Wildcat Golf Club – Lakes Course

6,535 yards, 131 Slope from the Gold tees

Course:  Just north of downtown Houston is Wildcat Golf Club, a 36 hole course designed by Roy Case.  The site is set on a landfill and features broad views of downtown and the surrounding area.  Case has completed a number of courses and locally, he designed New Jersey National.  As for Wildcat, the Lakes course fluctuates between moderate hilly and flat terrain, widening and narrowing to extreme degrees all while featuring a number of forced carries over ravines or water.  There are also a number of blind shots, which certainly rewards repeat play.  The greens were likely the most enjoyable part of the course for me, as they were interesting and bold yet tempered.  Indeed, shots inside of 100 yards were where I had most of the fun here.

Beyond that, however, there were a lot of things about the course that I didn’t enjoy.  Many of the holes were awkwardly laid out, cart paths seemed out of place, many times interfering with visuals, and the majority of the shots were forced carries that removed any possibility of creativity or options in playing the hole.

I was part of a scramble here for a work-related function.  On the way to the course, I heard others quip that in past years, they had played their golf as part of this function at places like TPC Sawgrass and Torrey Pines.  While I had done some research on the course beforehand and knew Wildcat was not in the same realm as those courses, I remained optimistic the course would still be a good one.  In the area we were and from what I know of Houston golf, I would have loved to check out the Golf Club of Houston (I walked the course once during the Shell Houston Open and it looked like it would be fun to play) or Memorial (I’ve played Cypresswood and really liked it as well), but GC of Houston was closed for the upcoming PGA tournament and Wildcat is fairly close to downtown, so I was just happy to get a round in and check out a new course.  While golf is always enjoyable, I just didn’t find much of the course all that engaging or strategic.  Mind you, I was fresh off my trip to Bandon, playing some of the best courses in the world, but the holes and shots seemed redundant.

With that said, for those enjoying the aerial game and a nice set of greens, the course could be a nice play every now and then.  I’m not sure how the crowds are or even how much green fees are (the website was down at the time of this writing), but if either were even remotely problematic, I would have no issue going elsewhere.

The course did seem well versed in handling scrambles and everything ran smoothly.  Even though it was a shotgun start and we started on the Fourteenth, I’ll start the review from the First.

The First is a 379 yard par 4 (from the Gold tees).  It’s an uphill par 4 with a fairway on the left and right, separated by taller grass.  The right fairway is wider and offers a better look and angle at the green while the left side is narrower, yet extends closer to the green so if you execute your tee shot in that area, you’ll have a closer shot into the green.  The green slopes front to back so take that into consideration with the approach, as it will roll off the other side if the approach hits the rear half of the green.

The First

The First (right fairway)

The green from the left side

The Second is a 547 yard par 5.  Unfortunately, my photos of the course are scarce and I wasn’t able to capture too many of this hole.  The tee shot is to a fairway that dog legs right slightly and begins downhill after the turn.  The fairway keeps running downhill to a ravine, where the green juts up on the other side.  A well hit tee shot can get out far enough where you might consider going for the green in two, as the shot is downhill, yet you must also carry the ravine.  Unfortunately, the first cart path gaffe is on this hole, as the path cuts through the entire fairway in the middle of the hill, interfering with a lot of those tee shots that may have a shot at the green in two.  The bunker below the green on the other side also makes for a tempting landing area short of the green for a third shot.

Looking back a the fairway from the green, on the other side of the ravine

The Third is a 387 yard par 4.  The fairway runs at a 7:00 to 2:00 angle from the tee and it’s necessary to carry a native scrub area on your tee shot to reach the fairway, taking as much carry as you want to get closer to the green.  The green is simply in front of you from the fairway and there really is no discernible difference where your approach is from, so the reward for taking an aggressive line off the tee is a closer shot.  The green is fun, as it’s a semi punch bowl with separate ridges that can make short game shots and putts interesting.

The Third, looking back at the tee from the fairway
Approach shot territory
The green, a nice little semi bowl here

The Fourth is a 160 yard par 3.  An uphill green that’s semi-blind, there is a bunker short left and a trench bunker running along the back right of the green.  The green is subtle, running from right to left, sloping off on all sides, making pin positions towards the edges a little frisky for putting.  Really though, ending up any where near the green except the back right bunkers puts you in good shape for an up and down par.

The Fourth

A little closer

A look at the green side bunkers

The run off area on the left side of the green

The Fifth is a 422 yard par 4.  Now we get into the confusing tee shot portion of the course.  Looking at the photo below and as a first time player of the course, it looks like hitting it out left away from the bunkers in the center is the correct play.  In fact, if you hit it in that area, there’s really no rough and you still have a nice lie for your approach shot.  Once you get to your shot, however, you’ll realize the fairway is actually to the right of the bunkers, which is further away from the hole and risks bringing bunkers on the right side in play.  So to recap, it’s tougher to hit the fairway and even if you do, you’re further away from the green than if you simply tee off to the left, where you’re technically off fairway yet closer to the green.  I’ll hit to the left all day and ignore the fairway and all the elaborate bunkering.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory (from said left side)

A look at the fairway bunkering you can basically ignore 

Looking back at the tee

The green

The Sixth is a 416 yard par 4.  Confusing tee shots that don’t make much sense, part two.  From the tee, as shown in the photo below, it seems like you should hit it straight out.  There’s a smattering of bunkers between you and the green, but there are no hazards interfering with you going straight at the hole.  The fairway is actually off to the left, with the cart path cutting through the middle of the tee shot, even though technically it’s to the right of the cart path.  Yet again, there’s no reason to pay attention to the fairway.  You’re bringing fairway bunkers into play and essentially aiming at the cart path in the middle gets you close to the green with a nice lie.  There’s also a green off to the right of the tee which you should keep in mind for safety reasons.  There wasn’t much structure to the hole and with plenty of width, just swing away from the tee and you’ll likely have a good approach into the green.  But yet again, the cart path placement is baffling and thee’s no benefit in hitting the fairway.

The Sixth
Approach shot territory, kind of

Looking back at the cart path

The Seventh is a 520 yard par 5.  Water now plays a prominent role in the holes, which essentially occurs in one way or another from here through the Fifteenth, but more dominantly until the Thirteenth.  The tee is elevated and is a forced carry over water.  While you want to be left enough to you have a clear angle to the green, the further left you go gets you further away from the hole.  The water encroaches into the fairway from the left, eventually narrowing the fairway to nothing closer to the green.  There’s room to go for the green in two, but it’s more than reasonable to lay up for a short approach over the water.  Not a whole lot of options here and certainly must attack the green through the air.

The Seventh

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green

The Eighth is a 182 yard par 3.  A forced carry over water to a green that moves from back to front with a bunker on the front left side of the green.  The green is fairly deep, so just get it over the water and you should be fine.

The Eighth

The Ninth is a 330 yard par 4.  The tee shot is again over water to a fairway that runs from left to right, 5:00 to 10:00.  The fairway runs uphill to the green as well, so the temptation is in trying to cut off as much water as you can for a shorter approach.  The incline makes it a little tougher, yet the angle from the tee to the green helps you think it’s possible to get as close as you want.  It’s a fun hole, yet the temptation rests only the first time you play the hole, as afterwards you realize even getting it over the water towards the right leaves you with a manageable approach.

The Ninth

Another look 

Approach shot territory

The front nine starts off on moderate hilly terrain before reaching the flatter areas where a number of different water hazards become the dominant design feature.  Ranking them, I would go 3, 9, 7, 1, 8, 4, 2, 5, 6.

The back nine starts with the 374 yard par 4 Tenth.  I didn’t like this hole all that much when I played it, but I think it does well to appear wide from the tee, persuading many to take out their driver and try to get close to the green, yet the fairway narrows considerably, with water off to the left very much in play and off to the right in play for bad shots.  A mid iron off the tee to take advantage of the wider fairway is a smart play, as the approach to the green needs to be exact, especially since it runs off the back side.  Any shot off to one side or the other will likely not end well.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory, with some of the hidden water hazards

The Eleventh is a 390 yard par 4.  A forced carry over water off the tee to a fairway running at an angle from 7:00 to 10:00.  The fairway narrows as you get closer to the green, then ends altogether, creating a forced carry to the green, which sits on a hillside slightly above the fairway.  Not much here other than getting the ball in the air and on the fairway and green, which moves from back to front.  If the wind is up, I could see this hole being a little more fun.

The Eleventh

A closer look

Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 495 yard par 5.  Another forced carry over water to a fairway that is straightaway to the green.  Water is on both sides of the fairway, that gets narrow in spots.  The green is on a mini peninsula, so it’s a forced carry from the green.  The hard and fast fairway is fun to play and figure out how to get down the fairway, but then it’s confusing that you need to get the ball in the air on the approach to stop the ball near the hole.

The Twelfth

Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Thirteenth is a 150 yard par 3.  An uphill green over water that is blind from the tee, I actually liked this hole a lot.  You have to exert a good amount of precision in getting the ball to the green, which is confounded by the elevation and any wind, and the off green areas are good at collecting shots to provide an opportunity at recovery.  At least one club for the elevation.

The Thirteenth

The Fourteenth is a 408 yard par 4.  The hole seems straight out, with a left to right cant, but the fairway than abruptly ends, turning left and down the hill.  So the tee shot needs to get far enough down the fairway to get a look and angle at the green, without going through it.  The green is well below the fairway and is wide and shallow.  I liked this green, with a good amount of undulations and slopes, with run offs in all directions.

The Fourteenth

The turn, with  the green 90 degrees downhill to the left

A pretty fun green

The Fifteenth is a 323 yard par 4.  A dog leg right where the fairway narrows as it gets closer to the green, which sits above the fairway a good deal.  Something less than driver is probably a better play from the tee to negotiate the best angle and landing area for the approach shot.  It’s another blind approach shot that I actually liked a good bit.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

Looking back to the tee from the fairway

The Sixteenth is a 362 yard par 4.  Similar to the Fifteenth in that it’s a dog leg right, with the green set above the fairway, but the turn and elevation are milder while the fairway is wider.  The width gives you options of how to advance into the fairway and thereby set up the approach.  The bunkers complicate the decision making as well.  Probably one of my favorite holes on the course.

Approach shot territory

The Seventeenth is a 158 yard par 3.  The green is above the tee, with bunkers short right and to the left of the green.  A nice subtle hole with a green that is likewise subtle, providing a little more challenge than it appears it should.

The Seventeenth

A closer look 

The Eighteenth is a 532 yard par 5.  The tee shot is to a fairway climbing upwards, but once it hits that ridge, it plummets downhill to a green you cannot see.  There’s a split fairway, but there’s not a whole lot of benefit to going one way or another.  In fact, as a first time player, you really have no idea where the green is unless you drive a cart down and take a look.  Perhaps after the first time playing you’ll figure out where to place the second shot for a beneficial approach shot.  It was a head scratcher of a hole for me.

The Eighteenth

The green

The back nine has the more interesting collection of holes, with a nice pair of par 3’s and a couple nice par 4’s.  I’d rank them 16, 13, 17, 10, 12, 14, 11, 15, 18.

In general, Wildcat (Lakes) has a few good holes and a number of fun shots with a decent set of greens.  There are a lot of aerial shots that beckon too much for target golf while some holes are awkward and don’t work all that well.  To be fair, I’m assuming there were some environmental restrictions in place that dictated placement of cart paths, but the paths were a visual distraction and occasionally interfered with how the hole played.  If I was local, maybe I’d play here every now and then for a lower green fee.  As someone traveling to Houston, I would likely play elsewhere, as the good aspects of this course you have likely come across at dozens of other courses while the detractors are reason enough not to seek out a round here if your time in Houston is limited.

Gripes:  The design and cart paths as mentioned above.

Bar/Grill:  A good sized indoor area and some seats outside.  I liked the memorabilia in display cases.

Clubhouse:  Well stocked and the hats with the vintage insignia are pretty cool.

Practice Area:  Um, I’m not sure.  I didn’t see a driving range and because the website doesn’t seem to be working, I can’t clarify.

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