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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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 22, 2018, 7:25 pm

After grinding out a 68 on Friday, Tiger Woods is trying to get the lead all to himself in Round 3 at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him.


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Highlights: Tiger birdies six of his first seven

By Nick MentaSeptember 22, 2018, 7:08 pm

Tiger Woods entered Saturday tied atop the board and wasted little time taking the outright lead at East Lake.

Woods moved clear of the field with this birdie at No. 1, whipping the Atlanta crowd into an early frenzy.

Following a 4-foot par save at the second, Woods moved ahead by two and reached 9 under par when he played this approach from 144 and sank this 8-footer for birdie at the third.

One hole later, Woods reached double digits at 10 under par when he poured in a bending 21-footer that just crept over the lip.

He made it four birdies in his first five holes when he bombed a 320-yard drive, wedged to 7 feet, and converted again.

He looked in danger of not capitalizing on his first crack at a par-5 after he came out of a fairway wood on his second shot, but a splash from the bunker and a make from 6 feet gave him his fifth circle in six holes.

He went Vintage Tiger at the seventh, playing this fairway bunker shot from 172 yards to 5 feet, setting up his sixth birdie in his first seven holes and advancing him to 13 under, five clear.

Iowa State Cyclones cheerleaders pause at a memorial in the Jacobson Building honoring Celia Barquin Arozamena, at Jack Trice Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Ames, Iowa. Getty Images

Iowa State honors Arozamena before football game

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 4:57 pm

AMES, Iowa - Iowa State honored slain golf star Celia Barquin Arozamena with an elaborate ceremony ahead of the Cyclones' game against Akron on Saturday.

Iowa State's band used a formation that spelled out Barquin's initials, and both teams wore a decal on their helmets in her memory.

A tribute to Barquin played on a video screen before a moment of silence, and fans were also asked to wear yellow, one of Iowa State's main colors and a nod to Barquin's Spanish roots. Most of the roughly 60,000 fans in attendance complied with yellow and with golf shirts on a chilly morning in central Iowa.

"I think it's fantastic. The tribute is amazing. But ultimately, it would have been perfect if she could have been here for her tribute, which was going to happen anyway." said Ed Hamilton, a retired police officer from nearby Ankeny, Iowa.

Barquin, the Cyclones' first conference champion in 25 years, was finishing up her degree at Iowa State and working toward her ultimate goal of becoming a professional golfer.


A memorial honoring Celia Barquin Arozamena at Jack Trice Stadium. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)


Barquin competed in the U.S Women's Open earlier this summer, and coach Christie Martens said she was approaching "the pinnacle of her career."

"Iowa State fans are very loyal. We haven't had too many winning football teams over the years. Yet the fans turn out. There's a great loyalty here -- but it spills into other sports as well," said Iowa State fan Kent Hollrah of Denison, Iowa.

Collin Richards, also 22, has been charged with first-degree murder in Barquin's death. Police said Richards stabbed Barquin and left her body in a pond on the course, where it was found after other golfers noticed her abandoned bag.

Cyclones coach Matt Campbell also wore an Iowa State golf hat on the sideline to show solidarity with his colleagues.

"Be with all of us today Celia, your legacy will forever live on & we are forever grateful for your impact. Much love from your Cyclonitas," Iowa State linebacker Willie Harvey tweeted earlier Saturday, using the nickname that Barquin had for her teammates.

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Tiger, Bryson testing each other's golf balls ahead of Paris

By Rex HoggardSeptember 22, 2018, 4:21 pm

ATLANTA – The U.S. Ryder Cup team won’t arrive in Paris for next week’s matches until Monday, but one pairing already seems to be penciled into captain Jim Furyk’s lineup.

Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau have become regular practice-round partners, and when Furyk made both captain’s picks, it added to the notion that they would be paired during the team sessions in France. On Tuesday at East Lake, Woods and DeChambeau teed it up yet again.

Both Woods and DeChambeau play Bridgestone golf balls, although they use different models.

“The two are very similar, they are very numbers-oriented and that translates to their feel on the course, but they get fitted to two different golf balls,” said Adam Rehberg, Bridgestone Golf’s ball-fitting manager.


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Woods plays the company’s Tour B XS, which is softer and spins more, while DeChambeau plays the Tour B X, which is designed to take spin off shots.

Although DeChambeau played a version of the company’s golf ball that was close to what Woods now plays earlier in his career, he appeared to be preparing for a pairing next week during Tuesday’s practice round.

“I’ve seen some chipping of the other’s ball during practice rounds, getting used to it,” Rehberg said. “There’s been some sharing of golf balls internally between those guys. It’s almost like the worst kept secret in golf. It seems they are going to be paired up one way or another.”

The rules for the Ryder Cup were changed in 2006. They allow for foursomes teams to change golf balls between holes but not during a hole, which explains the duo’s interest in becoming comfortable with the other’s golf ball, particularly around the green and for chip shots.