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.
Right on campus is the surprisingly entertaining Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, which chronicles the life and legacy of the Texas-born president and is the most visited of all the presidential libraries.
And looming nearby, at the north end of Congress Avenue, is impressive Texas State Capitol, a pink granite edifice four metres taller than its Washington counterpart.
Many Austin visits include a side trip to San Antonio, 127 kilometres to the south. The city of 1.9 million sits at the crossroads of four different ecological zones - Hill Country, Gulf Coast plains, south Texas chaparral and west Texas desert - that together make ideal golf terrain.
First, though, there is the inevitable pilgrimage to the Alamo, the small Spanish mission in San Antonio where in 1836 Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and other Texas fighters held off a siege by a Mexican army for 13 days.
So rich in history, San Antonio also secured its future and the prosperity of its downtown core with the construction of the River Walk in the 1930s, a miracle of modern urban planning. Rather than paving over the San Antonio River to make room for more buildings, as some developers demanded, the city installed cobblestone walkways along its banks, spanned the narrow river with arched bridges and built steps from numerous street-level locations.
Today, the restaurants, bars and luxury hotels that line its banks along a four-kilometre route make an ideal playground after a day of sightseeing - or, of course, after a day on the links. Like Austin, San Antonio is home to an impressive roster of outstanding courses.
Some local favourites include the Pecan Valley Golf Club - the venerable host of the 1968 PGA Championship, located in the city's southeast.
North of San Antonio, there's also the Arthur Hills-designed Hill Country Golf Club, offering 27 holes of precision golf at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort. Or hit the Quarry Golf Club in the north-central suburbs, a Keith Foster design where the back nine cuts through a 100-year-old quarry.
A great place to soak up local colour is Canyon Springs Golf Club, with its ranch-style clubhouse built on the spot where stagecoaches made their last stop before heading out of San Antonio. Designed by local architect Thomas Walker, this challenging track, on rolling terrain north of the city, requires patient consideration and the use of every club in the bag.
But the pride of San Antonio golf is found at the Westin La Cantera Resort, a colonial-style, 508-room retreat set high on a bluff north of the downtown. La Cantera's two layouts, the Resort and Palmer courses, rival even the two Fazio jewels at Austin's Barton Creek.
The older and more famous is the Resort Course, a Jay Morrish-Tom Weiskopf collaboration that swoops and dips through the hilly landscape like a runaway roller coaster. Host of the PGA Tour's Valero Texas Open, the course includes at least a dozen unforgettable holes. But the masterwork is the par-four seventh, nicknamed the Rattler, which features a 24-metre drop to a fairway booby-trapped by bunkers and a water hazard.
No less difficult or hilly is the Palmer Course, one of Arnold Palmer's best designs. The King's tight fairways and uneven lies cruelly demand an unending succession of tricky shots.
But all is forgiven on the 18th tee, where weary golfers pause to admire a panoramic view across the heights toward downtown San Antonio and the distant Alamo.
They say there's no prettier sight in all of Texas golf.
Pack your clubs
Air Canada, American Airlines and Continental Airlines offer service from major Canadian cities to Texas. Other major U.S. carriers offer flights to Texas destinations via U.S. gateways. Starting May 1, Air Canada will begin daily service from Toronto to Austin.
Pedernales Golf Club 512-264-1489; http://www.pedernalesgolfclub.com. An eccentric nine-hole layout owned by country music star Willie Nelson. Green fees: $12 to $15 (all figures in U.S. dollars).
Barton Creek Resort 1-800-336-6158; http://www.bartoncreek.com. Play on Barton Creek's four courses is restricted to resort guests.
Fazio Foothills: This brilliant Tom Fazio design sets the standard for Texas resort courses. Green fees: $190 to $250.
Fazio Canyons: This acclaimed Fazio design opened in 2000. Green fees: $190 to $250.
Crenshaw Cliffside: A PGA star's first design in his hometown. Green fees: $130 to $180.
Palmer Lakeside: An Arnold Palmer layout built on a bluff overlooking Lake Travis. Green fees: $115 to $155.
Wolfdancer Golf Club 512-308-9653; http://www.lostpines.hyatt.com. This Arthur Hills layout traverses three distinct ecosystems. Green fee: $165.
Apple Rock 830-598-6561; http://www.horseshoebaytexas.com. The standout of three Robert Trent Jones Sr. resort layouts. Green fees: $110 to $125.
Grey Rock Golf Club 512-288-4297; http://www.greyrockgolfclub.com. Oak-lined fairways distinguish this revamped Jay Morrish design. Green fees: $80 to $100.
ColoVista Country Club 512-477-6963; http://www.colovista.com. An affordable course with majestic views of the Colorado River. Green fees: $45 to $65.
Lions Municipal Golf Course 512-477-6963; http://www.ci.austin.tx.us. A beloved city-owned course known as Old Muni. Green fees: $18 to $20.
San Antonio courses
Pecan Valley Golf Club 210-333-9018; http://www.pecanvalleygc.com. This course hosted the 1968 PGA Championship. Green fees: $41 to $51.
Hill Country Golf Club 210-520-4040; http://www.hillcountry.hyatt.com. Precision golfing designed by Arthur Hills. Green fee: $135.
The Quarry Golf Club 210-824-4500; http://www.quarrygolf.com. A Keith Foster design carved through a 100-year-old quarry. Green fees: $89 to $109.
Canyon Springs Golf Club 210-497-1770; http://www.canyonspringsgc.com. A locally designed layout on the site of a historic stage coach stop. Green fees: $85 to $100.
La Cantera Golf Club 210-558-4653; http://www.lacanteragolfclub.com.
Resort Course: This Jay Morrish-Tom Weiskopf co-design is host to the Valero Texas Open. Green fees: $125 to $150.
Palmer Course: A tight and unforgiving Arnold Palmer gem. Green fees: $125 to $150.
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