La Cantera is for golf lovers and the people who love them

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Entertainment,Robin Tierney

Trip tips:

* The weather is golf-friendly most of the year. Golf pro Mke Vardeman recommends Valentine's Day to May for Washingtonians craving warm, sunny outdoor fun.

* Several airlines currently offer bargain-priced fares to San Antonio.

* The new Shops at La Cantera shopping heaven is a free shuttle ride away.

* Fifteen minutes from the resort: River Walk's new Museum Reach leads to the San Antonio Museum of Art and new outdoor art installations.

If you go:

lacantera.com/golf.html

westinlacantera.com

210-558-6500

Play 36 holes of golf without thinking "wind chill"?

A warm getaway to La Cantera in Texas is a golfer's Valentine gift the whole family can enjoy.

"With two wonderful golf courses [providing] 36 holes of golf, the Golf Academy, indoor hitting facility, sunny weather most of the year and absolutely beautiful Hill Country scenery, we're getting a reputation as a world golf destination," said Mike Vardeman, who has taught golf at La Cantera for 13 years. Featuring waterfalls, swift streams, grand live oaks, limestone outcroppings and stunning sand bunkers, the Palmer and Resort courses have attracted champions and D.C. elite.

Indeed, top golf and travel magazines named La Cantera among their 2009 top picks. "Our [3-D] video analysis is unique; you hit the ball indoors and watch it fly outdoors," explained Vardeman. "Most people are visual learners, so by playing back their swings in slow motion, you can show them how to improve." Views from above, behind and the side help golfers "feel" and adjust their swing plane.

The resort's new family-focused activities, he added, let golfers focus on their game guilt-free.

The Westin La Cantera's newly completed $12 million renovation spanned rooms and its "farm-to-table" restaurants. Golf spouses can take a free shuttle to dozens of new boutiques, unwind in hot tubs or revitalize at the Castle Rock spa. Children love Discovery Junction's waterslide and bounce-house and Zoomagination's mental challenge; teens have fantasy pools and Rock'n T Lounge.

For together time, spot indigenous wildflowers and wildlife along the new mile-long nature trail. At Francesca's at Sunset, savor creations by a top chef instead of watching one on television.

"We talk to the farmer Monday, the food is delivered Thursday, and we build our menus based on what's seasonal," said John Armstrong, the resort's East Coast-trained executive chef who shares secrets on regional cooking shows. He mentions Farmer Bob's pecan oil ("as good for you as olive oil"), mangos, raspberry chipotle -- and "Cowboy Candy." His holiday meals draw legions of locals; raves flow for wine-paired dinners and champagne breakfasts. The Valentine extravaganza will overflow to other eateries at the resort.

"With Spanish missionaries coming through, this became one of the first areas [in America] to grow grapes," said sommelier Steven Krueger. With his state boasting 220 family-owned vineyards, Krueger's long wine list includes at least 16 from grapes native to Texas. Golf and grapes? Now that's a superb pairing.

Reach Robin Tierney at robintierney@gmail.com

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