Thursday, May 24, 2012

On Location: Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas

When I need some serious down time to recover after a trying day on a resort golf course, there are three distinct activities that always seem to work wonders: 

1. Enjoy a frosty brew at the 19th hole. 

2. Luxuriate with a massage at the spa.

3. Get on an inner tube and float down a lazy river at the resort swim complex.

Fortunately, on my recent visit to the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa  in Austin, Texas, all three of the above are possible.

On separate occasions I enjoyed an ice cold Shiner Bock on draft at the resort clubhouse, relaxed with a Colorado River Stone Massage at the resort's Spa Django and cruised down the lazy river at the resort's Crooked River water park pool area.

My golf game was hit and miss at Lost Pines (mostly miss) but I definitely brought my "A" game after my round each day.

What to expect

Lost Pines bills itself as "The luxurious Texas wilderness escape."

Simply put, it delivers on its promise.

You get the immediate sense you're in for some serious luxury escapism when you drive the three mile entrance road to the hotel, which is dubbed "The Decompression Chamber." Framed by yellow, blue, violet and red wildflowers and dense foliage, the drive puts you in a relaxed state of mind before you ever check in.

The Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa is situated about 13 miles from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and some 20 miles from downtown Austin. While you're only thirty minutes from all of Austin's legendary nightlife and live music bars, you feel like your hundreds of miles away at the resort.

Situated on 405 acres of tree dotted and wildflower laced terrain along the banks of the Colorado River, the resort adjoins the 1,100-acre McKinney Roughs Nature Park.

The 492-room hotel has luxury amenities like a full-service spa, 18-hole championship golf course (Wolfdancer Golf Club), fine dining room, expansive water park pool complex and retail shops.

If you're looking for a "soft adventure luxury experience", you'll find everything you need at Lost Pines. Everything from archery, ziplining, kayaking and rock climbing to horseback riding, hiking, rafting and biking are on the recreation menu along with tennis and jogging.

Better still, after a long day of the activity of your choice, you return to a luxurious room with plush European style bedding, bathrobes, complimentary designer toiletries, an HD flat screen television and other amenities.

Here's my Top 10 random thoughts and observations of things I liked on  my visit:

1. Tony, the friendly and helpful starter who puts you in good mood before ever stick the first peg in the ground.
2. The brightly colored wild flowers that frame many of the tee boxes and fairways making it an enjoyable way to spend four or five hours no matter how you're playing.
3. The fire pits, where you can sit around and ponder your enviable surroundings.
4.  Great sunrises.
5. The amiable, unpretentious staff that delivers reliable Texas-friendly hospitality.
6. The phenomenal grilled pork chop I had at Firewheel Cafe that was sauteed in brown sugar and glazed with housemade BQ sauce.
7. The toe tapping Texas swing music emanating from the speakers on the clubhouse veranda and at the driving range. Let's face it, "Asleep at the Wheel" always puts you in a good mood.
8. The huge portions in the Major Neighbors Grill at the clubhouse. I think I must've eaten the largest club sandwich in the world after my round on my second day.
9. The Amaretto scented ice towels the golf course ambassador hands you to cool down.
10. The rocking chairs on the veranda clubhouse, which do wonders to help you de-stress and forget about the outside world. Once you sit in one, you won't want to leave.

Golf course review

Marketers prone to hyperbole typically boast their golf course has no two holes that are alike.

At Los Pines' Wolfdancer Golf Club it's actually true.

Designers Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates masterfully created 18 different tests of skill  on the 7,205 yard layout that offers three distinct terrains: undulating prairie land, a densely wooded ridgeline and a river valley peppered with native pecan trees.

For example, the par threes range from the 155 yard No. 12, the signature hole, to the 233 yard No. 4. I could play No. 12 eighteen times in a row and enjoy every minute of it. You hit a sand wedge or pitching wedge from an exaggerated elevated tee to a kidney shaped green framed by a huge tree and wildflowers on the left and a greenside bunker on the right. Watching my ball soar through the blue Texas sky to land about ten feet from the hole made the trip worthwhile.

My favorite hole based on design and playability, not the snowman on my scorecard, is number three, a mammoth par five that plays 603 yards from the black (championship) tees, 581 yards from the blues, 556 yards from the whites and 518 yards from the greens.  From an elevated tee, it seems like there are more bunkers than green grass in the landing area. Hills and his designers put lots of thought into where to strategically place the bunkers to make the hole thoroughly challenging.

When you're on the tee you can hardly count all the fairway bunkers. Interestingly, when you walk off the green and look back down the fairway, the bunkers have disappeared. Hills designed them that way.

From the black tees, Wolfdancer has a 137 slope rating. The blue tees measure 6,836 yards with a 130 slope rating and the white tees, ideal for most weekend golfers, measures 6,314 yards with a 128 slope rating.

There are no homes on the course and a few holes on the back nine weave past the resort's tennis courts and swimming pool, but the rest of the time you get a sense of isolation and seclusion amid  inspiring Texas wilderness.

Beyond the course, the practice area is exceptional. Situated away from the clubhouse in a somewhat secluded area, it has 10 target greens, short game area with two chipping greens and bunkers and practice putting green.

Spa overview

The 18,000 square-foot Django Spa is named after gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. It's full-service in every way with an extensive menu of massages, wraps, scrubs, facials and other treatments. I had the Colorado River Rock Massage, which is 90 minutes of pure relaxation pleasure. If you want to forget double bogeys and shanked five irons, this treatment will do the trick.

Dining overview

For a resort its size, Lost Pines has an impressive list of dining options.The line-up includes Stories, a gourmet room offering patio seating; Firewheel Cafe, a casual restaurant designed to please everybody from discerning diners to to kids who just want something good to eat and Old Buck's Place, a poolside grill and bar.  As a golfer, I obviously had my lunches at Major Neighbor's Grill at the clubhouse. The two items I ordered on successive days, the Cobb Salad and Club Sandwich, were excellent clubhouse fare.

Service overview

You'll get a generous helping of folksy Texas hospitality at Lost Pines, which has a well-trained staff. The golf course cart guys, starter and ambassadors, in particular, do a great job of making you feel welcome. As a first-time resort guest, I sometimes wander aimlessly searching for the range or the first tee. At Wolfdancer, the staff is always one step ahead of you making sure you always know where you're going and making you feel like a member for a day rather than a resort interloper. At the hotel, the service is a comfortable combination of excellent corporate training and Texas friendliness.

Local knowledge

--There are 54 golf courses within an hour's drive of the resort.

--Phenomenal barbecue is everywhere in the Austin area. I highly recommend Bennie's, a small family owned place with outdoor dining that's located about 5 minutes from Lost Pines. Try the combo platter with sausage and sliced beef. Yes, there really is a Bennie. And yes, it's real good. I still have the sauce stains on my golf shirt to prove it. In town, a couple of the many great barbecue places are Franklin Barbecue on East 11th Street and Rudy's on Research Boulevard.

--Check out the historical sights in the nearby town of Bastrop, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and bills itself as "The Most Historic Small Town in Texas."


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