Almost everything I knew about Texas I learned from a song or a major event. The Yellow Rose of Texas, Deep in the Heart of Texas, the Kennedy assassination in Dallas, along with the George and ‘Dubya’ Bush elections!
These along with a few other notable news stories formed my impressions of this huge state.
The decision, therefore, to spend a week at the Tapatio Golf Resort just outside of San Antonio promised to yield new experiences beyond the wishful golf scores I was pursuing. The golf scores never did materialize, but what emerged out of the stay was a significant appreciation for this region of the country and one of its major cities.
Since golf was the magnet that drew me to the area it is appropriate to note that the Tapatio Golf Resort seems to have become the winter golf home for many from the northern states and Canada, drawn to the area by the weather and nearby shopping and dining opportunities. Jack Parker, the almost unbelievably warm and gracious president of Tapatio Springs, saw the opportunity to attract winter golfers many years ago. On an early prospecting journey many years ago, he discovered that the northern states think that daytime highs of 60 degrees are just fine through most of the December and January days.
Tapatio Springs Resort consists of three separate nine hole courses, all in a deep valley protected by the hills and trees and hillside homes that surround it. But unlike other regions, the homes seldom crowd the course. Most are high up the valley and even the ones along the course are, for the most part non-intrusive. The Ridge nine in particular will challenge even scratch golfers, with is rapidly changing terrain and picturesque, but imposing tee boxes overlooking deep gorges leading to that holes fairway or green.
Parker is also a partner in San Antonio’s Quarry Golf Club. This course, transformed in 1993 by Parker and his partners out of a deep excavated hole in the ground, is now consistently rated near the top in Texas public access golf tracks. If Tapatio Springs golf offers exciting valley views, the Quarry course quite literally takes it to new heights.
While the front nine of the course, like many in the area, is laid out over gentle rolling hills, the back nine sees your cart going up and down steep slopes many times. It is the view that changes the most. The course itself, while challenging, has been design so as not to make the greens unreachable or too difficult. Good golfers will still be able to score well. I, however, did not tame the back nine in any manner. Parker, who himself is in his 70’s, did demonstrate how it should be done. While unlimited golf play at Tapatio is included for those who are guests,
special pricing is also offered for those who wish to golf the Quarry Club.
Tapatio is only about 30 minutes outside of San Antonio. And it is this city that is truly a hidden gem in the United States.
It is hard to imagine how the seventh largest city in the country can be considered unknown or unexplored. But for most, it is not a metropolis we hear much about. Yet it, and the surrounding area, offers many of the most popular tourist attractions in the state of Texas. Sea World and the nearby Six Flags of Texas Amusement Park (fully opened only during the months from March through October) draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
The Alamo, the subject of movies, documentaries, and folklore, is one of the most visited shrines in America. Davie Crockett, Jim Bowie, and the image of the fighting stubborn military come alive in their legends, both
historically accurate and as exaggerated by movie directors. As Alamo literature suggests, it symbolizes an American ideal of “a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds–“a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice
for freedom.” Few visitors will leave the entrance of the Alamo without capturing a photographic memory of them in front of this gateway.
As strong an attraction as is the Alamo, what brings visitors back many times over on a vacation is the now famous River Walk. City planners from around the world fly into San Antonio to study the result of far sighted
visionaries who transformed a river which flooded so often that it was about to be filled in. Instead, the persistence of civic leaders and city fathers over decades led to the creation of a long, winding food and
entertainment Mecca that keeps both locals and visitors alike, coming back to it day after day, and especially night after night.
San Antonio’s River Walk provides inspiration for many other river cities today which have their own visions of creating expanding attractions around their waterways. They can learn much about structuring such a development to create the kind of maximum economic impact such a project can make.
Whether your taste is Mexican or Italian, steak or vegetarian, you will find it on the River Walk. You’ll experience your choice of entertainment from rock to country to Mexican bands. Expensive jewelry or cheap and garish trinkets are equally accessible from the range of retail outlets that are intertwined along the River Walk route.
While a city of San Antonio’s size must surely have its seedy side, unlike so many other large cities, if they exist they surely are well hidden. It is one of the cleanest cities I have visited, and its residents are extremely friendly, perhaps appreciating the tourist dollars that come with the occasional lost and innocent questioning. Yet it is clear that they are not jaded by serving people from all over the world, nor do they seem to take these visitors for ranted.
Off the River Walk, shoppers can find almost anything they might want. And for those who must have extreme shopping to keep blood flowing through their veins, opportunity awaits about forty five minutes away at the two
major factory outlet malls just out side of San Marcos. Almost two hundred and fifty brand outlets offering everything tourists and local residents seek. Name the brand…Tommy Bahama, Polo Ralph Lauren, Gap, Lacoste, and even Restoration Hardware…all these and others are there. The only way you can do justice to the expedition is to shop the mall by quadrant, moving the car only after you have completed a section. ABC Television’s The View once rated it as the third best place to shop in the world.
Whether your interest is golf, entertainment, dining, or shopping, San Antonio and Tapatio Springs make for a tremendous escape for short term visitors and snowbirds alike. The songs and past events of Texas become
mere shadows after experiencing the reality of a new modern version of San Antonio Rose.
IF YOU GO:
FOOD: The community of Bourne near Tapatio Springs has the usual offering of chain restaurants including Chili’s, just a few miles from the Resort. In San Antonio, on the River Walk definitely try Boudro’s Texas Bistro for
quality dining and really good service. The Iron Cactus offers an excellent traditional Mexican menu, and for the Hard Rock Café aficionados’, one awaits you on the River Walk as well. Off the Walk Sushi lovers will appreciate the unique offerings of Zushi Sushi. For fast food try one of the multitudes of Whataburger outlets. They seem to be the South’s answer to the big M.
ACCOMODATION: Tapatio Springs Rates are reasonable and include golf. They also offer monthly one and two bedroom condo rates for long stay guests. There is a Crowne Plaza, a Hyatt Regency, and a Marriott; all on the River Walk in San Antonio
CAR RENTALS: While all the majors have locations at the airport, Alamo is recommended first. The name alone indicates its power of service in theregion.
SHOPPING: Not far from Tapatio Springs are The Shops at La Cantera. This is the home of San Antonio’s only Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom stores. Mostly high end, the mall is also sprinkled with stores like Dillard’s and
Foley’s. A Trip to the connected Prime and Tanger Factory outlet malls, with over two hundred brands, is a must.
Forward your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Pradinuk is President of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre, a large on line travel products store. He can be heard Sundays at noon CST live on
www.cjob.com . Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com http://www.journeystravel.com/ or read Ron’s travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca