Mention the word “Residential” to any golf writer today and prepare yourself for an onslaught of negative commentary. “The houses took precedent over using the best land for golf. The corridors are too narrow. Fairways were flattened to provide great backyard views.” Do not even get me started on their retorts if you were to tell them that same course was built between 1960 and 2000.
While many of their criticisms may generally be true, there are always exceptions to the rule. Case in point: Rivermont Golf Club. Situated north of Atlanta in the fairly busy suburb of Johns Creek, Rivermont feels worlds away from the bustle of this densely populated area. Despite its construction in 1973, and its location in a residential community, Rivermont breaks all stereotypes using visually-deceptive, classic golf architecture features throughout its very natural routing. The timeless design seeps the course in strategic interest.
Having played over 200 unique tracks, any course with memorable green complexes always earns my highest esteem. With the sharply slanted 2nd, Redan 4th, Punchbowl 9th, and terrifying false front at the 13th, Rivermont demonstrates that virtually any golf course can stand out simply by using thoughtful shapes and undulations on its putting surfaces.
Rivermont’s balanced routing showcases many notable holes, including:
• #1: Despite laying on one of the flatter portions of the property, the 1st at Rivermont is made interesting by a meandering creek which starts left off the tee, and then crosses the fairway to the right side of the green. The best angle into this crowned complex is from the left side of the fairway or rough, daring the player to drive as closely to the waterway as possible.
• #2: The par five 2nd was a blast start to finish. A fairway bunker on the left hand side of the hole forces one’s eye to the right, which in reality, is actually the best angle of approach to this green complex. Aggressive players must work the ball right-to-left to also avoid another cross bunker. The green is among the most memorable on the course sloping severely from left-to-right. Trying to reach in two is made more complicated by a nasty bunker which falsely appears to be greenside, and the fact that there is very little room to miss this green right.
• #3: Fitting the land perfectly, the fairway at the long par four 3rd slopes hard from left-to-right. It is difficult to keep the ball on the left side of the fairway because of this tilt, and because of a well-paced cross bunker. Of course, the left side also provides the best angle.
• #4: In order for a golf course to have four different length par threes, at least one must be long. The 4th at Rivermont is a great tribute to the Redan hole and forces the player to hit a sweeping, precise mid/long-iron or hybrid.
• #5: Visual trickery comes into play again at the 5th’s tee shot. A bunker on the right hand portion of the fairway guides the golfer’s vision left where there appears to be width. However, players must favor the right hand side of the fairway to have any angle into this fairly narrow, deep green.
• #6: With charming squared off sides and a unique trapezoidal shape, the multi-tiered, complex green at the par three 6th steals the show over the heroic tee shot.
• #7: Many classic architects favored streams over man-made ponds, and the 7th at Rivermont harkens to that technique. Tight from tee to green, players must avoid streams on the left and across the lay-up area. A bunker short can appear to abut the green when in fact, there is some room to run shots up.
• #10: The routing of the par five 10th is very unique among my 3,000+ holes played. The tee shot is somewhat narrow, though there is some bail out room left. From there, it seems like an entirely new hole appears with a massively wide corridor and plenty of room right. However, if your tee shot was too conservative (to the left), that layup can be challenging. The same sentiment is true on the third shot: bail out too generously right, and face a tough angle to this well guarded green.
• #11: Short par fours are, in my opinion, the most fun holes to play in golf. The 11th at Rivermont is an absolute blast. The fairway is canted gently from left-to-right which can funnel shots toward the green. Knowing your carry distances is critical regardless of whether you lay up or play aggressively due to some strategic cross bunkers on the left and right sides of the fairway.
• #14: In order to have a variety of par three lengths, one also must be short. Kudos to Rivermont for maintaining the integrity of the design in the 14th, a very fun one shotter. With its smaller green, there is really nowhere to miss. It is a wonderful test of nerves at what is usually a critical stretch in any match.
• #16: Another hole that fits the land perfectly, the par four 16th sweeps down a hill from right-to-left. Should one get their tee shot working on this line, they can pick up speed-slot yardage while avoiding two traps in the landing zone. However, this distance advantage may come at the cost of having a side-hill lie.
• #17: Early in my golf career, I used to love playing steeply downhill holes. Today, those such as the 17th at Rivermont terrify me. While I used to think the extra airtime was fun to watch, I now realize that any shot even slightly awry has more time to fly further offline. With thick fescue long and left, and tough bunkers around the rest of the green complex, you better bring your best ball-striking to tackle this unique par three.
As you can tell, Rivermont delivers on all compelling architecture fronts. There is a variety of shots needed to play successfully on this course, many of which involve reading the natural flow of the topography both off the tee and on the greens. Despite its routing through a residential area, houses do not intrude on the golf experience. The architects also brilliantly placed some stretches together (1/18, 3-5, 11-13), rather than feeling the need to dig out a single, bland corridor for each hole.
All of these features which make Rivermont so memorable – from deceptive false front bunkers, to holes with bumbling brooks, to a mixture of lengths – could literally be done anywhere. Rivermont is a model for how great golf can be regardless of its setting. As if this was not enough, Rivermont is also a steward of the environment:
It is the consummate golf club that so many communities need and deserve.
Date: April 25, 2020