Corby Robertson Jr. had a beetle problem.
The pests were eating way at trees on the 400-acre property adjoining Camp Olympia, the summer camp he had co-founded with former University of Texas football teammate Chris Gilbert. But while others might have seen pestilence, Robertson saw opportunity.
In the mid 1990s, he started clearing some of the forest strategically, opening up corridors that made for makeshift golf holes that originally were to be used by Robertson and his friends, as well as by campers.
But with every downed tree, Robertson’s vision grew more grand. So began the transformation of this pine forest 90 minutes north of Houston into a sanctuary of a golf club with a 7,470-yard layout designed by Chet Williams (on a routing conceived by Robertson himself) that is considered among the best in Texas.
Members and their guests enjoy the camaraderie that comes with staying at one of the four cottages on the grounds and playing the course with a memorable stretch of finishing holes running along Caney Creek and Lake Livingston.
These holes have strategic options, none more so than the 392-yard 14th, where longer players can try to drive the green—a 300-yard carry. Those laying up have to avoid the “George Bush Tree,” named for the 41st President. The challenges then build at the back-to-back par 3s, the 15th and 16th.
At the 178-yard 15th, the sand-guarded green sits naturally on a spit of land that nearly forms an island, while the 228-yard 16th requires a carry over water with a long iron. Water doesn’t cross the line of play on the 603-yard 17th, but it does so on the 499-yard 18th, a finish that is as big as the Lone Star State itself.
While Whispering Pines functions as a premier private destination club for its members, its true mission is philanthropy. When Robertson built the club, he also established the World Health & Golf Association (WHGA). Half of each membership fee goes to the charity, which works with organizations like the First Tee and the Houston-Harris County Immunization Registry.
The showcase event for both the course and the WHGA is a biennial international amateur tournament known as the Spirit International. Held every odd year (opposite the World Amateur Team Championships) since 2001, the Spirit invites the best male and female amateurs from 20 countries. Past winners include Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer and Martin Kaymer.
In addition, Whispering Pines has a First Tee facility consisting of a three-hole course and large practice area that host golf programs for summer campers. During the school year, head professional Chris Rowe introduces golf to 1,000 Houston fifth graders who are attending the city school district’s Outdoor Education Center at Camp Olympia.
So whether you are a world-class player or have never before held a club, come from around the world or just down the road, every visitor can feel like he or she belongs at this unique club.