A Closer Look at the Amazing Courses at Omni Barton Creek
Omni Barton Creek’s Fazio Foothills layout is older, longer and traditionally more difficult than Coore Crenshaw Cliffside Course
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April 2022 edition of PGA Magazine.
The Fazio Foothills and Coore Crenshaw Cliffside courses might be considered siblings at Omni Barton Creek, but certainly not twins.
While the two courses might seem similar at first glance, each owns a distinctly different personality and each will provide varied challenges for the 312-player field in the 2022 PGA Professional Championship on April 17–20.
The Fazio Foothills Course, which will host three of four rounds in the 72-hole PGA Professional Championship, is the older brother and is traditionally ranked the No. 1 resort course in Texas. When speaking of pedigrees, the Fazio Foothills Course has not only hosted the Legends of Golf on the PGA TOUR Champions, but was the host venue for the 2019 Women’s PGA Cup and PGA Cup, and the 2019 Senior PGA Professional Championship.
“Both are great courses in their own right, but even though the courses are side by side at Omni Barton Creek, they are like two different places in the world,” observes PGA Director of Golf Operations Mike Coleman. “The Fazio and Coore Crenshaw have different design styles, which is reflected in both courses.
“The Coore Crenshaw Cliffside Course has larger greens and places much more of a premium on your approach shots. The Fazio Foothills Course is more tree-lined and has narrower fairways. Even the bunkering on each course is a little different. All in all, Fazio Foothills plays longer and generally plays a shot or two tougher.”
A Tom Fazio Masterpiece
Internationally acclaimed golf course architect Tom Fazio is the father of the Foothills Course, a verdant layout featuring dramatic cliff-lined fairways, waterfalls, natural limestone caves and small, TiffEagle Bermuda greens with undulating aprons, a variety of grass and sand bunkers, and countless awe-inspiring views.
Fazio Foothills, which has been ranked as high as No. 4 among resort courses in North America, opened in 1986. It was upgraded in 2004 with the input and oversight of Fazio to include new fairway and tee grass, while lengthening the course by nearly 200 yards. It will play at 6,986 / 5,874 yards and a par of 71 for the 2022 PGA Professional Championship, with five tee boxes on each hole giving PGA of America officials tremendous flexibility in setting up the course each day.
Those men and women PGA Professionals who competed in the 2019 PGA Cup, Women’s PGA Cup and Senior PGA Professional Championship quickly became familiar with the multiple challenges of the Fazio Foothills Course.
“It’s a challenging layout, providing opportunities to be aggressive, but it also features several holes where you need to be smart and patient,” says Alex Beach, the 2019 PGA Professional Champion, and a member of the victorious U.S. PGA Cup Team in 2019. “It has a decent amount of elevation change, tricky greens, and there is plenty of trouble lurking on most holes. You really have to commit to your lines and pick your shots. There are certainly areas where you can be aggressive and try to score, but also times where being smart will prevail.”
Elevation Aplenty on Cliffside
Austin, Texas, native Ben Crenshaw teamed with course designer Bill Coore to transform the natural landscape into the Coore Crenshaw Cliffside Course in 1991, as the second of four courses at Omni Barton Creek.
Crenshaw took advantage of the natural Texas Hill Country terrain and moved a minimal amount of dirt while creating the Cliffside Course, which sits directly across the street from the hotel at Omni Barton Creek and provides a highly challenging, scenic alternative to the Fazio Foothills Course.
“Ball position on the large, rolling greens will be important on the Cliffside Course,” says Coleman, noting that the Cliffside Course will play at par 70 and 6,575 / 5,550 yards for the PGA Professional Championship. “It makes sense that Ben Crenshaw would make the greens on the Cliffside Course a little tricky since he was one of the best putters in the game. Putting will be extremely important on the Cliffside Course.”
Sowards Offers Scouting Report
Ohio’s Bob Sowards, whose miraculous pitch-in for eagle on the 18th hole of his singles match catapulted the U.S. to victory in the PGA Cup, has a good feel for the Fazio Foothills Course after spending a week at Omni Barton Creek for the PGA Cup, and then another week during the Senior PGA Professional Championship.
“The (Fazio) Foothills Course will be a very difficult walk with the course being so hilly, so being in shape will be one key,” observes Sowards, the 2004 PGA Professional Champion. “Having a ball flight that can work left to right off the tee will also be an advantage. There are very few true birdie holes on the Foothills Course. In fact, on most courses the goal is to beat up the par 5s. But the par 5s on the Foothills Course are so risk-reward, you have to be careful.
“If you want to go for the greens in two, you can make anything from eagle to triple bogey, which will bring ups and downs to each player throughout the week. The golf course is scorable if you play well, but if you get too aggressive, the course will get you.”
Sowards goes on to explain that the Coore Crenshaw Cliffside Course he played in the Senior PGA Professional Championship is very different from Fazio Foothills.
“The greens are much more difficult to putt, but overall the golf course is not as demanding as the Foothills,” he says. “I can see the Foothills Course playing two or three shots harder than Coore Crenshaw in the PGA Professional Championship.”
Since the Fazio Foothills Course will be most prominent during Golf Channel’s national telecast of the 2022 PGA Professional Championship, many contenders in the field are focusing on it strategically, especially the finishing stretch.
“Barton Creek is a great venue, though, and Austin is a great city, so it’s an honor to be back there playing in the ‘major’ for PGA Professionals.”
“BARTON CREEK IS A GREAT VENUE, THOUGH, AND AUSTIN IS A GREAT CITY, SO IT’S AN HONOR TO BE BACK THERE PLAYING IN THE ‘MAJOR’ FOR PGA PROFESSIONALS.” — Sherry Andonian, PGA
“I think the hardest hole on the Fazio Foothills Course is No. 18,” says Beach. “It’s a very awkward par 5, especially as a finishing hole for those contending for the lead. The approach shot plays some 25-plus yards uphill with trouble everywhere. It will take two excellent shots, or three smart shots, to give a good eagle or birdie look.
“Another hole I found challenging was the 16th. It’s a long par 4 requiring a great drive, then hitting an approach shot into a fairly severe green over the penalty area. Visually, it’s very intimidating. A loss of focus there could result in a big number.”
Senior Winner Offers Insight
Scott Hebert, PGA Head Professional at Traverse City (Michigan) Golf & Country Club, is uniquely qualified to assess the Fazio Foothills and Coore Crenshaw Cliffside courses, after sculpting a back-nine 31 in the final round on the Foothills Course to punctuate closing rounds of 63-67 to secure a four-stroke victory in the 2019 Senior PGA Professional Championship at Omni Barton Creek. Hebert’s 72-hole aggregate of 16-under 270 will be difficult to match in the 2022 PGA Professional Championship on the same courses.
“I am a huge Fazio Course fan,” says Hebert, the 2008 PGA Professional Champion. “I think he puts together 18 interesting holes at Barton Creek. Putting is always something the champion must do well during the week, but for me the challenge of Barton Creek is ball control into the proper areas on the green. Control of the tee ball is more important than just raw power.
“The Fazio Foothills Course has many challenges and requires control with your approach shots to stay out of trouble around the greens. It is a true second-shot golf course, and the more I played the Foothills Course, the more respect you have to give this gem of a course.”
Andonian Embraces “Major” Experience
The last time a national championship was conducted at Omni Barton Creek – the 2019 Senior PGA Professional Championship – it included Sherry Andonian, a PGA Teaching Professional who returns to Austin, Texas, and a venue she remembers fondly.
“The Coore Crenshaw Cliffside Course was where I had my first professional victory, the LPGA Central Section Championship, in the mid-90s,” remembers Andonian, who teaches out of Mountain View Country Club in La Quinta, California, and Valley Country Club in Aurora, Colorado. “I’m trying to prepare as much as I can, hitting balls between lessons and playing in a few Section events to get ready.”
Andonian competed in the 2019 Senior PGA Professional Championship after playing in the 2019 PGA Professional Championship that past spring at Belfair in Bluffton, South Carolina. In doing so, she became the first woman in PGA of America history to compete in both national member championships, and Andonian relishes the chance to tee it up once again this month.
“Reading the greens was difficult at Barton Creek, so I’ll be spending a little more time during practice rounds trying to get them figured out. I’m on Bermuda grass in the desert so that helps me prep for the grass in Austin,” says Andonian, one of several women in the field. “Barton Creek is a great venue, though, and Austin is a great city, so it’s an honor to be back there playing in the ‘major’ for PGA Professionals.”