Golf & Gridirons: Texas scores big points for golf lineup

The fifth hole at Cowboys Golf Course

The fifth hole at Cowboys Golf Course

DALLAS -- A year ago, the biggest date circled on PGA Tour rookie Jordan Spieth’s calendar was the Red River Rivalry, the annual brawl between Oklahoma and Texas on the second Saturday in October. Now Spieth is just off a victorious appearance in the Presidents Cup.

The Dallas native, who turned pro midway through his sophomore season at Texas, likes to wear his college colors on Sundays. When asked about last year’s debacle against the Sooners, he took a deep breath and said, “We got smoked, but this year is going to be different.”

Or perhaps the Red River Rivalry, so named for the river that forms part of the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma, will be more like it used to be.

As John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, “Sectional football games have the glory and the despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners.”

For the first time since 1999, neither team was ranked in the nation’s top 10. Not that it mattered. When a friend from Dallas was asked about procuring a ticket on short notice, he said, “You don’t understand. This is the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics all rolled into one.”

The only thing tougher than a ticket to the game is securing a tee time the day before. Popular resort courses such as TPC Craig Ranch and TPC Las Colinas, home of the HP Byron Nelson Championship, were booked. Double-shotgun outings packed courses around town.

Fortunately, Tenison Park, the storied east Dallas muni and former U.S. Public Links host, could sneak in a foursome.

Tenison is where Lee Trevino learned to play as if his next meal depended on it, inventing games such as Tunnel of Love.

An elevated railroad crosses the East Course behind the 17th green, necessitating two tunnels about 200 yards apart. The game consisted of teeing off at the clubhouse, playing under one tunnel, angling across a railroad crossing, down a gravel road, back through the other tunnel with its narrow 40-foot walkway, before ending on the 18th green. Par was 12.

“You’d better bring a golf game when you come to Tenison,” Trevino said. “That place is stronger than laundry.”

On game day, I employed some savvy course management, hopping the Dallas Area Rapid Transit train and emerging, after one transfer, from the Fair Park station. Doing so allowed me to avoid snarled I-35 traffic and arrive well before the 11 a.m. kickoff.

The rickety old Cotton Bowl, a three-hour drive from each school’s campus, has hosted the OU-Texas game during the State Fair of Texas since 1932. You know you’ve arrived when you hear the booming “Howdy, folks” welcome of Big Tex, the 52-foot-tall statuesque cowboy.

At this game, tailgating takes a backseat to the State Fair. Pregame at the fair is a gastronomic adventure filled with Texas-sized turkey legs and deep-fried delicacies, most notably the Fletcher’s Original State Fair Corny Dog – as much a culinary tradition here as the cheesesteak in Philadelphia. A line was drawn, however, at trying fried butter.

Game time at the Cotton Bowl is electric. The two schools split the tickets, with allegiances divided along the 50-yard line – half in crimson and cream, half in burnt orange and white. I forked over $165 on StubHub for a seat in the lower end zone, 20 rows deep in the heart of Longhorn nation, and practiced my “Hook ’em Horns” signal to try to fit in. Never mind. Oklahoma tailback Damien Williams quickly broke off a 95-yard touchdown run, the longest in series history, and quarterback Blake Bell, aka “the Belldozer,” powered into the end zone for the first of his four scores. Before long, Oklahoma fans were taunting my section by turning the “Hook ’em Horns” upside down.

“Do our boys know the game started at 11?” Don, the Longhorn fan next to me, wondered. It only got worse. Texas trailed 36-2 at the half. Like many, I was long gone well before Oklahoma completed the 63-21 drubbing.

Sunday was spent at The Tribute, an homage to the finest elements of traditional Scottish golf. There are holes modeled after St. Andrews, Turnberry and Muirfield. At the par-3 fifth hole, a knockoff of Troon’s postage-stamp green, my playing companion lipped out his tee shot, and I birdied the replica of the Road Hole at St. Andrews. To those who say this Tripp Davis design is contrived, I say:

It’s cool, and it’s fun. Isn’t that enough?

“If y’all thought that was good,” said the man who cleaned my clubs, “wait ’til you play the course across the street.”

He was right. The Old American Golf Club, ranked No. 5 among Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in Texas, was designed by Davis in conjunction with PGA Tour pro Justin Leonard, a former Longhorn All-American. This popular Tour pro hangout is inspired by classic American golf architecture.

These aren’t replica holes, but they evoke the spirit and influence of C.B. Macdonald, Alistair MacKenzie and Donald Ross. “Guided and touched, but not manipulated,” is how Davis describes what he has done to this tract of land along Lake Lewisville’s eastern shore.

Holes perched along the water’s edge, such as the double-dogleg par-5 14th, are stunners that also demand thought and precision. The Tribute’s fairways were generous; here Davis possesses little patience for ball-sprayers. Playing The Tribute and Old American in the same day provided a CliffsNotes history of golf architecture on both sides of the pond, and I felt the richer for it.

If you can squeeze in one more round before your departure, Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine, north of downtown, is an easy shot to the airport. This is the only NFL-themed golf club in the country, and you don’t have to be a Cowboys fan to respect the replicas of the five Lombardi trophies in the clubhouse.

A warning, though: Prepare to be blitzed by America’s Team – from the Cowboys-logoed water bottles, to carts emblazoned with the name of a Cowboys legend (I rode in the Robert Newhouse cart), and the giant outline of a blue star edged in white in the middle of the fourth fairway.

I aimed for it. My playing partner? He stomped on the Cowboys logo.

I understood; he’s an Eagles fan. Rivalries make us do funny things.

• • •

The playbook

Game: Oklahoma-Texas

Site: Cotton Bowl, Dallas; Oct. 13, 2012

The courses: The Tribute (thetributegc.com); The Old American Golf Club (theoldamericangolfclub.com); Cowboys Golf Club (cowboysgolfclub.com); Tenison Park (tenisonpark.com)

Don’t miss: The unmatched barbecue at Sonny Bryan’s. Order the lean, smoky brisket or the legendary ribs and dine on old school desks at the original location.

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