Challenging greens, T-Mates and Las Vegas Valley views make Rio Secco Golf Club shine
HENDERSON, Nev. - The course record at Rio Secco Golf Club is 64, set by none other than Tiger Woods in 2000. He must have felt pretty good about his game after that performance. A week later at Pebble Beach, he won the U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes.
Woods, of course, has shot 64 many times, on PGA Tour courses and under pressure when it counts the most. Still, his course record at Rio Secco is impressive and if anyone breaks it there, it would probably be Woods, if he cares to revisit now that he no longer receives instruction from his old teacher, Butch Harmon, who runs a golf school at Rio Secco.
It's not that Rio Secco, a stellar Rees Jones design that opened in 1997, is super difficult; it's just that you have to not only find the greens, but the right portion of the greens. Get above the hole, and a two-putt in many cases is almost impossible. Put it in a really bad place, and a four-putt is a possibility, even for skilled players. Play this course once and you can see how Tiger's uncanny putting ability most surely helped him en route to 64.
"It's a tough challenge, but fair," Head Golf Professional Charles Packard said. "If you put the ball in play, it's very playable. But the biggest challenge comes on the greens."
To boil Rio Secco down to sloping bentgrass greens would be unfair, but they are arguably the most difficult in the region. It really takes a couple go-rounds to get a feel for them. A forecaddie would probably help. And Rio Secco has one of the most distinct forecaddie programs in the country.
They're called T-Mates. And if you're thinking that sounds a little like "Playmate," you're on the right track. Unlike most forecaddies, Rio Secco's T-Mates are all female. With a little advance notice and $200, you can reserve a T-Mate, who will not only raise the beauty quotient of your group, but perhaps help your scores as well. According to Packard, these ladies know the game and the greens.
Packard said the idea came when management was trying to figure out how they could differentiate themselves from most high-end clubs. "How can we make this more of a Vegas experience?" was the question they asked, Packard said. "A large majority of them are in shows at night, and this is a nice daytime job."
Most players, of course, are on their own. First-timers should accept that they will have some difficulty on the greens and take in the views of the Las Vegas Valley, perhaps the best any golf course has to offer. The course, which can play as long as 7,400 yards, offers several sets of tees. It features six holes that overlook the city, six that go through a canyon and another six holes of typical desert golf. Most of the fairways are fairly generous, but there are times when you might want to consider a fairway wood or long iron off the tee, like the par-4 11th hole.
"It's real risk-reward because the fairway really narrows," said Packard. "You can hit driver, but it has to be perfect because there isn't much of a landing area. Or you can lay back with a long iron."
The trouble is that if you lay up, you're hitting a mid-iron approach. Even with a wedge, it's not easy to find the right portion of the green to give yourself an easy putt at the hole.
One of the most talked about holes at Rio Secco is the 12th, a 200-yard-plus par 3 over a valley to a large green than slopes severely from back to front. Miss the green left, and you might be out of bounds. Miss it right - well, that's not good either because of the desert terrain and the difficult green. Even if you hit the green, it all depends where the flagstick is in relation to your ball. It's not uncommon to hit tee shots to the back of the green only to watch them roll 80 feet backwards.
Oddly enough, however, the 12th has given up more aces than any hole on the golf course, especially with a front left hole location. "It funnels from the right side to the left side and breaks left into the front portion of the green," Packard said.
Recently, the course underwent a transformation from ryegrass fairways and roughs to Bermuda. The fairways were not overseeded with rye this winter for a smooth spring transition and great conditions in spring, summer and fall. The greens remain bentgrass.
Green fees range from $120 to $250 per player depending on the season. Packages are also available to guests of Harrah's, which owns Rio Secco as well as the spectacular Cascata golf course, another Rees Jones design in Boulder City, to the south. Rio Secco is also home to the Butch Harmon Golf School, and it's not uncommon to see professional athletes and tour players on the opposite end of the range working on their game. Of course, the school is also available to the public.
"It brings a lot of credibility to the golf course to have him here," said Packard of Harmon. "But the golf course has to hold its own."
March 11, 2008