You'll have a devilishly good time at Rancho Viejo Resort & Country Club's El Diablo golf course near South Padre
RANCHO VIEJO, Texas - For three-quarters of the last 38 years, Rancho Viejo Resort & Country Club has ruled the golf kingdom in the Rio Grande Valley. From 1971 to the late 1990s, Rancho Viejo was pretty much the only choice if you wanted a championship-type test of golf.
Over the years, the golf courses at Rancho Viejo, like the El Diablo Course, have hosted PGA Tour Qualifying School (Craig Stadler, Peter Jacobsen and Curtis Strange qualified there), celebrities such as Willie Nelson, and golfers looking to escape the winter blues.
Rancho Viejo has real competition these days with South Padre Island Golf Club a few miles to the northeast on Laguna Madre and Tierra Santa Golf Club in Weslaco, but it still has its place. Rancho Viejo was built in a different era - an era many wouldn't consider the best in golf course construction or design - but it has a charm all its own.
Fortunately, for all of us, the club didn't stand pat. Over the years, the golf courses, as well as the facilities, have been updated. Nine years ago, both the Diablo and El Angel golf courses got new Tifdwarf greens, which are kept in pretty good shape. And while course conditions won't make you think Augusta National, you'll find plenty of grass under your ball if you don't hit into somebody's pool, and the greens roll true.
Rancho Viejo's El Diablo Course is anything but easy
At 6,847 yards and flat, you might mistakenly believe that the El Diablo Course is a pushover. But its devil moniker is aptly descriptive of its degree of difficulty. Plus, it is a par 70, so it plays like a 7,000-yard par 72 even in calm conditions.
But while the course is more protected than many golf courses on the Texas coast, wind is almost always a factor. And with water, homes and out-of-bounds looming on every other corner, the tendency to try to steer your ball is very real.
Of course, any pro worth his or her salt will tell you not to do that. But it's difficult to let it fly when there are white stakes on the left and your tendency is to overcook your draw.
The key, then, is to make aggressive swings with conservative plays. In other words, pick your spots wisely.
In this case, that might come on par 5s, like the fifth, which is one of the few holes where water doesn't factor into your shots, and at 533 yards from the back tees, it can be reached in two.
Early on, you get some of the tougher holes out of the way. The first two holes are par 4s generally play into the wind, and the third, a 440-yard par 4, is the No. 1 handicap hole.
The third hole has a large lake that can come into play off the tee if you hit driver down the right side, then it doglegs around the lake to the left to a well-protected green.
The par 3s are also bears. Three of them are more than 200 yards from the tips, including the 16th, which at 218 yards, often plays into the wind. When that's the case, you could be unsheathing the driver, looking at the road to the right and two large bunkers that protect the green.
Both nines also feature good finishes.
One of the most enjoyable holes on the course is the par-4 ninth. This dogleg left features a lake down the left side of the fairway with palm trees lining the lake. Hit your drive short left, and not only will you have to cross the water, but you'll have to negotiate the tall palms as well.
The 18th is also a challenge. Keep your drive left to avoid the lake down the right side. Three-wood, however, could take the lake out of play off the tee of this 403-yard par 4, but it will make the approach shot to the green a little tougher.
Rancho Viejo Resort & Country Club's El Diablo golf course: The verdict
If you come here expecting Doral's Blue Monster, you'll be disappointed. But if you're looking for a reasonably priced winter getaway, then Rancho Viejo is your ticket.
The Diablo course is fun and challenging. If you spray it, you might be dismayed with all the out-of-bounds, which become problematic in high winds. Hybrids and fairway woods off the tee off some of the shorter par 4s would be advisable.
The golf is also scenic in its own way. You'll see a variety of wildlife, especially exotic birds, which make their home among the native palms and long-needled Australian Pines.
Guests can also enjoy the Bandidos Den bar or Ranchero Room Restaurant in the clubhouse.
Golf lessons and range at Rancho Viejo
Practice facilities at Rancho Viejo are generous if not spectacular. The range is plenty large, and there's also a practice bunker, practice green and chipping and pitching green located across from the first tee of El Diablo.
Lessons are also available from the professional staff.
Stay and play packages at Ranch Viejo Resort & Country Club
Ranch Viejo Resort & Country Club offers a variety of golf packages and even golf schools.
This past winter, rates were as low as $149 per person per night for double occupancy, including golf and breakfast. Guests can stay at one of the 50 rooms for rent in the condos that surround the courses and the Resaca (an old irrigation canal off the Rio Grande that winds throughout the property).
Condos, which have complimentary wireless Internet, are available in one-, two- or three-bedroom configurations, and some include full kitchens.
March 2, 2009