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.
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.
When 16-year-old Roger Soler crossed the finish line first at the Peruvian National Junior Championship, his victory marked the beginning of a love affair with running. At age 18, he set a Peruvian record in the 1500-meter and eventually brought his talents to the U.S., where he competed in the 5000-meter race at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. Through it all, Roger nurtured a genuine fondness for running that blossomed into a full-fledged passion when he opened the first Soler's Sports more than two decades ago.
Today, Soler's Sports boasts four locations staffed by athletes with real-life experience in biking and running and was awarded a spot on Running Insight's Top 50 Running Stores of 2011. Staffers tend to customers on an individual basis, guaranteeing sneakers to accommodate gaits and bikes to fit bodies based on detailed analyses. Once employees have profiled the perfect shoe or bike, they help patrons find them, searching through the store’s stock, which includes brands such as Ridley Bikes, Vibram FiveFingers, Vitalsox, and Spibelt. Patrons can test-drive new kicks and wheels at the store's group runs and rides.
For United Gymnastics' coaches, gymnastics isn't just about mastering a back handspring or having the flexibility to sink into the splits. In classes, they nurture kids to become more disciplined and confident as they strengthen their bodies and gain coordination. Parents accompany their little ones to toddler classes, which are held in a sectioned-off area with miniature, cushy equipment. Older kids advance through classes that develop tumbling and gymnastics prowess at age-appropriate levels, laying the foundations for a lifetime of physical activity.
The staff members also host birthday parties and summer camps that engage tykes with crafts and open-gym time, in which they will gain enough dexterity and flexibility to build s'mores with their feet.
Point Blank Range's TCLEOSE, DPS, and NRA-certified instructors travel to various ranges and locations to help all levels of students develop handgun skills focused on defense. The instructors teach their own, proprietary courses, drawing inspiration from the tactics used by law enforcement officers and their cartoon sidekicks. Through a combination of lecture-based instruction and hands-on training, they cover everything from basic handgun operation to advanced skills such as drawing and shooting on the move. Aside from their signature courses, the instructors also teach NRA handgun classes, work with students privately, and prepare gun owners for CHL tests.
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: * 18-hole, par 72 course * Total length of 6,864 yards from the back tees * Course rating of 73 from the back tees * Course slope of 140 from the back tees * Four sets of tees per hole * Scorecard