Rio Rico Country Club at Esplendor Resort: Fine RTJ golf among the bygone legends of the West

By Travel ArticlesMarch 13, 2012, 4:00 am

RIO RICO, Ariz. -- They call it the Southern Heart of the Old West, and when you come to play Rio Rico Country Club and spend a few days at the Esplendor Resort at Rio Rico, your mind might just drift to a day when conquistadors traveled here along with bygone legends such as Geronimo, Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid.

And even before Robert Trent Jones Sr. put his stamp on golf here in 1971, the area was used as a refuge for the U.S. Cavalry during the Apache Wars. The governor of Sonora, Mexico, once called the Santa Cruz River Valley home. Father Kino passed through before establishing the Tumacacori Mission just seven miles away.

'Anyone who has played a lot of golf in Arizona has a Rio Rico story,' said Jack Talmage, Rio Rico's general manager and director of golf. 'It is a very traditional golf course, and 40 years ago, when you hired Robert Trent Jones Sr., it was like hiring Jack Nicklaus today.'

Rio Rico's atmosphere is virtually unchanged since its opening -- you are 45 minutes south of Tucson and 15 miles from Nogales, Mexico. It is peaceful and quiet with gently rolling fairways, strategic bunkers and large, subtle greens that were challenging enough to host second state PGA Tour Qualifying four years in a row. Jones also planted pines that surround some greens making wind adjustments tricky.

The facility hosted U.S. Open qualifiers for the PGA and Senior tours, as well as the 1997 U.S. Amateur qualifying rounds. It was redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1975.

The 7,126-yard, par-72 course is surrounded by the San Cayetano Mountains, Madera Peak and the Santa Rita range, but you can't always gauge where putts will roll because of valleys, lakes or mountains.

'There are two par 3s with lakes on the front nine (No. 3, 176 yards and No. 8, 184 yards), and putts don't always break toward the water,' Talmage said. 'I think that's a throwback to old design techniques of Jones.'

No. 15 is a fun, 414-yard par 4 rolling downhill and left from the tee then climbing to an elevated green up against a hill with pines to the right. The 16th is a 484-yard par 5 that plays against the wind, and the green slopes from back to front. Anything past the pin is a slick putt to get close. 'Eagle putts can turn into pars easily if you are above the hole,' Talmage said.

Rio Rico Country Club: The verdict

Rio Rico Country Club is a hidden gem in southern Arizona. Talmage is eager to point out the back nine is more of a test than the front nine, and during the Tour Qualifying years, No. 17 -- a 439-yard par 4 -- was proven to be the toughest.

'I found a chart of the scoring for those years, and No. 17 had six who had double bogeys or more, and there were only six more of those sprinkled throughout the rest of the holes,' he said.

What makes the hole testy is placing a drive on the left side of the fairway. Everything kicks right, and trees can cause a bump back to the fairway, then water juts out from the right narrowing the fairway just before reaching the green.

At Rio Rico, one can schedule golf lessons and use the driving range, short-game area and putting green. Tennis is also available.

Rio Rico Country Club is also an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, and local high school shop students help build and install the bird nesting boxes.

Situated at 4,000 feet in elevation, it is not unusual for winter frost delays and cool mornings. But the afternoons in winter can be an ideal 70 degrees.

Where to stay: Esplendor Resort at Rio Rico

Esplendor Resort at Rio Rico has 179 Southwestern-appointed rooms and 13 one-bedroom suites. There are also some themed rooms -- Old West and cowboys, teepees, a Victorian bordello, a Mexican estate or American Indian touches. All rooms include private patios or balconies overlooking views of the mountains, valleys and Arizona sunsets or an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a hot tub.

For Rio Rico dining, enjoy the San Cayetano restaurant. Outside is where Steven Raichlen's Primal Grill was filmed. On the menu is his Cheese Steak, a signature dish the PBS chef created. The Santa Rita Grill is located at the golf course.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x