Riverside Golf Course: Serene, City Golf with Historic Backdrop

By Kyle Dalton, Contributor

AUSTIN - Tucked away in a wooded area just southeast of downtown Austin and south of the Colorado River, Riverside Golf Course is a course with a storied history. As far as courses in Austin are concerned, Riverside's history could be based simply on its age.

Designed in 1950 by renowned architects J. Press and Perry Maxwell, Riverside is far and away one of Austin's longest operating courses. But add to that the names of Penick, Crenshaw, and Kite, and you have a course rich with historical value.

The legendary teacher Harvey Penick is the pillar of Riverside's fabled past. It was at Riverside - once home to Austin Country Club and a place where Penick served as head professional for an astonishing 50 years - where Penick took under his tutelage two young golfers. I think you might have heard of them - two-time Masters Champion Ben Crenshaw and former U.S. Open Champion Tom Kite. And it was here where Crenshaw and Kite honed their skills under the watchful eye of Penick.

According to general manager Blake Roberts, those three men alone account for many of the 54,000 rounds played each year. "The ambiance of players' past bring people from all over to our course," Roberts said. "People want to come see the historical value."

Once you step on to the first tee box, a par 3 of 205 yards, you can't help but imagine Crenshaw and Kite, as well as Penick, walking the course in years past. Unfortunately, those men didn't play the entire layout present today because it has been modified through the years due to development of nearby land including the construction of a local community college campus. Despite that, there's no denying the nostalgia of the course as many of the holes are found in their original location.

As a result of the development, the course has been shortened over time and plays only 6,189 yards from the tips. This decreased length has resulted in a design that is like the golfers and teacher that graced it with their presence in the past - unique. This is apparent on the front side with three par 3s and on the back side with three par 5s.

There is no better evidence of the course's meager distance than on the second and third holes respectively. Make no mistake about it, the short length doesn't necessarily translate into low scores. The par-4, 313-yard No. 2 is a perfect example. Off the tee you are faced with a shot from an elevated tee box to a narrow landing area that is littered with trees to the right, and a large oak right in the middle of the fairway.

It is critical to stay left of the trees lining the fairway on the right while staying right of the big oak in the middle. If you do that successfully you have a short approach to the Bermuda green that is protected by a creek crossing in front and bunker to the left.

After the 116-yard No. 3, which plays over a ravine to a green with a backside bunker to the left, seven out of the next eight holes run almost parallel to each other. As any experienced golfer knows, you must be careful on all these holes because errant shots from adjacent fairways or tee boxes can be hazardous to your health.

The first of these holes is the par-5, 493-yard No. 4. This hole is straight away to a wide-open fairway. Off the tee, the only real cause for concern is a hook or a pull. If this occurs, your shot might wind up traveling down the road you just drove in on.

Otherwise, an accurate shot will leave you with a blind second shot to a valley 150 yards out from the green, which includes two large bunkers to the right and the left - a feature incorporated into the design on many holes.

Although the course has changed a bit since Penick offered his teachings, his mystique does not go unnoticed, particularly on the par-3, 188-yard No. 5. It is here where Penick's former home sits directly behind the tee box. One can only imagine the famed teacher sitting on his back porch or standing at his back door watching golfers hitting on the tight par 3 to a green protected by bunkers on each side and a creek that crosses in front.

One can't also help but imagine the thin man approaching a golfer on the tee box offering a few helpful hints. Afterward, the golfer heads off toward the hole not even realizing from whom they just received some words of wisdom. (See Little Red Book.)

Following the par 3 are two rather benign holes that an accurate tee shot will leave you with a good chance of shooting par. Again, both feature small greens - another common design element - protected by bunkers to the right and left.

No. 8 is one of the tougher holes on the course due to its layout. This par 4 of 431 yards plays every bit as long if you follow the fairway. Many try and cut the corner of this hard dogleg-right, but find themselves scrambling for bogey or worse after their ball has landed in the forest of trees to the right.

The safe shot from the elevated tee box is a three- or five-wood to the fairway, avoiding the trees slightly overhanging to the left and the ever-present trees to the right. Your second shot is to an elevated green protected by a deep bunker on the left.

Another change in design has resulted in the front nine finishing away from the clubhouse. This can be troublesome if you need to take a break, but beverage carts run on a regular basis and portable bathrooms are available near the turn.

On the start of the back nine it can be feast or famine depending on how you're playing with two par 3s to start followed by two par 5s. If you're on your game, expect to stay even par or pick up some strokes on these holes.

Once you step on to the tee boxes at Nos. 12 and 13, it is quite clear you are playing in a much more wide-open layout and a part of the course that has not been modified as much as the preceding holes.

The par-5, 520-yard No. 12 is a straight shot off the tee to a fairway that is protected by O/B and trees to the left, a few trees dotting the landscape to the right, and a couple of reachable fairway bunkers on both sides. Your second shot is blind to a ridge and is followed by your approach that is to a green with two bunkers to the right and one to the left.

Up next is the second of the three par 5s on the back. The 488-yard No. 13 is one of the more picturesque holes on Riverside. Your tee shot is to a wide fairway with the same O/B from the previous hole, which is further to the left, and a group of trees to the right. Placement of this shot is key to scoring well on this hole.

If you hug the right side of the fairway off the tee you will have a good angle at avoiding the scenic man-made pond in front and to the left of the green on your second shot. The green is tough to reach in two unless you hit a very solid drive and take a chance on your second shot over the water.

If you do attempt to clear the water you don't want to be long and right, which is the tendency on this hole, because there is a large valley behind and to the right of the green and a group of grass mounds that will then be in play between you and the two-tiered green. That presents a tough challenge if you want score par or better. Your best choice is to lay up on your second shot and hit a third shot of 120 yards or less.

Following the risk-reward No. 13, you have one of the easier holes at No. 14. This 285-yard par 4 from an elevated tee is too tempting to not try and smoke it off the tee. The only real concerns are four bunkers - one right and left in the fairway and one to the left in front of the green and one to the back and right. Go for it.

Of the string of par 4s that follows, No. 17 is the best for scoring. This 337-yarder is from an elevated tee to an open fairway. A fairway bunker to the right can ruin your chance at a good score. The second shot is deceiving. The uphill green is by far the widest green on Riverside but its depth is deceptively narrow.

Whatever you do, fire at the flag because if you hit on the opposite side of the pin placement, you're looking at a putt of at least 100 feet or better. A pair of bunkers to the right and left in front and one to the back and right can grab an errant shot, but that isn't as bad an option as three-putting from a great distance.

To finish, No. 18 is a par 5 of 469 yards. Off the tee you hit to an uphill and somewhat narrow fairway with a blind landing area. Trees to the right and left can create trouble if you find them. Anything in the fairway though, offers a good chance at scoring par or better. A nice finishing hole on one of the more historic courses Austin has to offer.

Riverside Golf Course
1020 Grove Boulevard
Austin, TX 78741
(512) 386-7077

General Manager: Blake Roberts
Amenities: Putting green

Directions: From Austin, take IH-35 south to Riverside Drive. Go east on Riverside Drive 2.2 miles to Grove Blvd and turn left. The course entrance is to the left before the community college.

Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Since graduating from the University of Texas in 1992 with a degree in journalism, Kyle Dalton has been a writer and editor for a variety of national publications in various fields.

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