The low-hanging branches of southern live oak trees stretch out over the house and pavilion areas at Don Strange Ranch, dappling parties, weddings, and corporate team gatherings with splashes of sunlight. Since 1952, the 125-acre longhorn ranch in the Texas Hill Country has hosted myriad events, including scenes from the PBS music documentary series Live from the Artists Den and the wedding of country music stars Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton.
More than just a picturesque backdrop, the ranch’s rugged natural surroundings host outdoor activities such as ropes courses and kayak trips down the Guadalupe River. And the friendly staffers who man 350- to 400-foot ziplines work to ease guests out of their comfort zones, like a mother bird pushing her young out of the nest for their first extreme base-jumping lesson. :m]]
After being ranked 19th on Golfweek's "Best New Courses" list in 2011, the course at Vaaler Creek Golf Club has been stacking up acolytes for its challenging play and picturesque Texas Hill Country setting. The Michael Lowry and JR Newman design stretches through oak forests as well as rocky outcroppings, encountering water on nine holes. Throughout each round, players steer new E-Z-GO golf carts over Bermuda 419 and TifSport grasses, taking advantage of the carts’ automatic braking systems as they stop to smell the flowers or the glorious scent of victory over manual controls.
Though the varied layout presents all manner of challenges, the par 3 12th hole requires a particularly cautious approach. Players must exhibit firm control over iron play as they aim for a peninsula green—discipline that must be then be duplicated four holes later to keep drives dry and on the isthmus fairway. Finally, players round out the round by facing a daunting approach over water, made even more difficult by the tree in the center of the fairway that obstructs flight paths and distracts would-be winners with its self-contained, elf-operated cookie factory.
Course at a Glance:
Gotta Ride Bikes expresses its passion for cycling through a glittering arsenal of gear and bikes, and a knowledgeable staff well-tuned to the finer points of their beloved sport and pastime. Expert bike mechanics keep two-wheeled transports in smooth-running shape, nutrition and training experts fashion personalized body-boosting routines, and shoe fitters fix common problems such as using ill-matched footwear and biking with stiletto heels. Throughout the well-stocked store, rows and racks of bicycles from brands such as Scott, Felt, and Look rear up their mechanical haunches, ready to take to the asphalt with aerodynamic speed and lightweight agility. Frame racks, pumps, helmets, and replacement parts keep cyclists of all stripes pedaling safely and efficiently, and jerseys, supplements, and training gear help professional wheel riders shave seconds from race times.
In a time when most people find out about survival skills through reality television, brothers Dave and Michel Scott are the exception. The two brothers spent their formative years exploring the Texas wilderness. Dave, a US Army veteran, is 1 of only 20 people in North America qualified as a Track and Sign Specialist. He and his brother have devoted themselves to helping society remember the skills that have kept us alive for thousands of years.
Earth Native Wilderness School's instructors come from all walks of life, but they each have a love of nature. With lessons in medicinal plants, basic wilderness survival, and wildlife tracking, the school's classes teach students skills such as fashioning tools for survival, arrow making, fire by friction, and finding an ATM in the desert. The staff also realizes humanity's spiritual connection to nature and can even guide students through a vision quest to strengthen their relationship with nature.
Trained by JuKiDo founder Kyoshi Ivan Ujueta, Haben's Martial Art's head sensei Paul Haben draws from his hard-hitting experience to help students reach their individual goals. Classes cover a range of disciplines including the syncretic style of JuKiDo, which blends the soft defensive styles of judo and jiu-jitsu with the uncompromising strikes of karate and kickboxing. Students can also learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which enables the neutralization of larger opponents through the assistance of the floor, or focused, mixed martial arts for students determined to kick through lead. Since in utero instruction has proven impractical, Haben's Martial Arts accepts students starting at 4 years of age, with classes especially designed for different age groups.
The rolling emerald acres of this golfing Valhalla provide fairway-farers with a sweeping spread of short- and long-range training areas to hone ball-launching skills. Club collectors, armed with a day-pass punch card, can crush unlimited edifices of dimpled spheres from the 40,000-square-foot tee line of Zoysia grass without risk of waiting behind sloth-paced practice sessions. Alternatively, stock up for 18-hole outings at the PGA-professional-staffed pro shop, which stocks a variety of golfing shirts, grip-enhancing gloves, and accuracy-boosting Egyptian artifacts. Though not included in the value of this Groupon, you can also take a lesson from the professionals or relax at the Watering Hole for a cold beverage after a rough day on the links.