Riverwood Golf Club, Carved From the Wild
By Pat Farnan
In the past 15 years, the 18-hole par 72 championship layout has been honored repeatedly by golf authorities as one of the state’s top-level courses.
But perhaps the greatest compliment comes from its own membership. Residents of this golf community, about two hours south of Tampa, seem to genuinely love the place.
“This is a great golfing community with a great golf course,’’ said Tim Opalewski of Milwaukee, who moved here in 2009. “People just like it here, and when you have a golf course that is built along the Myakka River, you have beautiful foliage and scenery.’’
Indeed, the course offers a steady series of beautiful vistas. One of its greatest achievement is that in some areas of the course few homes are visible. It appears that certain parts of the winding layout were carved right out of the wild, natural vegetation of Southwest Florida.
Designed by Gene Bates, the course has been hailed by GolfAdvisor.com, Golf Week Magazine, Golf Digest and others for its design, challenge and natural beauty.
Riverwood also can appeal to a wide variety of skills. With five different tees, the course can stretch out to more than 7,000 yards or pare back to 4,600.
“This course can be an extreme challenge or the top player and still not be intimidating to women,’’ Opalewski said. “That’s a compliment to its versatility and the reason so many people like it.’’
In fact, Golf for Women Magazine rated it in 2001 among the top 100 “Lady Friendly Courses in the U.S.’’
The front nine is a picturesque succession of holes winding through thick woods that include oaks, pines, palms and other natural vegetation. Featuring five doglegs, nearly every hole appears to have been carved out of thick foliage, a challenging yet visually pleasing trip through the foliage. Some of the locals refer to holes 7, 8 and 9 as the Bermuda Triangle because of the difficulty and precision required to keep the ball in play and get it close to the hole.
The back nine wiggles its way through wetlands nourished by the nearby Myakka River. The par-3 16th, for example, is virtually a tee and a green dropped into a thicket of natural vegetation. Better hit this green in regulation.
And likewise, the 18th, a strong finishing hole, begins from a virtual chute of foliage and continues into a fairway lined on both sides by trees, finishing at a large, heavily contoured green that is well-trapped.
“Everything about this course – the greens, the fairways – it’s all in great shape in addition to being a very pretty environment, ‘’ said Steve Bonnville, 69, a Maine native who now spends part of the year in Southwest Florida.
The greens at Riverwood are generally large with plenty of contour. They are comparatively fast and, members say, almost always in great shape.
“We love the greens here. They roll well and they are consistent. That’s one of the primary reasons we like to come play here, ‘’ said Patrick Maiorino, 69, another Maine native who winters in Charlotte County and puts Riverwood high on his list of places to play.
Riverwood also features a wide array of bunkering, from strategic and occasionally intimidating greenside traps, to well-placed fairway bunkers to to massive waste bunkers running alongside large stretches of fairway. All of the bunkers have a firm base with more than enough sand on top, making them infinitely playable.
Like so many courses along Florida’s southwest coast, winds can play havoc at Riverwood, turning what one day seems a benign par 4 into a monster where par is seldom seen.
But repeated assessments by members, visitors and golfing publications suggest a trip to Riverwood is well worth your time.
The Riverwood golfing community is an active scene, with plenty of tournaments, leagues and social activities. The course offers an expansive and well-manicured driving range and practice green, chipping area and practice bunker. Lessons are available through a staff of PGA teaching professionals.
The extensive clubhouse features a well-stocked pro shop, banquet facilities, bar, and lessons are available. The restaurant offers a full complement of lunch fare.
If you go…
Riverwood Golf Club
4100 Riverwood Dr., Port Charlotte, Fla. 33953
Photos by Patrick Farnan for VISIT FLORIDA