Rio Mar River Course Hole by Hole
This is the final post from my whirlwind tour of three of Puerto Rico’s top golf destinations. In the first two posts I visited the Wyndham Palmas Beach & Golf Resort where I played the Flamboyan and Palm courses. In the last post I rhapsodized about the great course at the El Conquistador Resort which truly is a must play in the Caribbean. In this post I have moved a few miles closer to San Juan to the town of Rio Grande where the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar is located. It has two 18 hole layouts. The Ocean course designed by George and Tom Fazio was opened in mid 1970’s. The River course designed by Greg Norman opened in 1997 and in 2004 hosted the World Amateur Team Championship. During my visit the Ocean course was closed for maintenance work after the long winter golf season, so I will only play the River Course.
The resort has an excellent location on a long sandy stretch of beach, but as at the first two resorts I visited most of the water action is in the pools and not the ocean. However, before or after a round of golf, it is a great place for a refreshing stroll.
The River Course plays 6902 yards from the tips which for a Norman course is actually not that long. However, normal golfers like myself will opt for either the 6306 yard blue tees or the 5,771yard white tees. Given that we are at sea level I will stick with the ‘Play it Forward’ philosophy and play the whites.
As with the Wyndham Palmas Beach courses, the carts here are electric and have a state of the art GPS system so you don’t need a range finder. OK, let’s play the Rio Mar River Course.
Rio Mar #1 – 385 Yard Par Four – Handicap 9
The first thing you will notice about the Rio Mar River Course is that it is relatively flat playing as it does along the meandering Mameyes River. Looming over the course is the bulk of El Yunque and the rainforest that surrounds it. This is a feature of all the golf courses in eastern Puerto Rico, but I found it most striking on this course.
The first hole is a dogleg left that has a very generous fairway that allows one to go for the length required to come in with as lofted a club as possible. While there is a marsh down the left hand side there is no excuse for going anywhere near it. There is nothing to be gained by trying to cut off the dogleg. With a large green as a target I quickly realized that this was thankfully not one of Greg’s courses known for being simply too difficult for the average golfer.
The conditioning is quite good for this time of year, perhaps the best of the four courses I played in Puerto Rico.
#2 – 358 Yard Par 4 – Handicap 5
The second hole is somewhat a mirror image of the first with a left dogleg and trouble all down the left side. The best play here is to stay well right and let the bank kick your ball into the middle of the fairway and you should have something like this for your approach shot. The difficulty is not the water, but rather avoiding the huge trap on the right or the smaller one on the left.
I didn’t, but found the bunkers very shallow and not compacted making a decent sand shot quite doable.
Rio Mar #3 – 132 Yard Par Three – Handicap 13
This is a very straightforward par three that simply requires a straight tee shot. The water that crosses the fairway should not be in play given the short nature of this hole.
#4 – 480 Yard Par Five – Handicap 11
This is a three shot hole given the fact that the green is tucked quite to the right making going for it in two problematic. The better play is two woods and a wedge although I failed to accomplish the latter. This photo is a good example of the shallow green side bunkers and the pliable sand in them.
Rio Mar #5 – 300 Yard Par Four – Handicap 15
After what is a fairly pedestrian start to the Rio Mar River Course things really get much more interesting from #5 on. With my right to left ball flight this was not an easy driving hole, especially as there is water in play just over the bunker on the left so there are two chances to screw up. You also face the prospect of not seeing all of the green on your second shot if you are too far left. Thankfully the hole is short enough not to require a driver, so something like a 5 wood is the best play off the tee, followed by a seven or eight iron. Although technically an easy hole, it does require some thought the first time you play it.
#6 – 342 Yard Par Four – Handicap 1
This dogleg right has the river all down the right side and bunkers most of the way on the left. After an easy start in finding the fairway from the tee box this hole presents real problems. Strangely enough the best way to deal with it is probably to grip it and rip it, cutting off as much of the dogleg as possible while keeping the bunkers at bay. Of course this type of power drive attempt comes with lots of things that can go wrong, but WTF, YOLO!
Or you could wimp out and play it real safe with a hybrid off the tee leaving a much longer approach shot. Your choice – hero or zero. Needless to say, I liked the challenge that Norman created on this not very long par four.
Rio Mar #7 – 124 Yard Par Three – Handicap 17
On the 7th tee I was joined by Brandon Roseth, the PGA Director of Instruction for the Rio Mar courses and we played the next five holes together. Brandon is a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida. I used to have a condo in nearby Sanibel Island and have played a couple of dozen courses in the area. We enjoyed chatting about our favourite and least favourite courses in SW Florida.
This very short par three is quite scenic with the river and bridge on the right side. Wanting to stay well away from the water I over compensated and was way too far left. My excuse is that I was nervous playing with a pro, but that would be a lie as Brandon was anything but intimidating with a friendly demeanour that immediately put me at ease.
What also helped was the Rio Mar Lager brewed in nearby Caguas.
#8 – 494 Yard Par 5 – Handicap 3
The par five eighth also has the river all the way down the right side so we both played well to the left. This is my position after three shots having palm tree trouble on my second. That is Brandon’s position after two shots, pin high just off the green. But guess what? We both ended up with a five. I felt great, Brandon not so much.
Rio Mar #9 – 378 Yard Par Four – Handicap 7
This is a squiggly par four with slight fairway jogs to the right and left that are more optical distractions than real trouble. The fairway is narrow by this course’s standards, but the length dictates at least a three wood off the tee. That will still leave a fairly lengthy approach. I found this the most difficult hole on the front nine.
#10 – 133 Yard Par Three – Handicap 18
The prettiest par three on the Rio Mar River Course is ranked the easiest hole on the course, but I think that psychologically it is much tougher than the first two par threes. All that water between tee and green made me once again go way too far left. That made crossing the bunker on the left with the second shot necessary, which I failed to do. A five on this par three without going in the water was just embarrassing.
Rio Mar #11 – 453 Yard Par Five – Handicap 2
I really don’t know why this hole is ranked as the toughest on the back nine. It’s quite short, the fairway’s huge and other than the traps on the right to avoid on your second shot, there’s not much trouble. To me this was the easiest par five on the course and probably the only so so hole on the back.
#12 – 306 Yard Par Four – Handicap 10
This is probably the longest carry off the tee on the Rio Mar River Course, but the landing area is so large that a driver is quite feasible, leaving a very short second shot to the narrowest green on the course.
This is also the hole with the best view of El Yunque.
There is also a great view of the Mameyes River from behind the 12th green.
Looking at the sky in these two photos shows the difference between the rain clouds that surround El Junque and the blue sky on the coast only a few miles away.
Rio Mar #13 – 257 Yard Par Four – Handicap 14
By far the best chance for a birdie on the River Course at Rio Mar is this baby par four. Pick the club of your choice to leave the distance you prefer for your approach shot. For me it was a full attack wedge which meant I only needed an easy five iron off the tee. This hole is a genuine ego booster.
#14 – 133 Yard Par Three – Handicap 16
The final par three on the Rio Mar River Course is a relatively easy slightly up hill tee shot that simply requires selecting the right club. Par should be in the cards unless your putter acts up. I should mention that the greens on this course were the fastest of the four courses I played, but were not intimidating at all. Norman chose not to make the greens here hard to read or to create a lot of difficult pin positions. As such he has made this a very enjoyable resort golf experience.
Rio Mar #15 – 477 Yard Par Five – Handicap 6
I really liked the final par five on the Rio Mar River course. The small water hazard that runs up the left side is an issue as are the fairway bunkers. Long hitters can definitely get home in two if they successfully hit the drive down the left side. On the other hand hitting a drive to about where the two carts are in the photo allows plenty of room for a safe second shot followed by a short iron to the green. This is a very good risk/reward hole.
#16 – 304 Yard Par Four – Handicap 12
The Rio Mar River Course ends with three par fours of which #16 is definitely the one you are most likely to par or birdie. Like #15 it is a risk/reward hole but with nowhere near the challenge of the latter as even the most modest of drives can cut off most of this dogleg left hole. You can put away the driver here as a wood is a safe choice to land safely somewhere well past the 150 yard marker.
Something I should have mentioned earlier is the fact that the Rio Mar River Course has next to no buildings or other visual distractions that take away from the enjoyment of the game. It’s a very natural setting with lots of birdsong and no traffic noise.
Rio Mar #17 – 366 Yard Par Four – Handicap 4
This was my favourite par four on the Rio Mar River Course and might fairly be called the signature hole. It does require a decent carry off the tee over the water and it’s just a matter of how much risk you want to take. As you can see the golfer in front of me has chosen to play it very safe, but now faces a very long second shot to the green which is well guarded by traps and water. Fortunately my natural right to left ball flight allowed me to basically aim at the trap behind the cart and safely carve back to the middle of the fairway.
This is just a lovely Caribbean par four.
#18 – 349 Yard Par Four – Handicap 8
After the finishing on #17 you need to hit your drive on #18 over the Mameyes River which you cross on the bridge where this photo was taken. For some reason I totally forgot to photograph the actual hole. It is a strong finishing hole with water on the left and a lot of traps on the right that dictates using a three wood rather than the driver.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing the Rio Mar River Course, especially the holes with Brandon and look forward to returning one day to play the Ocean Course.
This concludes my Puerto Rican golf odyssey and I hope it has persuaded the reader to seriously consider Puerto Rico as your next golf destination. I want to thank Discover Puerto Rico and its golf PR agency DanShepherdPR for making this visit possible.