Culture Willie Nelson No. 24

A Highwayman Comes Home

Willie Nelson nearly lost the course that helped define his career

Willie Nelson is at ease in this photo from August 1993. It was taken in Austin, Texas, likely at Pedernales Country Club. Five months prior, he had settled one of the highest-profile tax evasion cases in U.S. history, finally paying off what began as a $32 million debt to the IRS. It had been a difficult few years for Nelson, who watched as the government seized all of his assets. In 1992 he recorded an album, The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?, to wipe out some of the debt, but it didn’t sell as well as he had hoped, in part due to him wearing a T-shirt with the wrong phone number on it during the TV spot promoting the record. Possibly related: Willie Nelson smoked a lot of pot.

Pedernales, Nelson’s sprawling ranch/playground/recording studio 30 miles outside of Austin, was among the possessions seized. He’d purchased the course in 1979, and in 1983 it forever staked a claim to music history when Nelson and fellow country music outlaw Merle Haggard ducked inside and recorded the iconic album Pancho & Lefty. Nelson’s friend, legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal, tried to buy Pedernales from the IRS on Nelson’s behalf, but it was sold to an outside investor.

Through it all, Nelson floated above what could have tortured folks with less Zen. “Mentally it was a breeze,” he told Rolling Stone in 1995. “They didn’t bother me, they didn’t come out and confiscate anything other than that first day, and they didn’t show up at every gig and demand money. I appreciated that.”

Sure enough, by the end of 1993, Nelson had regained possession of Pedernales. His golf paradise was back. An up-and-down for the ages. 

Culture Willie Nelson No. 24

Photo by Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos