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Austin's other club scene Add to ...

In line with the city's unofficial slogan, "Keep Austin weird," local rules at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Golf Club restrict foursomes to no more than 12 players and ban bikinis and other sexually exploitive attire - "except on women."

Pedernales, a tumbledown nine-hole layout built by the country music legend on a former cow pasture northwest of Austin, makes nobody's list of the Lone Star State's best courses. But the club's iconoclastic attitude is typical of a central Texas boomtown of 1.4 million that boasts a music scene rivalling that of Nashville and New Orleans, exuberantly celebrates all things unorthodox or avant-garde, and voted against George W. Bush in the last presidential election.

And red-hot golf scenes in Austin and nearby San Antonio, just over an hour's drive south on the I-35, are drawing growing numbers of Canadians to the Sunbelt state - at its loveliest in the spring, when the weather is mild and bluebonnets and other wildflowers are in bloom. Last year, an estimated 308,500 Canadians visited Texas through the end of September, a 21-per-cent increase over the same period in 2006.

"Both Austin and San Antonio are filled with quality courses," says James McAfee, the editor of Texas Golfer magazine. "The boom began with the opening of Austin's Barton Creek Resort in 1987, which raised the bar for golf throughout the state. Barton Creek's two Tom Fazio-designed layouts are still the best resort courses in Texas."

Seamlessly carved through rolling hills west of the city, Fazio Foothills, the original showpiece of Barton Creek's four courses, takes advantage of the dramatic scenery. A green-side waterfall on the par-three ninth hole is immediately followed by a 30-metre drop in elevation on the awe-inspiring 10th.

Launched to wild acclaim in 2000, Fazio Canyons is possibly an even more thrilling test. A series of intimidating carries over ancient escarpments culminate in a pinpoint approach shot across a snaking creek at the par-five 18th hole.

And the resort's two other golf courses - Crenshaw Cliffside (PGA star Ben Crenshaw's first design in his hometown) and Palmer Lakeside (an Arnold Palmer track built on a bluff overlooking Lake Travis) - are solid partners to the Fazio layouts.

Another top draw is the Chuck Cook Golf Academy, one of North America's leading teaching facilities. The chance to oggle Lance Armstrong or Sandra Bullock, among the local celebrities seen using Barton Creek's tennis courts, indoor track and other facilities, doesn't hurt either.

But Barton Creek wasn't just an immediate hit with golfers or star-watchers. Its popularity sparked the opening of a succession of high-profile courses and resorts that quickly put Austin on the golf map.

Wolfdancer Golf Club, the showpiece of the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa in nearby Bastrop, is one of the most talked about recent additions. The Arthur Hills layout brilliantly traverses three distinct ecosystems: sloping prairie, wooded ridgeline and a river valley dotted with native pecan trees.

Other standouts include Apple Rock, one of three Robert Trent Jones Sr. layouts at Horseshoe Bay Resort, northwest of Austin on the shores of Lake Lyndon Baines Johnson; the Jay Morrish-designed Grey Rock Golf Club, in the city's southwest suburbs; and ColoVista Country Club in Bastrop, offering majestic views of the Colorado River.

Even Austin's five municipal courses, where green fees average about $17.50, are worthy tests. The best of the bunch is Lions Municipal Golf Course, affectionately known as Old Muni. Crenshaw and Tom Kite each won the annual Firecracker Open at this track early in their careers.

But no matter how tempting the golf, wise visitors to Austin budget enough time to explore the city's raucous downtown, where the walls literally shake to the beat of blues, country, jazz and rock.

In the Warehouse District and along Sixth Street, where the most popular of the nearly 200 live music clubs are found, street signs warn: "No parking. Musicians unloading."

Finding a spot indoors could be a challenge too. Fuelling the vibe here are the 50,000 students attending the massive University of Texas campus, which sprawls through the heart of the city.

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