Thursday, November 26, 2015

Champions Golf Club

Champions Golf Club - Cypress Creek Course
Houston, Texas, USA

7301 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Ralph Plummer (1959)
LAST PLAYED: February 21, 2015.
LOW SCORE: 87 (+16)

- Golfweek Best Classic Courses 2015: #176

"It's only fitting that Champions Golf Club has found such an important place in golf considering it was the life-long dream of two of the games most prominent figures. Jack Burke and the late Jimmy Demaret share a special place in the history and tradition of the game. Their accomplishments and contributions have endeared them to many the world over and the quality of this facility is a tribute to the careers of these two men.

The atmosphere they created here has made it a retreat for the famous as well as a school ground for the aspiring. Very few of the greats of the past have failed to walk these grounds - there can be no doubt that those of the future will feel that same draw."

- from the Champions Golf Club course guide

Champions Golf Club was founded in 1957 and as indicated above, was the brainchild of noted PGA professionals Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke Jr. Ralph Plummer designed the Cypress Creek course, which opened in 1959 and it has gone on to host a number of the biggest events in golf, including the 1967 Ryder Cup, the 1969 US Open, the 1993 US Amateur, the 1998 US Women's Mid-Am and was also a four-time host of the PGA Tour's season ending Tour Championship.

Demaret and Burke were intent on Champions being a "players club" and as such, to this day, there is a handicap requirement to be a member, with those 50 years of age or younger needing to play to a 14 handicap or better while those over the age of 50 see the handicap requirement relaxed to 18 or better!

Demaret, who won 31 times on the PGA Tour, including three green jackets at the Masters, passed away in 1983 but Jack Burke Jr, who turned 92 in January 2015, is still at Champions to this day!

Burke was no slouch as a touring pro, winning 16 PGA tournaments, including the Masters AND US Open titles in 1956!

I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit Champions in February 2015 while on a short golf trip in Texas. I met up with my friends Jeff and Brandon at the airport and we were originally scheduled to play all 36 holes at the club, including the Jackrabbit course. However, an oncoming storm necessitated changes to our itinerary and as such, we only played the revered Cypress Creek course during the trip.

One of our hosts, Kyle, was already on the golf course with some other visiting friends so upon arrival, we sought out our other member host, Drew. You can imagine our surprise and delight that upon walking into the incredibly vibrant men's locker room at Champions, we were immediately taken to meet with the great man himself, Mr. Jack Burke Jr!!

Drew was actually filming The Rural Golfer, a TV show with Mr. Burke and fellow Champions member and major champion Steve Elkington. They had just completed nine holes and were doing a spot in the locker room. Mr. Burke was very polite to us, shook each of our hands and even chatted with me for a brief second, saying how much he loved Canadians.

What a special moment.

Elk was also right there but he was chatting with some fellow members at the time and I didn't want to interrupt their conversation.

Drew wasn't finished with his work on the show but said that he would join us on the course once filming was completed. So with that, we got dressed and headed right to the first tee and my first official golf shot in well over four months!

Thankfully, I made solid contact on the 419 yard par four 1st hole, hitting the ball just through the fairway on the right side to get the season off to a good start.

I'd hit a solid second shot on the green, dialing up my first green in regulation for 2015 and it was here that I saw the main defense on the Cypress Creek course: the mammoth, undulating putting surfaces! I'd promptly three-jack that first hole to get things off to an inauspicious start.

The architectural highlight of the course is the fourth hole, a 221 yard par three that sits on the best piece of land on the property by far. The hole requires an exacting long iron or fairway metal tee shot that clears the very steep-faced creek that winds in front of the green and off to the left, as seen below.

The dramatic par three 4th hole at the Cypress Creek course at Champions Golf Club

We were playing the middle tees and the 182 yard hole was playing hard downwind, requiring only a 7-iron on this day.

It's the biggest "wow" inducing moment on the course by far.

Drew would meet up with us on the 10th hole, a lovely dogleg left par four (seen below) and played in with us from there.

Jeff (left) and I walking up towards the 10th green at Champions

I had a particularly rough go on the long and difficult back nine, taking 45 shots to get around the incoming side and 87 (+16) overall, including three 3-putts.

The par threes on the Cypress Creek course are a particular highlight and I also enjoyed the par fives, especially the 540 yard 13th hole.

I had heard prior to visiting that the course sat on unremarkable land but there was quite a bit more movement than expected.

The Cypress Creek course was really strong and in great shape. It's a true shotmaker's delight, with tree-lined doglegs forcing the player to move the ball in both directions and of course, those aforementioned expansive, undulating green complexes.

And that men's locker room at Champions is off-the-charts awesome! There is a central bar surrounded by locker bays all around the perimeter, with members playing cards in each of the bays or sitting at the bar talking about their rounds. An incredible, unique atmosphere and it easily qualifies as one of the most special locker rooms I've ever seen.

We had a wonderful day at Champions and after our round, we headed over to Kyle's house for a fantastic barbeque. There were about eight of us over there, dining on steaks, drinking some beer and sharing great stories about the club, Mr. Burke and Mr. Elkington.

Champions is a club steeped in history and I feel incredibly fortunate to have walked the same fairways as so many greats in the game have before me. I hope to return again one day soon.