Sheltered by the giant cottonwoods in a gallery forest of the Missouri River, the tree-lined fairways of the Riverwood Golf Course extend to a total length of exactly 7,004 yards from the tips. One of three courses operated by Bismarck Parks & Recreation District, this 18-hole layout is a Leo Johnson design that first opened for play in 2012.
The course was inaugurated in 1969 and there have been a number of significant improvements since then: cart paths were refurbished in 1989, new bunkers were constructed on three holes in 1997, and more bunkers were added on another four holes in 2007.
A new irrigation system was installed in 2012, a year after major flooding of the Missouri River closed the course early in the new season, with the clubhouse commandeered by the National Guard for three months for clean-up operations.
In 2018, it was decided to reverse the nines and this move has been met with general approval.
The first thing you will notice about Riverwood are the trees. Most holes are framed with trees and lots of them. For the inquiring mind, mostly Cottonwoods. This is one of the richest barky environments you will ever get to play. Also, it sits in the floodplain of the Missouri River. When we played it was real soggy.
The first hole comes right at you. A long par four favor the right side off the tee. The second hole was my favorite, yup, birdie. A par four that bends right, stay left off the tee. The 3rd is a short par 3 with a slight carry over a water hazard front and right. Right is NG. The 4th is another par 4 that bends right. Favor the left, but there is not a lot of room in the landing area. The short par 4 5th is a great birdie oppty. Decent drive will give you a flip wedge to a green that is protected with bunkers front right and left. The par 5 6th is conceivably reachable, but you will need to hit cuts. Another bender to the right, play your drive and second shot down the left side. The 7th is less than memorable longish par 3 with bunkers front right and left. The 8th is a difficult long par four that once again bends right. Stay left off the tee, it is the number two handicap hole. The 9th is a bombs away par five. Amazingly, playing down the right side is advisable.
The 10th is another par five, also favor the right side. Two good shots will get you home. The 11th is a longish par 3 with a carry over water and a bunker right. The par 4 12th is one of the more wide open holes with a water hazard right that should not come into play. We found the par 4 13th to be tricky. Only one drive did not have to contend with trees. Of course, that was in the center of the fairway, the others were no more than two yards off on the left and right. The 14th is the opposite hand of the 11th, with the greenside bunker left. I think the par 5 15th is the signature hole. A dogleg right with a large water hazard in the inside elbow. Possible to get home in two, but mostly carry to a well-protected green. Better play, is a three shotter. Cut some of the hazard off on your second shot to your preferred wedge distance. On the tee you may feel like you just came out of the Enchanted Forest and are beholding Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. A huge disparity from most of the tree lined holes. The par 4s, 16 and 17 are good birdie opptys. Avoid the fairway bunkers right on 16. The 18th is a tough, demanding finishing hole. The number one handicap hole, you must favor the left side off the tee, less you may be blocked out. However, there is not a lot of landing area and you may drive through the fairway. The ideal shot is a high cut to set up a long approach shot.
An interesting course that is difficult to rate, partially due to its location. Not a lot of golf options in Bismarck, ND. If you suffer from claustrophobia, not the course for you, as you will feel hemmed in. From the tips this a 7000+ yard beast and if you are not driving well, it will be a long day.