Lakewood Country Club Takes Center Stage in June
The 130-acre landscape sits less than a five-minute stroll from the historic Lakewood Theater in Dallas. Live oaks line the narrow fairways; daunting bunkers surround all 18 greens. It is not a typical theatrical stage, but the backdrop of Lakewood Country Club will be the scene for plenty of drama this month.
Three of Texas Golf Association’s most high-profile events – the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier, conducted on behalf of the USGA, 108th Texas Amateur and Bryon Nelson Junior Championship – will all be contested at Lakewood within a scant three weeks.
A TGA Member Club since 2001, Lakewood’s efforts to host three TGA majors is a monumental undertaking. Gilbert Freeman, the club’s Director of Golf, said Lakewood is proud to host the events. It all stems from the unique collection of passionate golfers who call Lakewood home.
“Our membership gets behind these kinds of events,” said Freeman, who has worked at Lakewood since 1994. “This club supports golf and the golf community. It is a lot for one month, but we wanted to give back to the game.”
Lakewood hosted its first U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier in 2013. Freeman said it was one of the best days in the club’s history. Three hometown favorites – Matt Weibring, Ed Loar and Jordan Spieth – advanced to the U.S. Open that day. Meanwhile, Texans Ryan Palmer and Zach Fischer battled for the final qualifying spot in a marathon 12-hole playoff. Darkness suspended the extra session after eight holes; Palmer and Fischer resumed play the following morning.
Fischer ultimately defeated Palmer with a birdie on the 18th green, which was surrounded by a crowd of Lakewood members. There was a palpable vibe of something important happening, and that feeling resonated with the Lakewood membership.
Four years later – bringing us forward to last Monday – Lakewood hosted another U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier. On June 5, a field of 23 pros and 22 amateurs teed it up on the shot-maker’s course for three spots in this week’s 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
Torrential rains soaked the golf course days ahead of the sectional. Lakewood was inundated with over five inches of rain within 48 hours of the first tee time. TGA officials and the club’s agronomy staff sprung to action in an effort to prepare the golf course for play.
They weren’t alone.
More than 40 Lakewood members arrived at 6 a.m. on the morning of the sectional to rake bunkers and get the course ready for play. John Pippen was among the members who brought their own rakes from home to help.
“We’re proud of our golf course and that is the main reason we were there,” Pippen said. “We were just picking up tree limbs and tried to do some of the minor things so that the grounds keepers could get onto their jobs.”
The Sectional Qualifier did not disappoint.
Roman Robledo, of Harlingen, shot 63-66 to post 13-under-par and win medalist by two shots over Australia’s Nick Flanagan. Walker Lee, a 19-year-old amateur, clinched the final qualifying spot after rounds of 65 and 67.
The incoming freshman at Texas A&M and two-time champion on the Legends Junior Tour was scheduled to compete in the 108th Texas Amateur. The U.S. Open runs concurrently, so Lee withdrew from the Texas Amateur to head to Erin Hills for golf’s brightest stage.
However, Lee did get a taste of Lakewood’s demanding layout. He said the course should be a great set up for the oldest and most prestigious amateur tournament in Texas.
“At Lakewood, you must be smart and keep it in play,” said Lee, who made 12 birdies and just two bogeys in 36 holes at Monday’s sectional. “It is tempting to just bomb it everywhere, but sometimes you just have to lay back to wedge.”
Hunter Shattuck, the 2013 Byron Nelson Junior Champion, also was in the field for this week’s U.S. Open Sectional. The Baylor University senior carded 75-71 to finish T40. Like Lee, Shattuck qualified for the 108th Texas Amateur, too. He said despite his performance in the sectional, he felt fortunate to experience a sneak-peek at Lakewood.
“I feel good on the greens and drove the ball really well,” Shattuck said. “I feel good about the way I go about the course. It was great to get an early look … I love this golf course.”
Shattuck, who turns 22 years old two days before the 108th Texas Amateur, scored a top-25 finish in his only other Texas Amateur start. A final round 72 moved him to T24 at the 105th Texas Amateur at Brook Hollow Golf Club in 2014.
“Coach McGraw always talks about how special it is to win a state amateur,” Shattuck said. “I just want to get myself in contention and have a chance down the stretch.”
Back in 2012, Lakewood was scheduled to host the 103rd Texas Amateur Championship as part of the club’s yearlong centennial celebration. Tragically, on the night before the opening round, a severe hailstorm hammered the Lakewood area. The club’s pristine bentgrass greens were destroyed as baseball-sized chunks of hail plugged and ripped away parts of the putting surfaces.
The damage was irreparable. To Lakewood’s dismay, the championship was moved across town to the Honors Golf Club at the last minute.
“We lost the Texas Amateur in 2012 to the storm,” Freeman said. “So Lakewood was happy to step in there and have this opportunity.”
Lakewood has waited five years for this moment and is primed for a return to the limelight after an extensive renovation by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2014. On June 15-18, the state’s top amateurs will compete in the 108th Texas Amateur at one of the most historic clubs in the Lone Star State.
Nine days later, Lakewood takes center stage for the third time in June when it plays host to the 2017 Byron Nelson Junior Championship. Long known as the premier boys’ junior championship in the state, the Nelson Junior began in 2000 at Lakewood and has grown in stature over the years thanks to the club’s dedicated stewards.
With the U.S. Open Sectional, the 108th Texas Amateur and Byron Nelson Junior, Lakewood this month is the center of the Texas golf universe. The club’s membership and staff wouldn’t have it any other way.