Rolling mounds, serene lakes, and sporting demand make the Piney Woods a hot spot for golf, both competitive and recreational. We headed to one-of-a-kind landforms and high-end resorts in pursuit of the most glorious greens in Texas.

Experienced golfers love demanding courses that puzzle the brain, especially in environs that pamper and soothe. A tough game in beautiful digs is a hard-to-resist combination, and the Piney Woods—with its rolling hills and scatterings of scenic lakes—more than delivers. We tested out our golf swing on the region’s world-class courses.

Links at Land’s End

Hauling our lucky clubs, our group drove to the outpost of Links at Land’s End, a gorgeous resort hotel and 18-hole golf course on the shores of Lake Fork, about 90 miles east of Dallas.

Aptly named, the place distinguishes itself with a remote locale. The course, draped over a tiny peninsula jutting into the 43-square-mile lake, offers 13 holes directly on the shoreline and sweeping views of the water, trees, and nearby cove.

We admired the vantage even as we struggled to conquer the course’s tough greens. Links at Land’s End was ranked No. 37 in the 2014 Dallas Morning News’ “Top 50 Courses You Can Play” and made Texas Outside’s “Top 25 Public Golf Courses in Texas,” and a big part of the appeal is the challenge.

Namely, the troubles start at the eighth hole, the first of four holes nicknamed “Amen Corner,” in homage to a similarly notorious stretch at Augusta National. The 380-yard dogleg is short and sharp and tempts you to try to carry the lake, which is exactly what I did. The results were not spectacular.

I didn’t fare much better on the next three holes, but it was fun trying. Even when the ball didn’t go where it should, the picturesque trees and the sound of lapping waves consoled and cleared the mind. Long story short on this course: Don’t be a show-off and focus on your short game.

Afterward, we enjoyed the pampering of the swimming pool and the restaurant. The resort also features a pro shop and driving range, which provided a great warm-up.

The Woodlands

Located about 30 miles north of Houston, the master-planned community of The Woodlands is renowned for its dizzying range of shopping and entertainment options.

Luxury can also be found out on the generous greens. Among its three undulating courses open to members, The Woodlands Country Club boasts an acclaimed 27-hole course designed by none other than golfing great Arnold Palmer.

But for a public option, we teed off at The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center. The high-end hotel includes deluxe rooms, tennis courts, hiking trails, and a waterpark with pools, slides, and a lazy river, but the highlights are its two top-notch courses.

Panther Trail is a sprawling 18-hole beauty designed by Joe Lee and Robert von Hagge and renovated by Joe Case. The Oaks, equally gorgeous with a par-4 18th hole bordering Lake Harrison, tests golfers of all skill levels playing on tees that stretch over 7,000 yards.

We chose Panther Trail, which wraps around the resort’s other facilities in a graceful layout that belies its difficulty. The aesthetics were on point, with lush fairways, holes lined by Carolina pine trees, and 20 acres of Texas wildflowers.

Right off, the par-4 first hole offered a conundrum from the fairway: Do we confidently take a blind shot to the green or a safe shot to the left? The layout, designed to force the player’s hand early, is ingeniously thought out. Indeed, choices abound on this course, with water obstacles on 12 holes, various-size bunkers, and swift Bermuda and TifEagle greens. It was a blast—scenic but rigorous, a workout for the mind.

If the sound of that intimidates you, the resort offers a full training facility staffed by PGA professionals who can help you step up your game.

Instructors at The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center’s Golf Performance Center offer mental techniques to help golfers reach peak performance on the course. As golf great Bobby Jones once put it: “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course ... the space between your ears.”