It’s been awhile since I’ve passed along another in my series of posts on the best of Houston’s many fine golf courses (see the side panel to the right for the other courses reviewed to date), so what better way to start the week than to take a look at one of Houston’s most venerable tracts, River Oaks Country Club.
A couple of months ago, my old friend Ty Sponsel, Jr. invited me for a golf outing at River Oaks, which is Houston’s premier golf course among the relatively few Houston tracts that were designed prior to World War II. Even with the Houston area currently experiencing its worst drought in a century, River Oaks was in fine shape for our outing.
Designed by legendary Donald Ross, and updated in the 1950’s by Joe Finger and in the 1990’s by Rees Jones, River Oaks is a Houston treasure. Built along the bluffs overlooking Buffalo Bayou just a few miles from downtown, River Oaks is a freak of nature – a course with substantial elevation changes despite being situated squarely within the flat coastal plain of southeast Texas.
Jack Burke, Sr., Claude Harmon and Claude’s son, Dick Harmon, were all former head professionals at River Oaks. Moreover, Jimmy Demaret used to wade across Buffalo Bayou to play the course before convincing Burke to hire him as an assistant pro at the club. Consequently, River Oaks is without question one of the clubs that established the strong Texas thread in the fabric of golf in the United States.
My favorite holes at River Oaks tend to be the ones with elevation changes, such as the 2nd — a downhill par 4; the 3rd – a downhill par 3 on the banks of the bayou; the 5th – a wonderful downhill and then uphill par 4; the 13th – a careening par 4 along the bluffs of the bayou; and the 17th – a sharp dogleg to an elevated green with water left making the tee shot one of the most perilous on the course.
At just over 7,000 yards from the championship tees, and a pleasant 6,800 from the men’s tees, River Oaks is a refreshing throwback to the golf course designs that place a premium on precision and shot-making. It is a reminder that the timeless golf courses are those that take advantage of the native terrain to test the golfer. It is an outstanding test that needs to be on the “must play” list of any Houston golfer.
Below is a slideshow of the course accompanied by the Mavericks’ rendition of “Dream River.”