Golf is on the rise – and Texas leads the way.
Rounds of golf in Texas were up 39% during 2020 says golf.com, followed by a 37% increase in Florida and 31% in Arizona. Every state saw at least a 2% increase in rounds played.
Not only is there a common denominator in those three leading states – mainly warmer weather – but it is also the three largest states for Winter Texans, also known as snowbirds.
And the Valley’s “snowbirds” came out in droves, filling courses during the warmer weather and playing a sport that was safer, outdoors and kept people active.
Valley golf courses provided a desperately needed escape, an opportunity to mingle – from a safe distance and wearing masks – and stay active. All reasons Winter Texans leave their northern homes in the first place to visit the Rio Grande Valley (and, of course, the weather – even if golf courses were open up north, how would you find your golf ball in all that snow?).
Just like across the nation, golfers did not slow down and hit the courses strewn across the Rio Grande Valley and decided that Stuart Place Country Club in Harlingen was their favorite overall course in the Winter Texan Times annual Favorite Golf Course Contest. Stuart Place captured the overall favorite golf course while Palm View Golf Course in McAllen, Tierra Santa in Weslaco and River Bend in Brownsville were named the favorite Upper Valley, Mid-Valley and Lower Valley favorites, respectively for 2021.
The phrase “a place where everybody knows your name” is a long-time cliché. But what happens if that cliché is true? Then, in this case at least, you have a 2,600-yard (from the blue tees) nine-hole treasure that feels like home. When you get back to the peaceful and inviting confines of the clubhouse, you truly are at home at Stuart Place Country Club.
“When people see someone coming in who may be new to the course, they make a point of welcoming them to the course,” said Janet Amble, a Winter Texan from North Dakota who has been playing golf for the past eight years. “All our friends were out golfing, and I got tired of sitting around reading books.”
Amble and her husband Rogers are farmers back home and will be here until the end of March before “going back home and going to work.”
Amble said that the course is in great shape and they have noticed a lot of new faces this past year.
The course is not extremely difficult, but it is no walk in the park and provides challenges. It also provides comfort and something to do for many Winter Texans who saw most of their regular activities shut down during the pandemic-infused past year.
Tiffany Gonzales is a manager at the club and started playing golf just recently. “I’m barely starting. I need a lot of practice, but I enjoy it.”
Gonzales said that she has noticed a lot of new golfers during the past year making their way to the course.
“There have been more leagues coming out, despite COVID. Everyone follows safety protocols and enjoys coming out. The whole place is one big happy family.”
FIRST PLACE: Palm View (McAllen)
Steve Kasper enjoys the No. 1 hole at Palm View golf course.
“It starts me right off the bat,” said the Wisconsin native, who described himself as an average (or a little less) golfer. “I usually have a slice there and can get into trouble real quick. You can either get in trouble with a penalty or have to go over a big tree on your second shot.”
Kasper and his wife did the winter tour. They first came to the Valley four years ago but since took turns in Florida and Texas. They are back now – and just bought a home at Tropic Star in Pharr.
“We just liked it here the best,” he said. “The humidity isn’t as bad as Florida, for one.”
An avid golfer for 45 years, since he was in the U.S. Navy, Kasper said Palm View is convenient for him – a quick shot from his new home.
“The best thing though is that it’s challenging without being overboard,” he said. “It has nice fairways and greens and water. I can play the course.”
SECOND PLACE: Los Lagos (Edinburg)
There seems to be a simple formula – well, simple looking but not always simple to accomplish – to be considered one of the Valley’s favorite courses: Have a nice course, with varied challenges, have great food and terrific customer service.
No wonder Los Lagos is another regular in the favorite golf courses. Beyond the formula, Los Lagos also offers a unique layout with dozens of moguls, fairways that always seem to lean toward the water (don’t they all?) and asks this question often of golfers: Do you think you can go for it? Sharp turns made to cut across, water and other traps at exactly the place where you want to hit the ball makes this course challenging fun… and a favorite.
THIRD PLACE: Monte Cristo Golf & Country Club (Edinburg)
Compared to many of the Valley’s golf courses, one could consider Monte Cristo off the beaten path.
But, when you are good – you’re good.
Magnificent trees, a beautiful layout, and an island par-3 makes this course a regular favorite. Some holes are wide open; others look you in the eye and say, “give it your best shot.” The par-3 island hole is a spectacular looking hole, but just do not let its looks deceive you. It may be straight and not super long, but it is a definite hurdle filled with risk and reward.
Monte Cristo may be socially distant from the other Valley courses, but it remains among the most loved that they Valley has to offer.
FIRST PLACE: Tierra Santa (Weslaco)
Tierra Santa remains the favorite course in the Mid-Valley for Winter Texans. Of course, No. 18 alone – the Valley's crown jewel when it comes to finishing holes, is enough to steal golfers' hearts no matter how their previous 17 holes went.
The green is protected in front and to the right by a lake. If you go long on your approach, you could end up easily out of bounds or on a hill where you have to tap down and hopefully make the ball stop. If you are trying to clear the lake but end up short...well, you know what happens there – lost ball and penalty stroke.
But there is a lot more than No. 18 at Tierra Santa.
With 14 lakes, and many strategically placed sand traps, Tierra Santa provides plenty of challenges for all levels of golfer. Par 3s are easily reached, for the most part, but where the ball lands will almost always make the difference between a birdie and a bogey, or more.
SECOND PLACE: Stuart Place Country Club (Harlingen)
More and more golfers are finding their way to Stuart Place, a truly hidden gem not just in the mid-Valley, but throughout the entire Rio Grande Valley. There is just something about it that attracts golfers – maybe it's the beautiful design, or the challenge, or the regularly talked about challenge. The reason varies but the end results are always the same, pure enjoyment round after a round.
While the designation says Country Club, it is open to the public for play. But as soon as you drive in, you have that country club feel. This course is on the rise and as word gets out, there is little doubt it will remain among the Winter Texans favorite course for years to follow.
THIRD PLACE: Tony Butler Municipal Golf Course (Harlingen)
Tony Butler also continues to be a favorite in the Mid-Valley for Winter Texan golfers. One of the things that Winter Texans especially love about the 27-hole facility is the option to play 18 or to jaunt over to the 9-hole course that measures a short 2,600 yards and is a par-35.
The city has kept the course in pristine shape for years and it provides a good and varied layout. it also has plenty of scenic and mixed bag of holes that will challenge golfers, but also provide some relief. It is a staple when it comes to being named a favorite golf course and, more than likely, will remain that way.
FIRST PLACE: River Bend Golf Course (Brownsville)
River Bend Golf Course was one of the best kept secrets of the Rio Grande Valley.
Now, Winter Texans have voted the course their most favorite in the Lower Rio Grande Valley once again.
River Bend was built as a nine-hole course but expanded to 18 holes in 1985. It is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande and has been considered one of the best-kept secrets in the Valley mainly because there was no marketing.
That changed when the Barnard family purchased the course in 2015.
Not only one of the most scenic and relaxing courses to play, River Bend gives golfers wide open holes, tight fairways, elevation changes and a chance to use every club in your bag.
SECOND PLACE: South Padre Island Golf Course
This should be expected. Any course named after one of the prettiest vacation destinations in the South has to be one of the favorites in that area.
Do not relax just because there is a lot of beautiful scenery. This course has challenges (and wind) at every turn. And concludes with a memorable No. 18, a par-4 shaped like a crescent moon. You can take off as much as you dare by hugging the left side, but if you hit it too far, it is going for a swim. A strong draw plays nice but there are plenty of problems if you draw too hard to the left as well. Might be worth swallowing your pride and hitting an iron up the middle for a better approach.
THIRD PLACE: Brownsville Golf Center (Brownsville)
The Brownsville Golf Center has always believed in the motto that a city course should provide its customers/residents with a course that is inexpensive, relatively speaking, and able to open its arms to golfers of all skills.
They have succeeded in both aspects.
This is a municipal course with a country club feel. It's quiet, affordable and, while it may be on the more simple end regarding its layout, that same design makes it an incredibly enjoyable round of golf – from a first-timer to a pro. Want to grip it and rip it? Or maybe short and straight is your game? This course provides all those options. But do not get too confident, there are trees and water and the Valley wind. That means any time you think you have this course conquered, it has the ability to serve up some humble pie.