Lajitas, TX 79852
Lajitas Golf Resort
Excellence and luxury in stark isolation
The Lajitas Resort and its Black Jack’s Crossing Golf Club keep piling up the awards
By Steve Habel
The Big Bend Region of Texas is a wildly beautiful natural region, with a complex and an enthralling history. More than one million acres of public land, including Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, lie here in the prominent northward bend i5n the Rio Grande as it passes through the gap between the Chisos Mountains in Texas and the Sierra Madre Oriental in Mexico.
It is about as remote a place as there is in America, set on the southwest corner of the Lone Star State about 300 miles as the crow files from El Paso. It’s also the site for one of the most secluded – and, recently, most decorated – golf resorts anywhere in the world: the Lajitas Golf Resort and its awe-inspiring, Lanny Wadkins-designed Black Jack’s Crossing Golf Course.
The Dallas Morning News recently lauded Black Jack’s Crossing with the top spot in its public course ranking as #1 Best Course You Can Play in the state of Texas for the 3rd year in a row, Golf Magazine ranked it the #1 Most Beautiful Golf Course in Texas and Golfweek ranks Black Jack’s Crossing as the #4 Best Course You Can Play in the State.
Black Jack's Crossing was designed by Wadkins, winner of the 1977 PGA Championship, eight-time member of the United States Ryder Cup team (as well as captain of the team in 1995) and inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
The course takes advantage of both the natural beauty and rugged surroundings of the rugged Texas Badlands 400 miles west of San Antonio. Playing through the Rio Grande River plateau and presenting awe-inspiring views of the Big Bend Mountains, the course winds through hills and canyons, over cliffs and high-plains desert, and challenges golfers with elevated tees, steeply sloping lies, and strategically located bunkers.
A choice of four tees allows the course to stretch as long as 7,413 yards (at sea level!) and down to 5,442. Par is 72. There's also a complete practice facility with putting green and chipping area.
Expertly maintained, the Platinum Paspalum grass is always lush, allowing the vibrant green hues of the fairways and putting surfaces to glisten in stark contrast to the black buttes and mesas in the distance. The course is nothing less than an oasis in the Texas Desert.
There is a reason the sprawling 27,000-acre resort and its course are so isolated. The landscape in the Big Bend is glaring and severe and not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned. Here, in the few places flat enough to pitch a tent, build an adobe house or eventually a grand resort, the land rolls away on both sides of the Rio Grande, and it takes a different attitude to exist, more less thrive.
Comanche once meandered through these passes that separate the Chisos and Davis Mountains. It’s a place where General “Black” Jack Pershing forded the river in search of the infamous Pancho Villa, who led raids across the Rio Grande. The old Lajitas Trading Post dating back to the 1800s on the site has been converted to a Longhorn museum and the golf course’s pro shop.
The Lajitas Resort has a storied past, as well, with past lives as a luxury cowboy hotel and an insulated getaway for the uber-rich before the economy clanged to a virtual standstill in 2008. Well-known Texas businessmen Kelcy Warren and John McReynolds now own Lajitas Resort, which is operated by WSB Resorts and Clubs, LLC, and all involved have taken a refreshing new direction, opening the property to visitors from far and wide.
A rocky good time
Watkins’ golf course calls out to anyone with enough nerve to tackle its rocky elevation changes, its numerous carries over desert washes and a set of holes that require the best golf game a player can muster. The track combines the historical features of the region, its demanding terrain and the exquisite setting among the Big Bend National and State Parks.
After a devastating flood wiped out a previous Lajitas design that was set on the river’s bank in 2008, Watkins was chosen from an “A” list of architects to fashion the new course on land in the mountain valleys and foothills, away from the chance of repeat disaster.
This is a place where mountains, buttes, mesas and other rock formations (lajitas means flat stones) will wow players of all abilities. The routing takes advantage of the dramatic drops from tee to fairways and vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see.
There are no less than seven elevated tee boxes and on a clear day you feel as if you can see the edge of the world in almost every direction. The tee shots are exhilarating – several drop as much as 180 feet from tee to green.
“Kelcy (Warren) and I went hiking in the area around Lajitas, and we were knocked out by some of the views we saw from the mountains,” Wadkins said. “We had enough land to do two courses because there was so much to work with, but it was just a matter of getting all the holes to fit together for a spectacular sight that gets better as you go from hole to hole.”
Wadkins was given plenty leeway to fashion the land as he felt best to get the look and feel he wanted. “I like to see what’s in front of me off the tee and not have to guess where I am,” he said. “With the great view corridors at Lajitas, that wasn’t a problem.”
Watkins was here, in early 2009, standing on the steps of the resort’s Thirsty Goat saloon, when he got the word of his election into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
The fairways at Black Jack’s Crossing are generous but sometimes seem small due to the elevation changes and the multiple forced carries. The greens are medium in size but challenging and fast with great undulation.
The first three holes of Black Jack's Crossing play in the Rio Grande valley and then the routing climbs into the mountains and foothills. Five holes bring the river back into view, and each seems to offer another interesting and unique geological formation or a different color into the spectrum.
No two holes are same at Black Jack’s Crossing. Players need to manage huge elevation changes, forced carries, strategically placed bunkers, narrow fairways, water, deep arroyos, rolling fairways and uneven lies, tough approach shots, doglegs and blind shots.
Lajitas, TX 79852