There are few instances where a golf club’s training facility takes precedence over the golf course itself, but Rio Secco might just fit the bill. That’s less about the club’s infrastructure and more that Butch Harmon, one of the foremost instructors in the game, is based out of the club. Harmon has taught Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, among other golf Hall of Famers.
Still, one should take the time to consider the course at Rio Secco as well. It’s a Rees Jones design that demonstrates the architect’s evolving mindset over the years. It opened during 1997 as a championship test, reminiscent of that era, however a 2017 renovation led Jones to create more playability, including forward tees. Still, if one really demands utmost challenge from the route, it can be stretched to a maximum distance of more than 7,400 yards.
The title translates to “dry river,” and that takes on multiple meanings during a round. On one hand, several of the fairways on the front nine weave through a small canyon, whose steep walls provide boundaries. On other holes, players make jumps over desert washes and arroyos...dry creeks, if not dry rivers.
The template for Rio Secco follows what other Rees Jones courses provide. The architecture is good -- just not riveting and in alignment with the philosophy espoused by his father -- a difficult par / easy bogey motif. The turf conditions are usually exemplary and the customer service is very attentive. For many people who opt to play here that formula will be a winning one. For architectural mavens you will be searching for a bit more to quench your thirst. I was not thrilled with a number of the holes being encased with flanking housing but that's the way plenty of courses get created is through the selling of lots -- plenty of them.
Fortunately, Rio Secco is not located on a hillside as the other notable Vegas area Jones course design in Cascata.
Colin spelled out the hole details and the info he's provided is very clear. One of the requirements at Rio Secco that's needed is quality driving -- because so much of the golf course is based on having favorable approach angles into the greens. On a few of the holes you will face "choke points" where the need for precision in concert with needed length will be tested. Making the right choices -- and realizing one's golf limitations -- is essential if bringing home a scorecard without major blemishes.
Both nines have a few holes of note. The long par-4 2nd and short par-4 4th are engaging. On the back nine -- the par-5 17th and long par-4 18th are fine closing holes. The views of the downtown Vegas area are certainly eye-catching and, as I alluded to at the start of this review, Rio Secco speaks to the science of golf design but short on the art side. For many, myself included, the desire to have passion kindled is the ingredient that causes rapture to happen when the round is complete.
M. James Ward
A Rees Jones design. The first hole is welcoming straightaway par four with fairway bunkers on both sides and a BAB left center front bunker. The 2nd tilts right is a long demanding hole. An intimidating tee shot over the dessert, do not get too aggressive. Fairway bunkers left so choose your line carefully on the tee. For your approach aim at the left side of the green as the contour will kick everything right. It is the number one handicap hole. The first par 3 is mid-length and uphill. Two-tiered green with bunker left, right is best as the ball will trundle left. Some consider the short fourth a good risk/reward hole. It is over 300 yards with the green perched on a ledge with a bunker front center. Not to mention the fairway bunkers in the landing zone left and right. I think the best play is layup to flip wedge distance. The 5th is a dogleg left with a BAB on the inside elbow. If you can carry this you will be rewarded with an attack iron approach. For the rest of us aim just right of the bunker and take an extra club on this uphill approach. Left is best as there is a steep dropoff and bunker right. The 6th is another mid-length par three from an elevated tee over a ravine. This hole also has a BAB front left. The par four 7th is the signature hole. Not long and the best approach is from the right side. There is a 20 foot cliff backdrop that frames the green. The front ends with two back to back par fives. The 8th is a birdie holes birdie hole. A short straight par five with the only reach trouble the cross desert at about 220 yards. Greenside bunkers front right and back left. It is rated the number nine handicap hole, ridiculous. The 9th is really just long, 600 yards. Couple of fairway bunkers and greenside front right and back left.
The back starts with a dogleg left, you can cut the corner. However, there is a large bunker on the inside elbow and then a crater behind that. Favor the right side of the bunker off the tee. What you see on 11 is what you get, long and straight. At almost 500 yards, you need two good shots to give yourself a chance. The 12th is the shortest hole and one carries a ravine to a green perched on a ledge. The green tilts left to right. The 13th lens left and you definitely want to cut some of the corner, especially with the fairway bunkers through the fairway. Birdie hole. The par 5 14 also bends left. There is a large bunker on the inside elbow. The landing area is more expansive than it appears off the tee, especially to the right. I would suggest playing it as a 3 shotter, lots of fairway bunkers right and one greenside left. The 15th bends right and you can cut the corner a wee bit. Aim at the middle right fairway bunker. On the approach favor the left as there is a BAB right. The 16th is a mid-length Florida par 3. Water carry to a green surrounded by bunkers. The 17th bends slightly left and is a reachable par 5. However, the fairway stops about 40 yards short of the green to leave a desert carry. Definitely, cut the corner off the tee. The green is two tiered left and tight so make sure you are on the correct side. Play it as a 3 shotter. The finishing hole is strong, long par 4. Desert carry with fairway bunker left. Water left of the green with greenside bunkers left and right.
One of the better public access courses in Las Vegas