The arid, dessert like climate of the rocky Big Bend National Park seems like a poor choice for a golf resort. However, hidden next to the park, on the Texas and Mexico border is a golf oasis with a world class reputation. The Lajitas Golf Resort sprawls out over a 27,000 acre track of land on the Rio Grande, and includes Black Jack’s Crossing, the golf course at the Lajitas. A Lanny Wadkins design, Black Jack derives its name from U.S. Army General “Black Jack” Pershing, known for his campaign against Pancho Villa.
Arriving on the property immediately takes you back to the 1800’s and the resort blends historic trading posts and old structures perfectly into the modern facilities. A Longhorn museum sits next to the trading post pro shop with an unapologetically Texan attitude. A large clock and surrounding putting green overlook the vast practice facility between the first and finishing holes.
In short, the course is fantastic with the stark contrast in the green golf course and arid mountains creating beautiful scene that lasts all 18 holes. Every hole is memorable and nothing feels like a rehash of another hole. Each shot presents a new and unique challenge, whether it’s a 130 yard par 3 with a steep drop, or threading a 3 wood up hill over a ravine into a diagonal fairway. This is target golf at it’s finest.
With large elevation drops on most of the longer holes, driver is not a must use off every tee. A 3 wood was sufficient for every hole, save #9 and #15, two of the longest playing holes on the course. On the other holes, your opportunities are only limited by the comfort and accuracy you have with each club. Over the course of 5 rounds, I approached these holes with a different strategy every time and each had it’s pros and cons. You could take a 3 iron off the tee on #12 to avoid a choke point in the fairway and leave yourself a mid iron into an uphill hole guarded by bunkers with a false front, or challenge the neck of the fairway with a fairway wood and leave yourself a wedge at the pin.
On the front nine, both par 5’s consistently played just out of reach for my 5 rounds at Black Jack. The first leaving an easy scoring opportunity (I earned more birdies here than pars), while the second demanded an accurate tee shot down into a narrow ravine fairway guarded on both sides. The two par 3’s sit on opposite ends of the spectrum with the first requiring a long iron into a large undulating green with only a bunker 10 yards short and the second a challenging mid iron uphill over a ravine to a green with all width and no depth. One of my favorite shots of the course, on this second par 3 #5 left you with the choice to attack a blind pin, or play safe to the left to avoid the ravine and use the slope to bring the ball into the middle of the green. The par 4’s provide a mix of demanding tee shots and demanding second shots, with my favorite hole, #6, requiring both a fairway wood deftly placed at the right distance past a ravine moving diagonally from the tee on the left to the right side of the hole and an iron shot into a creek (and wind) guarded two tiered green.
On the back nine, two short par 5’s on the homestretch insure a dramatic finish to the round. Both reachable, #16 and #18 provide a fair mix of risk and reward to entice some late round heroics (in one of my rounds, great second shots left me makable eagle putts). Contrasting the #5 on the front, #13 on the back is a short downhill par 3 that plays two clubs short, while #17, like its surrounding holes, is meant for scoring with a straightforward midiron that must navigate the wind to set up a chance to score. The par 4’s on the back supply a mix of easy holes and some that require both a great tee shot and an accurate second shot. #14, an aggressively downhill hole from start to finish, possess a treacherous green that rewards shots off by mere inches difficult lag putts.
Ultimately, Black Jack’s Crossing is fairly navigable for that style of course. The fairways, even the narrow, are ample and the greens, while undulating aren’t vindictive in their punishment. Black Jack, however, is far from “easy.” Hit good shots, though, and you’ll have a chance to shoot a great score.
I only had two gripes about the course. The first being the softness form overwatering. While the extra moisture keeps the course green, #15, designed for extra rollout on your drive, plays much longer than it should and makes for a tough shot into an uphill green. The second, is the distance between the holes, while some gapping is to be expected on a mountain style course, some of it is unnecessarily long.
Reviewer’s Note: My rounds at the course and lodging were comped by Lajitas.
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