The Challenge at Cypress Hills is clearly one of the best layouts in East Texas – what a fun and enjoyable course to play and a must play if you're in the area. The Challenge at Cypress Hills opened in the 70's and was acquired by the Challenge Golf Group in 2008 who immediately started making several improvements, some of which included new grass on the greens, new bunkers with soft white sand, and a new irrigation system.
The designer of The Challenge at Cypress Hills did an excellent job of leveraging some fantastic East Texas terrain to create an excellent layout that is unique, demanding, and a blast to play. Cypress Hills will test every part of your game and demands accuracy off the tee box, good course management, precision on the approach shots, and good putting skills.
The first hole at The Challenge at Cypress Hills sets the stage for the front nine – a short 322 yard sharp dog leg right par four with a narrow landing zone thanks to the sharp drop off along the left side of the fairway and trees on the right and then a big downhill shot to a 32 yard wide oval green. Before heading into the club house to reload on golf balls, ice water, and some munchies, you'll need to manage some elevated tee boxes, blind shots, tight fairways, dog legs, pinched approaches, raised greens, and some forced carries over water. And this is the easy nine!
We loved the front, but liked the back even more. The back nine at The Challenge at Cypress Hills is a little shorter thanks to one par 5, but is probably 4 to 5 strokes harder. But what we really liked about this nine is that each hole is unique and different from the previous hole, it offers a variety of challenges, and is a real joy to play. We hated to see this nine end and only wished we had the time to immediately play it again. The second time you play the back nine you should be able to leverage your course knowledge to turn in a much better score.
On the back nine at Cypress Hills you'll need to manage:
- some tough tee shots (tight landing zones, elevated tee boxes, uphill blind shots, etc.) on some of which you may want to leave the big dog in the bag and some where you can let-er-rip but you best not miss the fairway
- water that will come into play on 4 holes including some intimating carries off the tee box as well as a couple big ponds across the front of the green
- greens of various shapes and sizes – from small ovals to skinny and oblong – as well as some that require a precise uphill semi-blind shot or a demanding downhill shot
- sharp dog legs left and right that may require a draw or a very precise drive to position you for a shot at the green
- fairways with plenty of ups and downs and contour creating uneven lies including one fairway with severe slope that wants to take you ball back down the hill and toward the trees
Texas was suffering a severe drought in 2011 and it has affected all of the courses in Texas, including the fairways at The Challenge at Cypress Hills. They weren't lush and thick and green, but they were in pretty good shape – a 7.5 out of 10 thanks to some dry and barren spots. The roughs were a little rougher with a mixture of several grasses, brown spots, and some dirt. All of the fairways are tree lined and you'll most likely hear several balls ricocheting off the tall Texas pines. In some cases if you hit the trees you're history, in others if you find your ball you'll most likely have a worm burner shot back to the fairway, and in a few cases you might drive through the trees to another fairway but still have a tough recovery shot.
The greens at The Challenge at Cypress Hills were in very good shape. They range in size (from 20 to 40 yards with most around 32 yards or so) and shape from small ovals to long and skinny oblongs. Some are raised, some are turtle top, and others are flat for a good bump and run. Most of the greens have minor to sever slope, a tier or ridge, or something to keep you focused on your putting. We thought they were pretty easy to read and ran true at a good speed of around 9. If you can hit them they held the ball pretty well. We didn't find putting to be the hard part on this course – getting to the greens is the challenge.
There are only six bunkers and we found them easy to avoid. But if you do find them, the sand is white, soft, and fluffy and the lips are not that challenging.
Bottom line – The Challenge at Cypress Hills is a fantastic track with an excellent layout that is fair but demanding with every hole being a little different and unique – and it's a great value. A must play if you're nearby!
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Service is country friendly, the pro shop has a little bit of everything from clubs to balls, and there is a small grill offering dogs, sausage, and sandwiches. No alcohol but you can bring your own - there is no cart service. The facilities are a little dated but the carts are newer and in good condition. Make sure you warm up on the putting green, chipping area, and driving range - you'll need to be sharp on all three to score well.