Select Page

AUSTIN, Texas — Looking for the perfect late-round match-play backdrop?

How’s this sound?

A short par 3 with a tee box perched on the side of a cliff. Unpredictable winds swirling from beneath, forcing players to use their best guess at a number, and a healthy dose of Scottish-style pot bunkers surrounding the green on the safe side, meaning those who get in but don’t get out smoothly can easily chalk up a wildly inflated score.

Welcome to the 17th hole at Austin Country Club, host of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play for at least two more days. This 150-yard shortie looks palatable from the tee but has often been the deciding factor in matches during the seven years the event has been staged in the state’s capital.

This is where Billy Horschel closed out Scottie Scheffler for the title in 2021, and a host of superstars – Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia and more – have found themselves in dire straits on this short, seductive hole, as seen in the photos below.

But here’s the little-known fact that often goes untold:

No. 17 wasn’t even part of the original plans.

When the club’s membership looked to make a second move to a new property, this time to a hilly piece of land along Lake Austin, legendary architect Pete Dye was brought in to design the masterpiece on display today.

The StrackaLine yardage book for Austin Country Club in Texas, site of the PGA Tour’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (Courtesy of StrackaLine)

Dye originally sketched out the routing on a napkin, putting together much of the track as it currently exists. He proudly passed the drawings along and was a little miffed when someone noted that he had not routed enough holes in the plan.

Legendary University of Texas golfer and World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Kite picked up the story here during Friday’s third round of play.

“Pete had the thing on a napkin, he just drew the thing out,” Kite told Golfweek while standing on the practice putting green at ACC. “I think it was probably (architect) Roy Bechtol who looked at him and said, ‘Hey Pete, there’s only 17 holes here.’ Pete looked at him and said, ‘I can find a par 3 anywhere.’ ”

And that’s how the 17th hole, which plays as No. 8 in the normal, non-tournament routing, was born.

More: Pete Dye’s top 10 courses according to Golfweek’s Best rankings

Of course, it also explains why the hole hangs precariously on a hill, a characteristic that has given many players fits. The hole was shoehorned in after the initial concept was hatched, needing to be short so players wouldn’t have to backtrack too far to the next tee box.

Kite, who has played the famed course more times than he can count, said the breezes can make the hole tricky for players who aren’t accustomed to the area’s topography.

“The winds come up through the canyons, and you get back on those tees and you can’t always feel the wind,” Kite said. “And so it makes choosing the right club there very, very problematic. I mean, it’s really tough to pull the right club and get it close. And even for those of us that have played it numerous times, it’s always difficult, but we know the tendencies.”

Kite added that players needed time to adjust to the winds upon arriving in Austin in 2016 for the first playing of the Dell Match Play there – the first few years the hole wreaked real havoc on the world’s best.

“You see the guys that come in here and they obviously know a lot more now than they did the first couple of years that we played here,” Kite said. “And while it’s a tough, tough club to pull, if you do get it right the green is pretty demanding. It has a lot of undulation in it. It’s an interesting hole for sure.”

Dye, who died in 2020 at the age of 94, was particularly proud of the course, telling Austin American-Stateman columnist Kirk Bohls in 2016 that the partnership with designer Rod Whitman proved to be one of his favorite projects.

“I love that golf course,” he said. “It was a difficult job, but it worked out OK. It was really remarkable. I don’t think they changed it very much.”

Dale Morgan is the longtime head pro at ACC and someone who also figures largely into the club’s lore. Morgan is one of only three pros the club has ever had, the others being legendary teacher Harvey Penick and his son, Tinsley Penick.

And he also marvels at how Dye’s quick cover-up produced a masterpiece.

“When he realized there were only 17 holes, he said, ‘Well, there’s an area over here and I think we can make one,’” Morgan said. “He ended up making one of the best little par 3s in the world.”

Morgan said Dye had no idea when he first put the plan together that the club would end up with a World Golf Championships event for the better part of a decade, and he certainly didn’t know the little hole that was an afterthought could be a deciding stage for some of the world’s best golfers.

“He thinks he’s building a golf course for members and he has no idea we’ll be playing these championships out here,” Morgan said.

“I know he’s looking down and smiling on us right now.”

Here’s a look at some of the trouble No. 17 has offered up through the tournament’s run: