AUSTIN, Texas — As development explodes near Tesla’s gigafactory in Southeast Austin, one of the latest plans involves an exclusive golf course and wellness retreat.
A new members-only project called Austin Beach Club is in the early stages of launching on 63 acres along the Colorado River. Plans involve a 12-hole par-3 course, with water activities — including kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing — and wellness classes and retreats as well as dining.
Austin Beach Club is one of a rush of new developments being planned in the area known as Dog’s Head, a former sand and gravel mining hub in far East Austin. Long quiet, the area’s proximity to both downtown and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has put it on the real estate radar.
Austin Beach Club founder Lauren Carson sees huge potential in the largely undeveloped space.
“This is a nature getaway 15 minutes from downtown,” Carson said. “It hasn’t been developed because of its history of mining, and a lot of reclamation needs to be done, utilities need to be brought in. But as Austin grows, Dog’s Head is going to be in the middle of the region in the next five to 10 years.”
What is Dog’s Head?
The region’s name refers to about 3,000 acres where the Colorado River forms the shape of a dog’s head. Parts of Dog’s Head are just miles from Tesla’s $1.1 billion electric vehicle plant. Traditionally, the land has been dominated by mining and family-owned ranches.
There are challenges in developing Dog’s Head because, while some parts of the area are connected to city utilities, other sections are miles away from water and wastewater lines. In addition, much of Dog’s Head is flood plain.
Developers, including Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group, are reported to be acquiring thousands of acres of Dog’s Head. But considering its mining history, Endeavor Managing Principal Andy Pastor has said full-fledged development will take years. The firm did not respond to requests for comment.
What is driving growth in Southeast Austin?
A development boom is underway in Southeast Austin, with multiple industrial, commercial and residential projects underway. One example of the growth is Goodnight Ranch, a 700-acre, mixed-use community that currently has 1,540 homes on the ground, with thousands more eventually planned.
Also driving expansion is the Circuit of the Americas sports and entertainment venue in southeastern Travis County. COTA holds year-round sports and entertainment events, ranging from Formula 1 and NASCAR races to concerts with big-name acts, including the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Elton John, Billy Joel, Kanye West, Britney Spears and Taylor Swift.
Next up for COTA is an amusement and theme park called Cotaland, which will feature a roller coaster and dozens of other rides.
“It adds an active element to Austin’s ever-growing entertainment options and provides another boost to Southeast Austin,” Bobby Epstein, chairman of Circuit of the Americas, told the American-Statesman last year.
What’s the plan for Austin Beach Club?
Austin Beach Club founder Lauren Carson is an entrepreneur and founder of solar industry services company Kinect Solar, which she started in 2015.
Carson said Austin Beach Club, which is in the permitting process, is designed to create a community for startup founders, downtown tech workers, families and anyone else interested in outdoor recreation.
The property is valued at $1.3 million according to the Travis Central Appraisal District, was originally a homestead and ranch owned by the Hergotz family, which has longtime roots in the area. The goal is to open the golf course in July 2024. The site also will include walking trails and a club house.
“The property is so magical. We have downtown views, and there’s just a feeling you get when you go out there,” Carson said. “Whether you want to golf or just decompress, this is about getting into nature and connecting with other people.”
The golf course and other recreational services will be open through evening hours, which Carson believes will fill a niche for entertainment.
“What do you do if you want to spend time with people and you don’t want to go to a bar?” she said. “You don’t have a lot of options. We want to be that place.”
Currently, entry tier membership is $5,500 a year and includes one day of play per month as well as access to water activities and remote working space. Top tier access is listed at $9,500 a year and includes unlimited access to the course, which will be open until 2 a.m.
Who is designing the Austin Beach Club course and how is golf changing?
Austin Beach Club’s golf course is being designed by Roy Bechtol, president of Austin-based planning, landscape and golf architectural firm Planned Environments. He has developed courses at the Barton Creek Resort, the University of Texas Golf Club and Escondido in Horseshoe Bay.
Bechtol said he believes smaller courses like the 12-hole planned at Austin Beach Club is the wave of the future.
“Golf is a demanding game, to say the least. I think you’re seeing a move afoot with younger millennials to play in a way that takes less time and is more fun,” he said. “This just opens it up to so much more of the populace to fall in love with the game. It’s a much quicker way to spend the day.”
A 12-hole short course can be played in two hours, versus an average of four to six hours to play 18 holes.
“What we’re trying to create at the Austin Beach Club is to play real golf, get outdoors, get away from computers,” said Bechtol, who is collaborating with course designer Jim Fazio Jr. on the project. “It’s a way to get the whole family out in a fun environment.”
Steve Termeer, general manager at the UT Texas Golf Club, said courses like the one planned at Austin Beach Club are what many players are seeking.
For starters, he said, COVID-19 fired up the sport, as people sought outside activities. But the options in Austin are limited, he added.
“In Austin, we are so under-golfed it’s unbelievable — we’re probably five to seven courses short,” said Termeer, who worked with Bechtol on the UT golf course. “They’re so difficult to build and so costly. Just the cost of entry now is probably five times from where it was 20 years ago.”
Termeer said sites like Austin Beach Club can help fill the demand.
“Where they’re located, your downtown business folks can zip over to play pretty handily without battling traffic,” he said.
What Austin Beach Club members are saying
Even though the plans are in the permitting process, Austin Beach Club already is signing on members.
They include Alex Ellis, who works in real estate and grew up in Austin playing at Lions Municipal Golf Course and other courses around Central Texas.
“I really like the idea of a par-3 course rather than an 18-hole round,” he said. “At Lion’s or any other course, you’re going to be out there for five hours. There really hasn’t been anything new golfwise in the Austin city limits in a long time. This lets you get in town, play golf, and you can get back to your family or work.”
Daniella Rosa, founder and CEO of Austin-based women’s golf apparel firm AIEA, joined Austin Beach Club after hearing about the concept.
“I think of myself as a casual social golfer. They’re taking away the stuffiness of the golf world. It’s coming out of this next generation of golf,” Rosa said. “People are looking to get out to exercise, to be outside with friends. It’s not like ‘what’s your handicap?’”
Rosa said she sees Austin Beach Club as the future of the sport: “I feel it’s going to be the blueprint for that casual golf club around the country. It’s what people are looking for — a way to get out and connect and have fun.”