It took a visionary like Jerry Rawls to imagine that a truly world-class golf course could be carved out of a cotton farm in the West Texas Panhandle. Positioned on the Texas South Plains on a short-grass prairie, Lubbock, Texas may—at first—seem an unlikely site for a course design that will position Texas Tech as a leader in NCAA championship golf. The wind-swept Llano Estacado, where the skies are big and blue, sunsets are boastful, the wind is unabated and the land is dry and flat, is a far cry from the likes of Pebble Beach, Augusta or Torrey Pines. Those who have seen Texas Tech’s brilliant new collegiate golf course emerge, however, will agree that its designer, renowned golf course architect Tom Doak, has created a masterpiece on the High Plains.
A minimalist by reputation, Doak stepped out of that role for this design, moving 1.3 million cubic yards of topsoil to sculpt a course layout like no other. This parkland course, with its undulating greens, vast fairways and long, picturesque views, provides a top-flight setting that few golfers experience on a regular basis, whether they’re from West Texas or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Doak accepted the challenge of designing the magnificent layout from its primary financier, Texas Tech alumnus, Jerry S. Rawls of Sunnyvale, California. Doak’s stellar reputation is highlighted by his recent project, Pacific Dunes in Bandon, Oregon. When it opened July 1, 2002, the immaculate, seaside links course garnered instant acclaim and was listed in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the World. With Rawls’ vision and Doak’s craftsmanship, The Rawls Course is destined to be one of the top-ranked collegiate courses in the nation.>
Starting with a flat site, Doak’s objective was to create an oasis at the edge of the Texas Tech campus. Unlike predictable municipal layouts that are often constructed on level plots, the aim was to establish a design unlike any other in the country. This is the type of creationist project Doak was ready for, following the completion of Pacific Dunes. While the Bandon layout followed the natural contour of the land, The Rawls Course is a product of Doak’s vivid imagination. His Goal was to craft the course to emulate the eroded features and canyons of the South Plains Caprock region. The natural texture of the landscape—like the course—reflects the wearing down of the land from wind and water over time. Fairway contours, roughs and bunkers are all reminiscent of these narrow, gouged-out landforms. Rustic, lively and beautiful, The Rawls Course provides for an unforgettable round of golf that will keep you coming back for more.
When considering a course design in West Texas, you must factor in the wind. Present most of the time, it comes from a fairly predictable direction. But it can change in a hurry, so it has to be a consideration on every part of the course. For the player, using the wind to your advantage is key. Because there may be a significant difference in wind speed from club head to 20 feet overhead, club selection is not a science on this course. In fact, you might consider leaving the yardage book in your bag. Choosing the right club and gauging wind patterns is based on feel and being inventive. A short par four, for example, may require the astute golfer to play the shorter side of the fairway and hit the control shot into the wind rather than straight down wind. Against the wind off the tee or on the approach, a low shot is obviously more beneficial.
The Rawl’s Course fairways cater to big hitters off the tee, and the exceptional tif-sport Bermuda turf will cause the ball to roll considerable distances. Wide fairways and big greens provide many options for the novice player. But, low handicap golfers who want to reach the green in regulation may have a tough go, as approach shots are a bit problematic. Most greens are fortified with small, finger-like, but very deep bunkers. With the fringe mowed to fairway height, approaches coming in hot won’t hold the green. Although the fairways leave plenty of room for error, only a slice of each link provides the right angle for a shot at the flag. On many holes the best shot is a bump and run, bouncing short of the green rolling toward the pin. The good news is that you won’t have to worry about O.B. or lost balls. The wide-open configuration, minimal water trouble and lack of Godzila hazards will minimize penalty strokes.
Short game and putting strategy make up half of Doak’s concept for The Rawls Course. Truth be known, the length of most holes and prevailing winds will make it less likely for the amateur to hit many greens. Most golfers will probably be playing their third shot to the green on most long, par four holes. Doak planned for interesting shots around the green. Setting up the best angle to the pin is your high percentage shot, so the golfer should pay close attention to ball placement out in the close-range fairway. These tight approaches make taking unnecessary risks costly. Relatively small bunkers guard oversize greens that rise and fall dramatically in most cases. Multi-tiered greens, the steep and slick short rough, and hard-to-read contours make the short game tricky and punitive. The course’s California-style greens are unusual for West Texas play. An extremely smooth and lively putting surface, the greens hold moisture uniquely well and don’t puddle. The perfectly manicured bent grass greens flow out to a rough that is mowed to fairway height, making chip shots slightly intimidating. Finesse is the order of the day around the greens.
Bunkers & Rough
When you’re playing a long par four into the wind with bunkers tight to the green like on No. 8 or No.15, the good player may pull out a long iron or wood to get there in two. If that’s you, Doak had you in mind all along. Deep, nasty bunkers are very much in play. There are 96 sand traps on The Rawls Course. The fairway bunker on No. 8 is the deepest, some 21 feet below the playing surface, making it the deepest that we know of in Texas. The huge fairway bunker on No. 7 will also test your nerves and prowess off the tee. The long and narrow bunkers are a-typical for a Texas layout. Because of their shape and depth, most have to be maintained by hand. Beyond the short rough an array of deep green mounds take shape. The mounds, landscaped with jackpot Bermuda and other native grasses, provide a sharp hue contrast to the lighter colored greens and light rough. At a distance, the large berms that encircle the course feature wispy, blue gramma. The wheat-like appearance of this grass compliments the pine and other ornamental trees that line the course. Ranging from 12 to 15 feet above the fairways, the berms run the entire perimeter of the course. In the low-lying runoff areas, Pensacola bahia, a tall, tropical grass awaits stray shots. At the heart of The Rawls Course lies a 4.5-acre man-made lake, which serves as the course’s drainage and irrigation system.
If You’re Average, The Rawls is Your Friend
The Rawls Course is challenging. No doubt. It’s long, it’s rolling—and then there’s the wind and sand. Still, the designer has crafted a course for the average player and expert alike. The idea for this collegiate layout was to build a course that would be easy to finish, but hard to shoot a really low score. Choosing the correct tees to play from is critical. If your handicap is 17 or greater, The Rawls Course extends to you opportunity to break 90 or 100. If you’re a more accomplished golfer and desire to break into the 80s, 70s or even 60s, the challenge is formidable but doable. By the same token, the average Joe will get around just fine on Rawls, and probably have a lot of fun along the way.
Clubhouse at The Rawls
Once again, Jerry Rawls reached out to a leader in the field to ensure that the clubhouse facilities are par for a course of this caliber. Robert McKinney, a Lubbock native, former Red Raider golfer and Southwest Conference Champion is perhaps the foremost authority on golf course clubhouses in the country. McKinney has drawn on his vast golfing experience to design a visually stunning yet extremely functional clubhouse. Texas Tech’s dynamic golf facility will provide a stunning entrance to the northern edge of the Texas Tech campus. The resort-style structure, with its Texas Tech brick and clay tile roof, will be highly visible. The clubhouse will be positioned at the bend of the forthcoming Texas Tech Parkway, which connects nearby North Loop 289 to the southern edge of the Texas Tech campus.
Pavilion & Guest Facilities
The sizeable pavilion, situated on the opposite end of the clubhouse, offers a dramatic view of the course. The pavilion is the site for receptions, conferences and other special events. The 22,000-square foot clubhouse will also contain spacious facilities for the women’s and men’s golf teams, a fully-equipped pro shop and public locker rooms. The addition of this outstanding facility will secure Texas Tech as a host for Big XII and NCAA championships and professional tour circuits. The Rawls Course golf complex will quickly become a calling card for Lubbock-area recreation and tourism, attracting Texas Tech alumni and supporters who can now fill out a weekend stay during Red Raider football and basketball weekends or for concerts and scholastic events. The clubhouse is funded through significant private gifts, and The Rawls Course offers donors a number of naming opportunities for its facilities, clubhouse spaces, golf holes and course features.
The clubhouse’s theme-oriented restaurant and lounge is aptly named for the course’s benefactor. The roomy and charming eatery will be the place to go to fill your tank for another round. The venue sports a motif of assorted memorabilia from the Border, Southwest and Big XII conferences, presenting a “hall of fame” ambience. Patrons can grab a quick snack at the turn or enjoy a favorite beverage or cocktail while overlooking the course via the restaurant’s large windows or covered patio. Jerry’s will accommodate 120 guests and promises to be one of the most popular venues in northwest Lubbock. When on property, be sure to check out Jerry’s prime rib sandwich, it’s destined to be a local favorite. The restaurant is quickly accessible—within minutes for any Lubbock resident thanks to the adjacent Loop 289.
Home of Red Raider Golf Teams
Fielding championship men’s and women’s golf teams in today’s fiercely competitive NCAA environment is a tall order. Still, Texas Tech golf teams have fared well in both the Southwest and Big XII Conferences, earning multiple berths in post-season NCAA tournament play. Through his philanthropy, Jerry Rawls set out to employ the best talent in the world to create a paragon layout for intercollegiate golf nationwide. On every turn, Texas Tech’s premier golf course exudes excellence, giving Red Raider golf teams a competitive edge for years to come. From exclusive practice holes, featuring diverse putting surfaces they will experience at away tournaments, to sheltered hitting bays featuring the latest in video technology, and state-of-the-art locker room and team meeting facilities, Texas Tech golfers now enjoy a home course that is second to none.
The Rawls Course Par 5, No. 18 (555 yards) is considered to be a Tom Doak masterpiece. Running along the 4.5-acre lake toward a small, well-trapped green, the link is arguably one of the finest finishing holes in the world.