By flipping its nines, Las Vegas' Rio Secco Golf Club keeps rounds on time

HENDERSON, Nev. - Golf courses are traditionally as open to change as an octogenarian hermit. They can be as rigid in thinking as a church's doctrine. Especially courses that have been as successful as Rio Secco Golf Club.

Rio Secco Golf Club near Las Vegas - No. 15
Being considered one of Vegas's top courses already did not stop Rio Secco from making the switch.
Rio Secco Golf Club near Las Vegas - No. 15

With Rio Secco Golf Club earning four stars from Golf Digest in 2005 and just about every year it's been open since 1997, it would be easy for the club to simply rest on its laurels.

Problems? We don't have problems, we're one of Las Vegas' best. Book the next round!

Instead, the management team at Rio Secco abandoned that common thinking, recognized a nagging issue and took a simple, but bold step to combat it. Rio Secco flipped its nines to keep its rounds on time.

The course experimented with the change at various times and just completing putting it in full time, printing new scorecards to reflect the switch. It sounds elementary, but the results have been anything but mundane.

"Pace of pace is probably averaging about 30 minutes shorter," said Rio Secco Head Professional Charles Packard.

The switch hasn't gone unnoticed in the Sin City golf community.

Those in the know in Las Vegas golf have long known that Rio Secco has had some pace-of-play issues. Groups frequently became bogged down at this daunting Rees Jones design that measures a whopping 7,332 yards and carries a crushing 142 slope rating. This was one Vegas round where you could almost literally get lost in time.

Rio Secco's scoreboard called for rounds in the 4 1/2-to-5-hour range and it frequently went higher than that.

"I love the course, it's beautiful," frequent Vegas golfer Leo Konigsberg said. "But if it was a busy day, you could spend six hours out there. That's a lot of time to give up for one round of golf."

Sometimes one little change can make a world of difference.

Flipping the nines gives golfers an easier start, easing the early-round tone-sealing traffic jams. The former first hole used to be a dramatic 378-yard par 4 with a well-guarded green. The former second hole used to be a show-stopping straight downhill 478-yard par 4. Here you shoot into a tight opening with black lava on the sides and head for a tucked away green that's downright nasty.

"Four or five putts on that green aren't uncommon," Packard said.

Voila! Instant cart path crawl.

Throw in the fact that the former fourth hole used to be a 329-yard par 4 that had many hackers waiting until everyone was off the green to tee off, so they could play John Daly and go for it and you had a traffic problem only a New Yorker could visualize.

Now that those holes are No. 10, No. 11 and No. 13 respectively, the crunch is significantly lessened.

"By the time golfers get to that stretch now they've gotten into their rounds a little more, they're probably hitting it a little better on average and groups have spread out and found their pace," Packard said. "We're not seeing the tie ups on those holes that there used to be.

"It's loosened everything up."

Flipping the nines has also produced an interesting side effect. Rio Secco now boasts arguably the most dramatic closing kick in Las Vegas golf, back-to-back par 5s, including the new 634-yard par-5 18th. With its views of the Strip and the mountains, not to mention it's ridiculous He-Man length, this is a hole that leaves hackers talking as they head to the cart return.

Some golfers are saying Rio Secco's new finish reminds them of the par-5, par-5 close they watched at Baltusrol for the PGA Championship this summer.

"It's very unique to end with two par 5s," Packard said. "And now visually, our best hole, is the hole golfers end their day with."

To think it all started with the superintendent looking at better maintenance options. That's what first prompted the nines flip in its experimental stage.

A number of courses would have still been hesitant to commit to the move, however. After all, Rio Secco's old No. 2 won best modern second hole in America honors from Golf Digest a few years ago, just the kind of silly distinction marketing directors and salesmen love to hang onto.

Plus, it's never popular to mess with the vision of a celebrity golf architect like Jones.

Still, General Manager Eric Dutt and his staff thought outside of the golf establishment.

"Just because it's one way, doesn't mean it always has to be one way," Packard said.

Rio Secco golfers who suddenly have more Sin City time on their hands would no doubt agree.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Rio Secco Not a great track

    Tom catania wrote on: Jan 15, 2006

    Thats right . way way too tricked up for me. You just don't feel that way up at Wolf Creek.
    Its the oppposite type of track . I've played almost all Vegas' courses and I put Rio Secco near the bottom. Near the top? Wolf Creek, The Falls, Paiutes Courses