With Country Music
Legend George Strait
By Carl Mickelson
You can read quite a bit these days about the growing trend of celebrities investing in golf courses. Phil Mickelson now owns a handful of courses in the Phoenix area. Justin Timberlake beams with pride when he talks about his Mirimichi Golf Course in Memphis. What the public can rarely discern is whether the celebrities view these purchases purely as investments or as passion projects—or a little of both.
Make no mistake, when country music legend George Strait and his partner Tom Cusick bought The Resort at Tapatio Springs in Boerne in April of this year, they did it because they had a genuine affection for the property and a vision to make it a golf resort everyone in the region could be proud of.
“We are trying to make the vision that (original developer) Clyde Smith saw when he developed it become a reality,” says Strait. “It's gone through some tough times, but we're trying hard to make sure that those days are behind it now. It's really becoming an amazing place.”
Since the Strait-Cusick takeover of Tapatio, the response from locals has been understandably enthusiastic. After all, Strait might easily be the San Antonio area’s favorite “favorite son”.
Had George Harvey Strait never been born, the country music business would probably have had to invent him. Turns out, the quintessential cowboy really is the genuine article. Central Casting couldn’t have drawn up a more perfect blueprint for a country music performer than an humble Texan raised on a ranch in Pearsall, who served in the Army, married his hometown sweetheart, has stayed married for 40 years and whose guilty pleasures consist of family, golf, roping cattle and deep sea fishing.
For a performer who has sold more than 68.5 million albums (including 13 multi-platinum, 33 platinum, and 38 gold albums) and racked up 58 number-one hit singles, the man fans call “King George” remains surprisingly modest-- and protective of his private time. “Country music is important to me, but it’s not my whole life,” Strait said. “I like to be outdoors, I like to hunt, I like to fish, I like to play golf.”
Strait may have grown up idolizing hard-living country greats like Merle Haggard, George Jones and Johnny Cash (along with Western Swing king Bob Wills), but he’s managed to steer completely clear of the kind of controversy his heroes often found. Anyone looking to write a warts-and-all, Walk the Line-style tell-all is going to be seriously disappointed.
“George Strait is the ultimate family man,” says Strait’s longtime songwriting companion Dean Dillon. “Every time I’m ever around George, it’s not long before his son Bubba’s there. George, Bubba and Norma are closely-knit a family as you’ll ever find. George could have been one of those guys womanizing and carousing on tour buses, but that’s not him. He’s a strong spiritual guy. He knows who God is and he knows who he is.”
Fans often ask if Strait is like the men in his songs. The heartbroken lover from “Marina Del Rey” or “The Cowboy Rides Away”. The lonely rodeo cowpoke from “Amarillo By Morning” or “I Can Still Make Cheyenne”. The busting-with-pride father from “I Saw God Today”, “The Breath You Take” or “The Best Day”. Maybe the silver-tongued Romeo from “The Chair” or “I Just Want to Dance With You”.
To Dillon, Strait is just ‘George’. “George is a lover of life and he has a great sense of humor. He’s a prankster,” says Dillon, who recalls the time Strait settled a football bet by returning Dillon’s $100 from a previous bet with ‘Easy Come, Easy Go – George Strait’ inscribed on the bill. “I won, but it cost me the $100 plus $10 for a frame to put it in! George is just fun that way.”
What’s most remarkable about Strait’s career isn’t just the hits and the record-breaking sales feats, it’s his longevity and ability to remain relevant in a genre that is ever-changing. When Garth Brooks was flying on a wire over the heads of sold-out-concert goers, George Strait was having equal success playing traditional country tunes and letting his music essentially speak for itself. While Big & Rich were employing country rapper Cowboy Troy to bust exuberant rhymes on their recordings, George reminded fans of his stature in the game by releasing a collection called “50 Number Ones” (For a frame of reference, Elvis Presley recorded 18 number one singles. The Beatles had 27 number ones.).
Today, the new wrinkle in Strait’s music is the frequent collaboration with his only son, George “Bubba” Strait Jr. The influence Bubba’s input had on his dad’s music was immediate. On “Living for the Night”, the first single off of Strait’s 2009 album Twang, the Straits teamed with Dillon to produce a song that captures much of the essence found in Strait hits from the 80s and 90s—gut-wrenching emotions with a sliver of hopefulness and humor: “I’m a whole lot easier to talk to/ When I’ve had a few, I settle down/ Whiskey kills the man you’ve turned me into, and I come alive/ I’m living for the night.”
“Living for the Night” climbed to number two on the Billboard’s Country singles chart and gave the father-son team the creative momentum to write seven new songs for Strait’s most recent release, Here for a Good Time. The title track recently became Strait’s 58th number-one hit. At age 59, Strait balances his living-legend status by abiding by the simple message in “Here for a Good Time”: “I believe it's half full, not a half empty glass/ Every day I wake up knowing it could be my last/ I ain't here for a long time/ I'm here for a good time/ …When I’m gone, put it in stone ‘He left nothing behind’/ I ain't here for a long time/ I'm here for a good time”.
If you have a tee time or a brunch reservation at the newly-renovated Resort at Tapatio Springs, don’t be surprised to see Strait out there following his bliss. He’s there often and gets in plenty of golf and revelry with his family, staff and members. It’s a new day at Tapatio and Strait seems to be enjoying the process of rebuilding the resort property and its image.
George Strait has given very few interviews in recent years, so Texas Golfer is very pleased to share the music legend’s conversation with Carl Mickelson here:
I’ve been hearing the title track off of your new album “Here For a Good Time” on the radio. It’s a fun track, with kind of a “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’” message behind it. How did this single come about?
It was a song idea that my son, Bubba had that Dean Dillon (songwriting collaborator on Strait’s hits like “The Chair”, “Nobody in His Right Mind Would've Left Her”, “Ocean Front Property”, “I've Come to Expect It From You”, “Easy Come, Easy Go”, “The Best Day” and “Living for the Night”, to name just a few) and I helped him write. It's definitely a “get busy living” song. I don't know about the “get busy dying” part. It’s fun, for sure.
Okay, no more Shawshank references... What can listeners expect from Here For a Good Time, the album? You last album Twang showed off a wide variety of musical styles (a rollicking collection of up-tempo tracks, tearjerkers and even a song Strait belts out in Spanish called “El Rey”). Is the new one as daring or more in a traditional vein?
The new CD is just as traditional and fun as Twang. The big difference is that Bubba and I co-wrote seven of the 11 songs on it. I'm very proud of that. To see him blossom as a song writer is pretty special for me.
You’ve worked with many talented songwriters, but can you describe what it’s been like to have had a songwriter like Dean Dillon in your camp? What’s the magic between you guys?
I don’t think there’s been but one album I’ve ever cut with no Dean Dillon songs on it. Dean and I have had a very special relationship for many years. I really love his melodies and his lyrics ain’t too bad either (laughs). I think the thing that catches my ear first is the melody. Dean’s songs have such interesting, different melodies and a lot of really pretty chord changes.
Is there a particular process when you two work up a new song together?
Our process, pretty much, is to set aside some dates to get together, then we all show up with our ideas and throw them out there and see what sticks. It's fun but also gets pretty intense at times. A lot of times, Dean comes in with new songs for me and he’ll sit down and play them on guitar. We’ve gotten a lot of songs that way.
From ages nine to 90, you have tremendously loyal fans. Can you describe what it’s like getting energy and love from the fans at a live arena show—like those old, incredible Astrodome shows at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo?
I've been very fortunate in my career to have such loyal fans. I still see some at shows that I remember from the 80s. That's amazing. To try and describe what it's like to play a big stadium in front of all of those great fans is impossible. It's a lot of adrenaline and it's just a heck of a lot of fun. When the audience is really with you, there’s nothing better than that. I'm just glad I get to experience it.
You’ve been compared to Frank Sinatra quite often. You have career longevity and that “seemingly effortless” quality to your singing in common. 1) Do you like that comparison? 2) Is the “effortless” description maybe a misconception—is it harder than we think to sound so smooth and easy?
I have always been a big Sinatra fan, so when someone compares me to him, it's a huge compliment. He was so smooth and it always seemed so effortless but, sure, some songs do require a little more effort than others. What comes off sounding comfortable or easy (on the finished song) might have been something that was difficult to do in the studio. It's a trade secret, though. I can't give it away. Singing is just fun, even the hard ones.
In your song “Troubadour”, you sing “I still feel 25 most of the time.” That’s probably the way most of us feel in those moments we’re doing what we truly love. Is that a good way to describe how you feel when you’re singing, roping, fishing or playing golf?
Sure, I love doing all of those things, and when you're doing something you love it makes you feel good. It makes you forget about those little problems or aches and pains that you sometimes feel. I don't rope as much as I used to since Bubba quit going. We golf a lot more now. I just went out fishing yesterday and caught a sailfish, three Dorado, and two tunas. Not a bad day offshore…
Not bad at all. Let’s talk about another of your passions, golf. What did you and Tom Cusick see in the Tapatio Springs property that made you want to rescue it?
It's beautiful out here and with a little TLC, it’s becoming even more beautiful. We are trying to make the vision that Clyde Smith saw when he developed it become reality. It's gone through some tough times, but we're trying hard to make sure that those days are behind it now.
Has it been fun seeing the property transform?
The facelift process went great. We have done so many cosmetic upgrades. All of the rooms will have been remodeled. The clubhouse is seeing a lot of transformation as well. The golf course has had more trees planted in some areas to add more definition to some fairways and other areas. It's going to be an amazing place.
What are your ultimate goals for Tapatio?
We hope to make it a spot where you would want to take your family for a golfing vacation or a business would want to come have an annual meeting and golf outing. We have great facilities for golf, lodging and food and beverage. We also want to welcome local golfers back out who maybe have, at one time or another, given up on Tapatio, and show them what it has and will become. It has the convenience of beautiful Boerne nearby, with all that it has to offer, which is amazing. Then, of course, you have the great city of San Antonio. What more could you want?
Where are some of your favorite places ever to play golf?
I've been very fortunate to have been able to play some of the greatest golf courses in my travels. I'm not going to mention names because it would sound like I'm bragging, but sometimes I just have to pinch myself. We have some great golf courses here in Texas, so you don't have to travel too far for a good challenge on a world class golf course.
I like to imagine Fred Couples’ tempo when I’m swinging. Do you try to emulate any pro’s swing or game?
I love to watch Freddie Couples play golf, too. Like most everyone else, wish I could swing the golf club like that.
I can’t emulate at all, either. But it’s still fun to pretend.
It seems like I play a little better-- for a couple holes anyway-- after I watch him play. He's like the Sinatra of golf.
Do you look at golf as escape or a passion?
Golf is a definite passion for me. I wish I could have started playing earlier in my life and hope I can play it until the day I die.
Are you competitive on the golf course?
I play a lot with my son. He's really becoming a very good golfer. We're very competitive, but he usually beats me these days. I still get him every now and then, though. I really can't remember playing golf with anyone who wasn't very competitive, though, come to think of it. Everyone wants to win, right?
What’s your best 18-hole score ever?
It's a 75. I have had some days when I thought I was going to break that, but 18 has always done me in.
How did your “Tough Enough to Wear Pink”charity golf tournament come about?
I've had a great relationship with Wrangler for many years. They are such good folks and, of course, I love to wear Wranglers. They started having the tournament a few years back without me. Later on, I was asked to host it along with my long-time friend, Butch Harmon. It was a no-brainer for me. It's for a great cause, also, which is to research and find a cure for breast cancer.
George Strait... What’s in your bag?
Driver: Taylor Made Burner, 9.5 degrees
Wood: Taylor Made Burner, 15 degrees
Irons: Callaway Razr X-Forged, 3-PW.
Wedges: 50, 54 & 58 degree Callaway Jaws
with “Troubadour” stamped on them.
Putter: Taylor Made Ghost Spider with an oversized grip.
That about does it. All subject to change of course.
Thank you very much for the time and for being there on all those road trips.
You're welcome. Come see us again soon!