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Old is gold: Three classic selections for San Antonio golfers

SAN ANTONIO -- While San Antonio has added several new golf courses and resorts over the past few years, the city also has some pretty good classic golf, some of it even open to the public.

Renovations have made these courses even better, so if you're in the Alamo City checking out modern resorts, a side trip to one of the following three classic gems might be in order:

Brackenridge Park: Designed by A.W. Tillinghast, Brackenridge Park -- the former home of the Texas Open -- goes back to 1915.

It's always been fun to play, but a renovation a few years ago by Colligan Design Group, of Arlington, has made the course better than it was with its original design, at least when it comes to conditioning.

A freeway project stole a portion of the golf course a few decades ago but what remained was still pretty good, even if it is just 6,300 yards. The city spent $7.5 million on the renovation, which included new MiniVerde greens, white-sand bunkers and a tree-trimming/clearing project that makes the course both beautiful and playable.

Add in its location, just minutes from the Riverwalk and downtown San Antonio, and Brackenridge Park is a must-play for any golfer visiting the Alamo City.

In addition, the historic clubhouse has been totally renovated with a new golf shop and dining area. It is also the home of the Texas Hall of Fame.

Willow Springs Golf Course: Lost among the hoopla of the redone Brackenridge Park is another old classic course, Willow Springs Golf Course. Like Brackenridge, Willow Springs is part of the Alamo City Golf Trail. And although it has received less notoriety than Old Brack, it certainly isn't a step down.

In fact, during the summer of 2011, when Texas was suffering through its worst drought in decades, Willow Springs might have been one of the top two or three best-conditioned courses in San Antonio as it uses recycled water and was not subject to water restrictions.

The locals count Willow Springs among their favorites, but for travelers, it still remains one of those best-kept secrets. Located east of downtown San Antonio across the street from the AT&T Center, the 1923 Emil Loeffler/John McGlynn course has hosted several Texas Opens, with champions such as Ben Hogan and Sam Snead.

Unlike Brackenridge, though, it can be argued that Willow Springs is a true championship test. At 6,800 yards, it's still a good test for single digit players, and the par-5 second is the longest par 5 in the city at 663 yards. The course also features a nice variety of elevation changes, with some dramatic tee shots and uphill approaches.

Pecan Valley Golf Club: While some publications classify classic courses as pre-1960, Pecan Valley Golf Club checks in close enough to include it in this category.

This 1963 Press Maxwell design is the last golf course in Texas to host a PGA Championship. That came in 1968 when Julius Boros beat out Arnold Palmer on what was then the 50th PGA. Pecan Valley also hosted the Texas Open in 1967, '69 and '70, and it was the site of the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2001.

The course underwent a $5.5 million renovation in 1998, led by Bob Cupp. From the tips it now plays at more than 7,000 yards, and the majestic pecan trees and other mature trees still wind around picturesque Salado Creek.

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