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20220223 GOLF SPI Golf Course 3 Green from Harbor UnitsFor what seems like an eternity, the COVID-19 pandemic has waged war around the world. For golf courses it was especially difficult. One week they were open, one week they were closed and the not-knowing-what's-happening tomorrow, or later today, wreaked havoc.

However, it also gave directors of golf, owners, golf pros and those who make decisions an opportunity to make some tweaks to their courses – minor to major.

Golfers definitely have shown appreciation as rounds have steadily increased over the past 10-12 months and are forecasted to continue rising.

South Padre Island Golf Club

Baseball needs the New York Yankees to be good – they are the most popular team in the sport (meaning loved and hated). Same goes for the Dallas Cowboys. As these teams win, people become more passionate about them – one way or another.

South Padre Island Golf Club is similar. It needs to be the diamond of South Texas Golf. Just the name exudes excellence so anything less on the course is unacceptable and they are working to make it more than just acceptable.

It's making its way back to the top tier and most prestigious courses around. That bodes well for golf in general.

Major renovations have re-elevated this golf course to one of the premiere courses in South Texas. Completely torn apart and rebuilt greens (all 18), a new irrigation system and the addition of “lots of grass” are key upgrades that add to the entire golf experience. South Padre Island Golf Club has some of the most scenic holes in all of South Texas, overlooking the Laguna Madre. Don't get caught daydreaming there though, the layout is challenging, and the wind can make things even more challenging. The course has consistently worked on improving its cart paths, sand traps, natural beauty, and other areas in recent years. If you haven't played here recently, it's worth checking out again. You may end up out there more than you think – it's that beautiful.

Address: 1 Golf House Road, Laguna Vista.

Website: www.spigolf.com

Phone: (956) 943-4653

Description: Par-72

Yardage: Gold – 4,079; Red – 5,200; White – 5,552; Blue – 6,291; Black – 6,931

Amenities: Practice facilities, range, putting green, new restaurant bar/grill, pro shop

Winter Texan Specials: Players membership card – $200 for regular includes $10 off every round, $250 gold card includes unlimited range balls and $10 off every round started Jan. 2022. Call for rates.

River Bend Golf Course

20220223 GOLF River Bend Golf Course HMiller 8540River Bend continues to make the golf experience better. Its focus is 100% golf. Their biggest change was beautifying their sea walls along No .17 and No. 18. It's also possibly the most bang-for-your-buck course. Aesthetically, not only did they completely reconstruct a few sea walls, but they removed dead trees due to the most recent freeze. It gives golfers a little more breathing room at No. 5, but don't get overconfident.

Nestled along the banks of the Rio Grande and with magnificent oak trees throughout the course, River Bend used to be one of the Valley's best kept secrets. It's not a secret anymore – a big reason is golf pro/GM Eddie Medlin who took over after leaving Tony Butler, and that's River Bend's biggest asset.

The course is considered among the most beautiful courses in South Texas, not only with the river providing out of bounds in some areas but with challenging elevation changes and holes that will make you use more than just your driver and wedge to approach some of the best kept – and fastest – greens in the Rio Grande Valley.

Keep an eye on this course, it's only going to move up in prestige and popularity.

Address: 4541 US-281, Brownsville

Website: www.riverbendresort.us

Phone: (956) 548-0192

Description: Par-72, 18 holes

Yardage: Gold – 6,735; Blue – 6,276; Whites – 5,625; Reds – 4,920

Amenities: Chip and putt green, snack bar, hot dogs, hamburgers

Winter Texan Specials: $25 for 18 holes; twilight starts at 2 p.m. for $18; members $75/month for seniors, doesn't include cart; yearly membership: $904 with the cart.

Valley International Country Club

Valley International Country Club has opened its full-fledged pro shop with a bar. Life is good. Soon there will be food for sale as well.

As far as the course goes, its winter greens are among the best in South Texas. The course is both challenging yet comfortable, Valley International provides the beginning golfer as many challenges as the more experienced golfer. Perfectly self-described as a golf sanctuary, the peaceful surroundings combined with a difficult but beatable and rewarding layout, the four sets of tees are key in how you play your round and give even the lowest handicappers some big decisions to make – lay up or grip it and rip it? Risk and reward are premiums on this popular 18-hole championship layout.

The course also has a nine-hole par-3 executive course (par-27 for the round) on the same property for those who want a change of pace or to practice their short game, where scoring is at a prime, and so is time.

Address: 301 McFadden, Brownsville

Website: www.valleyinternationalgolf.com

Phone: (956) 548-9199

Description: 18-hole, par-70

Yardage: White – 4,924; Black – 5,517; Blue – 6,130; Orange – 6,538

Amenities: Golf shop, practice green, bar & grill (limited times and menu)

Winter Texan Specials: Burger deal – cheeseburger, French fries and round of golf with cart, $29.

Long Island Village Golf Course

20220223 GOLF Long Island Village Golf Course Jennie McBrideThis gated community is located just across the Intracoastal Waterway via a swing bridge from Port Isabel and provides vacation rentals as well as permanent residences. And don't be fooled – just because it's a par-3 course doesn't mean you can leave some of your clubs back at the house. With the unpredictable wind – in both strength and direction – you may have to choose between three or four clubs. This is not a putt-putt course. In fact, some of the holes may be the toughest in South Texas. Of course, some holes are forgiving too but you'll never get bored of playing this beautifully designed and fun course. And you can't go wrong, ever, with the scenery.

Address: 33840 S. Garcia St., Port Isabel

Website: www.longislandvillage.com

Phone: (956) 943-7520

Description: 18-hole, par-53, par-3 course

Yardage: Red – 1,449

Amenities: Putting green, pro shop with gifts and a bar with draft beer

Winter Texan Specials: Non-renters $14 all day; renters $12 all day.

Rancho Viejo Resort and Country Club

20220223 GOLF Rancho Viejo Golf Course HMiller 8383How can one not be attracted to the big golf ball and tee in the sky while traveling the expressway? If first impressions mean a lot, then this course should have you hooked already.

They have made some improvements around several greens and are constantly working to keep the fairways, and the beautiful layout, in Class A shape.

With all of the amenities –including rentals for a short visit – this is the place for a staycation. A gorgeous pool with an outdoor bar, a restaurant with the highest quality of food and service, a wide arrangement of clothing and accessories in the pro shop... the list goes on. The course is “playable yet challenging, stretching over 6,800 yards from the back tees,” according to its website. The course, named El Diablo (the devil) is named so because the grapefruit trees that used to line the fairways made it so devilishly difficult to play. Today the fairways are lined with towering palms, tropical vegetation, and water hazards on nine of the holes.

Address: 1 Rancho Viejo Drive, Rancho Viejo

Website: www.rvrcc.com

Phone: (956) 350-4000

Description: 18-hole, Par-71 for Men, Par-74 for Women

Yardage: Red – 5,097; White – 5,313; Blue – 5,919; Gold – 6,434

Winter Texan Specials: 9 holes for $48.26; 18 holes $69.71.

Brownsville Golf Center

20220223 GOLF Brownsville Golf Center HMiller 0001Wide open fairways and large – yet quick – greens give golfers an opportunity to improve their game without being beaten up by courses that are sometimes way too challenging for those looking at the simpler things in life. Brownsville Golf Center is exactly what a municipal course should be, inviting and available to all levels of golfers. That is not to say it is not challenging, and water comes into play on most holes. Also, you still have to carry that water at times and be strategic on several holes, deciding how much you want to cut a corner or to “go for it.” Just because a green is large does not always mean you want to be putting the length of it to get close to the pin.

Address: 180 W. San Marcello, Brownsville

Website: www.cob.us

Phone: (956) 541-2582

Description: 18-hole, par-70, municipal course

Yardage: Blue – 6,144; White – 5,652; Red – 5,091