I’d never heard of Horseshoe Bay when I received an invitation to the Wine, Dine and Jazz Festival that is highlighted every year in the Texas Hill Country northwest of Austin. Austin used to be the place to go if you wanted to enjoy the lake and get away from the hustle and bustle of Houston traffic until it became so popular that many peace-seeking weekenders began detouring to nearby Marble Falls. This part of Texas is the Mayberry RFD of the state, where things are a bit quieter and traffic is…. well...what’s traffic, again?
The Horseshoe Bay Resort is a sprawling 7,000 acres that includes a hotel, palm villas, a yacht club, marina, four golf courses, a spa, restaurants, tennis courts and anything else you could want to make your home away from home even homier.
I didn’t make it to Horseshoe for the festival: I arrived on Super Bowl Sunday, just in time for the opening of the new 360 sports bar. I must confess that I’m not a big football fan, but the bar gave me a great first impression with its giant screens everywhere, charismatic staff and tasty pizza. The bar is plopped right in the middle of the Whitewater putt putt golf course, and what a course that is.
If you’ve become accustomed to the giant cheesy windmills and diminutive Eiffel towers associated with putt putt, you might have given up on miniature golf long ago for more mature pursuits. Whitewater is one of only four in the U.S. that takes your Lilliputian golf game seriously. You won’t find any lighthouses or pagodas to hit your ball through. You will find real grass, flagged holes, waterfalls, and beautiful landscaping. It’s putt putt for grown-ups, with style.
There’s a menagerie of exotic parrots, tortoises and even a Chilean flamingo fringing the perimeter of the course. If you’d like to play on a professional full-sized course, there are three completely separate courses designed by Robert Trent Jones. (Horseshoe Bay has been listed as one America’s Best Golf Resorts by Golf Magazine.) Best of all, you don’t have to join a country club to become a member. All you have to do is book a room at the resort. Poof! You’re a member.
HBR has a newly renovated spa. It’s a completely dedicated building that the hotel will transport you to and fro by golf cart. I had a wonderful 80 minute massage with 15 minutes of reflexology. That’s a long, really good massage. It was wonderful. Calm music, great masseuse, tidy rooms and a great waiting area with granola and fresh fruit. In keeping with the huge renovation, the spa is getting a makeover as well. The changes are happening so fast, by the time I had finished my massage, the new waiting room opened. Literally. Within two hours. Now that’s some fast changes.
HBR hosts events at the resort every week, but there are several annual shindigs that bring in many out-of-towners. Balloons over Horseshoe at the end of March has over 10,000 attendees gathered together to celebrate the ultimate in hot air transportation. Smaller than Albuquerque, but much closer and more accessible; it’s a photographer’s dream. March 31 is also the date for this year's Easter Eggstravaganza. It’s open only for members, but all you have to do to be a member is… say it with me… stay at the resort. The resort is also offering helicopter rides at this event if you contact them in advance.
There are several wine events throughout the year, but the most famous is the aforementioned Wine, Dine and Jazz Festival in the fall featuring well known Texas chefs, Hill Country vineyards and great jazz. Beer by the Bay usually takes place in July and in the past has featured such artists as Pat Green and Tracy Byrd. There are plenty of Texas microbreweries to try here as well, so what’s not to love?
I passed by the marina (which is also undergoing a complete renovation) but it was still a little too cold for me to be playing in the water. I could still see there were lots of choices of boats, paddle boards and jet skis, which is really the main reason people visit lakes and places like Horseshoe Bay Resort. The fact that I had a good time without being able to to do any of that or play golf says a lot for the resort. It is really a golfing/marina place, but has much more going on.
I took a trip to nearby Marble Falls and hit four of the most famous bars and restaurants to see what fun things might be happening in the sprawling metropolis of 6,000 people. There wasn’t much going on in town, and one bartender recommended I go to Horseshoe Bay Resort. Good idea. There were a lot more exciting options at the resort and it was much more fun than watching paint rust in town. Then again, that’s why people come here: It’s all about getting away from the crowds, spending time with family and enjoying great outdoor activities. I went back to the resort, sat on my balcony, sipped some red wine and looked at the beautiful glimmer of lights on the lake.
I’m definitely coming back for the wine festival.