cuts into the fairway from the left, and up close to the green is a rocky shrubby area on the right. So again, they're discouraging drivers here. If you can keep the rough on the left out of your head, you can easily clear it with a driver, which is actually a pretty good idea, because you really want to be using a short iron as you come into the green. This green is very wide, but has practically no depth to it, so being able to hit a lob wedge or a sand wedge in is really desirable. It will be hard to make anything longer than an eight iron stick.
Number 6 is a 493 yard par 5. Hit a fairway wood off the tee, stay in the fairway, and it should present you with no problems.
The seventh hole is a twisty downhill par 4. The hole encourages you to hit to the right. Don't do it. Once you're right, the grove of trees in front of the green block out your approach shot. Stay left.
Number 8 is a nasty little par 3. All holes that eat well-hit golf balls are nasty. This one has a big nasty bunker on the left, and a pond on the right. I decided to play strategically, and hit a short bail-out to the right, so I could chip-on for an easy up-and-down par. Unfortunately, the reach of the pond was signficantly longer than I thought, and my bail-out shot rolled down this gentle slope, and gracefully into the pond. So the trick to this hole is realizing that the bail-out is actually the sand trap. It's a zen thing...
Number nine a 372 yard hole that wraps around a pond. The pond looks tauntingly close. Almost as if you could fly over it if you caught your driver really well. I'm proud to say that I resisted the temptation, took the smart play to the left side with a three wood, and parred the hole. You can too. Just stay the hell away from that pond!
#10 is like the first hole on the course that I felt comfortable hitting a driver. It's a short par 5, and what they give you off the tee, they take back at the green. You can hit it as far as you want off the tee, and you probably won't want to go for the green in two. The green is tucked around behind a pond. It's the kind of a shot that would scare you to death if you're still 200 yards out. Or even 180. The ideal approach is to 1) stay left of the pond, and 2) get to within 100 yards for your third shot.
#11 is a fantastic head game. It's a short hole -- only 357 -- but it is painted up to look fierce! You tee off over a swamp and a pond, to a bottleneck in the fairway. I tried to be sensible and hit a three wood, but I sliced it out of bounds. I'm still trying to decide if I'd have been better off to hit my driver and consequences be damned, or get really, really sensible and hit a six iron. Yeah. Driver, definitely! Oh, by the way, the green is nasty too -- lots of bunkers on the left side. Helps you remember that Robert Trent Jones, Jr. designed the place.
#12 is a really short par 4 - 322 yards. To make it interesting, RTJ2 put in lots of sand. Tip-toe down the fairway... Five iron, maybe...
#13 is another par 4, and longer this time, playing 394 yards. So you get a little slack on the sand - only two or three fairway bunkers and one or two up around the green. But ... it's narrow. OB comes into play pretty quickly on the right, and there's all sorts of hardpan lies in the rough. Hit whatever club it takes to stay in the fairway. Bogey is a good score here.
#14 is a gorgeous little par 3. It's only 150 yards, and the green sits in a little vale - you'd swear a little mill and a pond would look perfect here. What you don't realize until your second shot is that this hole is demonically designed to punish everything except a perfect shot. How do you tell if the shot was perfect? If it landed on the green and is within 10 feet of the pin, it was perfect. Otherwise, you're scrambling to make bogey. I thought a left side bailout would be safe. Huh-uh. It puts you chipping over a burm with no green to work with. Right? Nope. Bunker trouble. Long? Trees. Short? Maybe short's okay, if you can chip...
#15 ought to be the signature hole for this course "Woodlands". It's a par 5 in the forest, with a circular dogleg wrapping to the left. It's only 483 yards, and you never feel quite safe even trying to hit a 200 yard shot because of the constant bend. In truth, 200 yards still leaves you plenty of margin for error. If you can hit it straight that is... Oh, and the green is a piece of work. It's long and narrow with a pointy front end and a round back end. Bunkers and burms everywhere -- you know the drill. Make sure you can hit a high soft-landing approach shot.
#16 is another short par 3, well defended by bunkers. I took the bunkers out of play by hooking an eight iron into the rough on the left. After tramping around in the knee deep grass I finally found the darn thing. Eventually went on to make two pars here (that's a triple-bogey).
#17 is another strategy hole. It's a 345 yard par 4 with trouble everywhere, and a fairly limited landing zone off the tee, confused by a stray tree which kind of splits the fairway. There's a pond left and trees galore right, and don't even think of hitting a driver here. The green is huge -- make sure you're in the same zip code as the pin when you hit your approach shot, or a three putt will look appealing.
Finally, #18 is just, well, just... Words escape me. From the tee you really can't tell what you're looking at. You know there's a big pond you have to go around, and a tree by the corner of the pond that wants to block the way, but what you can't see is that the way around the pond is actually an isthmus. There's a pond beyond it too! Bring an extra sleeve of balls just for this hole! The green is long and skinny, but you'll be so glad when you finally get to it that you won't mind!
Well that's it. The course is a hoot, the surroundings are lush, and the experience is memorable. Bring your A game, or bring plenty of extra balls...