Nicklaus-designed golf course with its own waterfall

It's a knee-knocker. A thundering, taunting waterfall extends the full width of the fairway, plummeting off a 15-foot-high rocky, grassy bank. Lying on top is the putting green, with shelves of water just below. It all adds up to triple trouble.

Here in Texas hill country, the par-3 7th hole at the brand new Hills of Lakeway course is bound to become one of the most famous in golfdom.

It's the 16th creation of famed golf champion Jack Nicklaus, since he began designing courses in 1973. And it has become the third course for the rambling, woodsy resort community of Lakeway, 20 miles northwest of Austin along the shores of Lake Travis.

Talk about your wild, wooly west! This land that was once a cattle ranch has a lustier flavor now than it ever had. From start to finish, the course is an adventure.

I recently had the thrill of walking around with Nicklaus while he played the official first round. Sprintingm around, I should say, for he maintains a fast stepping pace that takes determination to follow. I puffed and panted, but it was well worth the effort: a fascinating insight into what makes a Nicklaus course tick.

On the par-3 second, take care not to tumble into one of the deeplay hollowed gras-bottomed bunkers. They're a sign of the times you'll be seeing more often, Nicklaus says, being far easier and cheaper to maintain than sand.

Holes 3 and 4, the highest on the course, offer sensational views of a wave of hills oddly resembling a distant ocean. Then you start downhill and, holing out No. 6, clatter across the first of five bridges to that notorious 7th.

"I like to keep all my courses looking different. It's my way of keeping myself fresh," Nicklaus casually remarked. So saying, whoosh! went his 9 iron, and easily, elegantly, his shot sailed over the waterfall and holding pools, and landed kerplunk by the pin.

Onward to No. 8, and no -- you're not imagining it -- that green does, indeed , have two flags. In the Scottish manner, it's a double green serving also as home for the par-3 12th.

The whole back nine sustains the fun of surprise with such involvements as grass curbs between traps, islands of grass in some bunkers, and Hurst Creek almost all the way managing to creep into play. It's the same creek that's been harnessed to become the waterfall, and at the 18th it takes on another awesome form -- a lake. Leering on the left, it gradually narrows the full length of the fairway. Just to keep you on your toes till the game's very end, the final green waits atop a cliff. "I call it my Pebble Beach hole," Nicklaus broadly smiled.

Should your game here leave something to be desired, the Hills of Lakeway has the answer. The latest word in golf schools, the Academy of Golf, will open there this fall. With a 600-yard driving range, surrounded by three regulations-length practice holes, it will be in tottering distance of that watery 18th. Golf Digest will provide the teaching staff and curriculum. the Nicklaus theory will also be taught. Both are based on patience!

The vitals: the Hills of Lakeway, and the Academy of Golf, 101 Lakeway Drive, Austin, Texas 78734. Toll-free phone 800-531-5001. Par 72 men, 71 women, yardage 5,126-6,866 (four sets of tees). Two courses at Lakeway: Live Oak and Yaupon, both par 72, yardage to 6,228. Greens fees, $18, allow unlimited daily play. Electric carts (not mandatory), $14. Three-day package gives hotel room or townhouse, meals, golf for $172-$226 per person double, $151-$196 per person foursome. Note: singles may cut costs by asking to share with other singles.

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