Cover photo courtesy: Palmilla Beach Golf Club
Black Jack’s Crossing at Lajitas Golf Resort
The wild spirit of the Big Bend region is in full effect at this stunning course whose name pays tribute to U.S. Army Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, the man who chased Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa up and down the Rio Grande in the early 20th century. Rolling fairways and greens rest atop desert hills, while in the distance the mighty Davis Mountains offer a beautiful magenta backdrop at the Lanny Wadkins-designed course, which opened in 2012. “The views are spectacular,” says Scott Beasley, president of Lajitas Golf Resort. “The serenity when you’re out there playing—you don’t hear anything but nature. Unless someone hits a bad shot.” Though it’s a 10-hour drive to this 18-hole resort course in Terlingua, located southwest of Big Bend National Park, its perches alone are worth the visit. (You can also take a resort-operated charter flight from Hobby.) Of special note is the serious 649-yard, par-five eighth hole that plays furiously downhill, begging you to bring out the big driver when the wind is with you, and a par-four 14th with tee box views of the Rio Grande and Mexico. —Timothy Malcolm
The resort’s Candelilla Café combines Tex-Mex staples like fajitas and enchiladas with standard American pub fare. Next door is the Thirsty Goat, a watering hole named for the town’s famous beer-drinking mayor, a goat named Clay Henry. Over in Terlingua Ghost Town, enjoy West Texas grub and live music at the Starlight Theatre Restaurant (thestarlighttheatre.com).
For the golf discount—and to walk from hotel room to green—stay at Lajitas Golf Resort (from $150). With trails, an equestrian center, an RV park, a general store, and rooms with cowhide rugs and four-poster beds, it combines modern amenities with a Wild West cachet. Or stay in one of four renovated Airstreams in Terlingua Ghost Town’s Retro Rents (from $125 for two nights, retrorents.com), where you’ll be close to restaurants and shopping but within earshot of coyote howls.
Hike Big Bend National Park (nps.gov/bibe), located a half-hour’s drive away. Pace yourself with a trip into the desert on the 3.8-mile Upper Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail, or test your uphill skills with the 4.8-mile Lost Mine Trail climbing through forests to a ridge with views of Mexican peaks.
Horseshoe Bay Resort
At this lakeside Hill Country destination, opened in 2005 just outside Austin, you’ll have your pick of three championship courses, all designed by the famed Robert Trent Jones. There’s Slick Rock, the original course with a memorable No. 14 called the Million Dollar Hole because of the double waterfall in your face as you tee off; Apple Rock, a recently renovated challenge with plenty of elevation changes and views of Lake Lyndon B. Johnson; and Ram Rock, home to a tough par-three No. 4 with an island green that demands accuracy. If you’ve had your fill of drives and approach shots, take a jaunt through Whitewater Putting Course. With a par-72 with sand traps and other natural hazards, it’ll be the most exquisite and competitive putter-only course you’ve ever played. Beyond that, relaxation options abound. “After a round, guests can enjoy the spa, a sunset cruise on Lake LBJ, waterfront dining, or relaxing at one of the resort pools,” says Bryan Woodward, managing director of Horseshoe Bay. “The only hard part is choosing what to do first.” —Emma Schkloven
Visit the resort’s J’s Restaurant for brisket from custom-made smokers. For more buttoned-up celebrations, the dress-code-enforced Yacht Club overlooks the waterfront and makes a mean chicken-fried lobster. Off the resort, LeStourgeon Seafood Company (lestourgeonseafoodcompany.com) keeps things simple with fried and grilled seafood, plus ribeyes served up in friendly, homey environs.
Resort options (from $127) include the 249-room tower, villas with up to three bedrooms, waterfront condos, and single homes. Some homes have swimming pools, patios, and even swimming docks at Lake LBJ. Cannonball!
You’re within driving range of a host of Hill Country wineries, and the resort has its own shuttles to take you to spots like Stone House Vineyard (stonehousevineyard.com) in case you want to do more than sample.
Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course
Created out of the Chihuahuan Desert at the foot of the Franklin Mountains, El Paso’s Painted Dunes offers a playing experience you just can’t get anywhere else. Composed of three nine-hole courses with elevated greens, and small lakes set against native desert plants and dazzling views of the Franklin Mountains, the course, designed by Ken Dye and Jeffrey Brauer, is a stunner. It’s also rife with challenges. Both the East and West courses have plenty of grass bunkers hiding out there, unforgiving obstacles for golfers who are just a little inaccurate. The North Course, with its wide fairways, may look easier, but its 28 bunkers and forced carries over water say otherwise. The course offers memberships; non-members should book their tee times a week in advance to ensure preferred placement. —Denise Cathy
A visit to Hillside Coffee and Donut Co. (hillsidecoffeeanddonut.com) is a must. Doughnuts are an art form here, with both traditional glazes and flavors such as Abuelita chocolate. Magic Bistro (magicbistroelp.com) offers freshly made dishes using in-house smoked meats and homemade dressings and sauces. Pro tip: don’t miss the wine-braised beef short ribs. For drinks, Joe Vinny & Bronson’s Bohemian Café (joevinnyandbronsons.com) offers a laid-back atmosphere. Whether building your own six-pack or enjoying a glass of Cavicchioli 1928 Prosecco to celebrate a day well spent, you’re in good hands here.
For a luxurious trip into the past in downtown El Paso, Hotel Paso del Norte, Autograph Collection (from $150, marriott.com) is the place to stay. Built in 1912, the hotel—which has Dome Bar, with a ceiling made of Tiffany-stained glass as its centerpiece—provides a beautiful place to relax and unwind. Or hit up the mid-century modern Hotel Indigo El Paso Downtown (from $129, ihg.com) to get into the vacation groove.
Aztec Cave at Franklin Mountains State Park (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/franklin-mountains) is a hike of just over a mile with plenty of natural flora. For history lovers, the nine-mile El Paso Mission Trail (visitelpasomissiontrail.com) allows you to explore the oldest two missions in Texas, the Ysleta and Socorro.
Palmilla Beach Golf Club
This links-style course—meaning a coastal placement with large bunkers and wide-open spaces that invite hard wind gusts—is the product of survival. Originally, Palmilla was an 18-hole, par-71 monster designed by Arnold Palmer, but a lack of consistent business in Port Aransas coupled with destruction by Hurricane Harvey spurred major change. Today Palmilla’s main course is a nine-hole adventure, still in the links style, but far faster to play. Plus, there’s now a separate three-hole loop perfect for practice, or some friendly wagers. “In general, the industry is going away from the staunch and proper golf that a lot of folks have grown up playing,” says Rob Alcorn, general manager of Palmilla Beach. “So our design is something that’s more approachable and inviting, more appealing to a wider group of golfers.” Palmilla is now positioned as a fun course of par threes and fours that can be played in less than two hours. If you want to hit a little more, pay for the 12-hole experience and finish your round with the loop where each pin is less than 120 yards from the tees. Or, if you still want all 18, you’ll play the main course twice, just on different tees the second time around. Best yet, you’re on the beach: After your game, take it to the sand and soak up some additional sun. —TM
Right on the resort is one of Port Aransas’s best restaurants: The Black Marlin. Sip wine and enjoy fish tacos, blackened redfish, or shrimp and stone-ground grits in Creole cream sauce. Venetian Hot Plate (venetianhotplate.com) is a favorite of island dwellers for its gourmet Italian dishes including veal scaloppini and fettucine with filet tips, bacon, and sage-tomato cream sauce. At night Shorty’s (shortysportaransas.com) is where locals hang for beer, shots, live music, and pool.
Wake up with a view of the course, or the Gulf of Mexico—your choice—at Palmilla Beach Resort (from $125). The resort offers rentals of everything from one-bedroom condos to four-bedroom, single-family getaways with private pools, many equipped with full kitchens and private decks.
Rent a golf cart from Silver Sands (silversandsgolfcarts.com) to get around the 18 miles of uninterrupted public shoreline. Or check out Mustang Island State Park (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mustang-island). Rent your kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Coastal Bend Kayaking (from $40, coastalbendkayaking.com) to enjoy the island’s miles of paddling trails.
Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort
Nestled in Hill Country, Tapatio’s resort near Boerne offers golfers a meandering 18-hole journey through limestone cliff faces and rolling hills. At just over 6,000 yards, this fast-paced course—designed by Bill Johnston in 1981 and updated by Tripp Davis in 2015—has four tee boxes, suiting a range of hopefuls out for a good time amidst breathtaking scenery. Even experienced golfers will find a challenge in the swirling winds that whip through the hills and canyons. If the winds don’t faze you, No. 12 just might. At only 296 yards, this short hole features a 60-foot drop in elevation ending in a pond before changing into an uphill climb on the fairway to rejoin the green. “You can hit an iron off the tee or you can try to go through the green. It’s kind of a risk/reward hole, I think is the best way to put it,” says Pat Roper, golf director at Tapatio Springs. Roper strongly recommends reserving your tee time at least a week out, while Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort guests may reserve up to two weeks in advance. —DC
The resort’s La Cascada Table & Bar serves up classic Hill Country favorites with an elevated twist. Don’t miss the smokehouse mac ‘n’ cheese topped with the chef’s signature Dr Pepper brisket, or the onsite bar featuring signature cocktails. Downtown Boerne’s Bear Moon Bakery & Café (bearmoonbakery.com) prizes local, organic, and small-batch goodies. From the rotating selection of pastries to sandwiches, you can’t go wrong. Then grab a beer at Cibolo Creek Brewing Co. (cibolocreekbrewing.com). Featuring small and large batches, the brewery has seasonal offerings, plus year-round favorites, such as its popular Boerne Blonde.
Located on 220 acres of stunning Texas Hill Country, Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort (from $139), with idyllic pools, walking paths, a fitness center, and an authentic salt cave spa in the resort’s Puresòlspa, guarantees a good time.
Hit the Cave Without a Name (cavewithoutaname.com), a living limestone solutional cave, located just 11 miles outside Boerne, that draws visitors 80 feet below the earth to view sites like the famed Queen’s Throne Room. Or go for a trail ride. Led by professional horse trainer Willie Stricker, with Stricker Trail Rides (strickertrailrides.com), you can saddle up and take in the scenery from the back of an experienced trail horse.