Rater’s notebook: The Old American GC

The double-dogleg par-5 14th hole at The Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas.

The double-dogleg par-5 14th hole at The Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas.

THE COLONY, Texas – Tripp Davis doesn’t have a chance.

The former Nationwide Tour player has a handicap index of plus-2.2 and hits the ball well enough to have made the quarterfinals of the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Now a full-time course architect, he’s playing a casual match against his design partner on the course that they’ve just completed north of Dallas. Yet Davis, playing his normal game, looks like a mid-handicapper against Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion.

Leonard isn’t really trying to win. He’s just wanting to hit solid shots. As he tests a prototype driver on this autumn day, he finds that the fairway bunkers scattered over The Old American Golf Club are just the right distance from the tee.

On the 588-yard, par-5 14th hole along the shoreline of Lake Lewisville, Leonard takes aim at a gnarly bunker on the inside right corner of the double dogleg. It’s 264 yards to carry the bunker, with a large oak tree protecting the right and thus all but unmanageable for Leonard’s stock draw. If he plays too far safe on the left side, his drive could run into unplayable ground, so the only choice – barring a layup off the tee – is for Leonard to play a shot over the heart of the bunker.

Options like that abound at Old American. The course, as the name suggests, is a gesture of emulation toward the classic American designs that have inspired Davis and Leonard for decades. A student of design can read into these 250 acres features and touches that call to mind the likes of Shinnecock Hills, Prairie Dunes, Crystal Downs, Pinehurst No. 2 and Riviera. There are no copies of famous holes at Old American. But the rough-hewn bunkers with their droopy-eyebrow grassing lines evoke Perry Maxwell’s Prairie Dunes.

Initially, this wasn’t the best site. Part of it was cattle-grazing ground, and much of it reverted to tree cover after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created 46-square-mile Lake Lewisville in the 1950s.

The soil is heavy clay, but the land has ideal natural contours for golf, with rolling elevation changes throughout. Niebur Golf did the basic construction, moving 475,000 cubic yards of material in the process, one-third of it for an irrigation pond. The shaping work, bunkers and green sites all were done by Davis’ shaper, Jason Gold. Leonard, who lives only 30 miles away, was extensively involved through meetings and site visits.

Old American is part of a 1,150-acre lakeside community called The Tribute, located 25 miles northeast of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The property also includes The Tribute Golf Club, a separately managed Davis design that opened in 2000.

Old American opens for play June 1.


1. Ease and intimacy of routing: 6

Nonreturning, continuously arrayed routing, with a half-dozen lakeside holes, primarily on the back nine. Despite two lengthy internal hikes, it’s readily walkable. Continuous cart paths are partially set back and not directly in view/play.

2. Quality of feature shaping: 8

Rough-hewn bunkers fit the site, as do greens, many of them at grade level, that merge seamlessly into surrounding low areas. When viewed from the air, the 120-plus bunkers assume all manner of shape and size, akin to viewing Shinnecock Hills or National Golf Links of America from above.

3. Natural setting and overall land plan: 5

Lake Lewisville’s presence is a big help; the front nine floats in open, undefined space owing to lack of a backdrop. Plans call for a modest Stanford White-style clubhouse by year’s end. Real estate eventually will impinge on some interior holes but not compromise any lakefront holes.

4. Interest of greens and surrounds: 8

Steady contours, not tiered decks, define these greens, as does the scale of the run-up approach areas and the roll-out room laterally and behind. Green sizes vary, from 3,000 to 8,500 square feet.

5. Variety and memorability of par 3s: 7

Great spread of yardages and angles, with most greens modestly propped up and amenable to well-placed run-up shots.

6. Variety and memorability of par 4s: 6

Big fairways, lots of room, but the ideal line often is the most tightly bunkered. The only forced-carry approach over water comes at the 371-yard ninth; everything else is a matter of positioning.

7. Variety and memorability of par 5s: 8

Lots of twists, some of them awkward and tight if you play too safe away from bunker trouble, but there always are optional paths.

8. Basic conditioning: 8

Superintendent Phil Kemmerer skillfully tends to warm-season turf types that provide anything but a monochromatic palette: Miniverde greens; Diamond zoysia collars; Premier Bermudagrass fairways, roughs and tees; and native areas comprising buffalo grass, blue grama, bluestem and side oats.

9. Landscape and tree management: 7

There are occasional stands of oaks and pines, but it’s mainly native roughs that provide character.

10. “Walk in the park” test: 7

A welcome feel, especially for north Dallas, where classic golf is a rarity.

Overall rating: 6.5 (not cumulative)

Individual elements are impressive, but Old American still has a raw feel, and its fate depends upon the quality of future building and the maturation of the landscape and land plan. It’s certainly a worthy start for a course with a unique personality, meriting it serious consideration as one of the state’s premier public courses.

  • 1001 Lebanon Road, The Colony, Texas
  • Par 71, Leonard tees: 7,174 yards (75.8 rating / 144 slope), Gold tees: 5,215 yards (66.1 rating / 118 slope)
  • www.theoldamericangolfclub.com; 214-385-1706
  • Semi-private; walking always allowed
  • Annual membership: $5,000 individual ($6,000 family), plus optional cart at $17 per round
  • Green fees: $150 weekday, $175 weekend
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