It’s starting to feel like spring, and for us, that means golf – even if you can play it nearly year-round in the South Texas climate. Each spring we ask our readers to vote for their favorite gold courses. The Valley has many courses to choose from, and Winter Texans seem to try to catch them all while visiting the Valley.
This year, we wanted to delve into the history of our Valley golf courses. We hope you enjoy this bit of history and learning about the courses you visit and love. For the next three weeks we will feature a different part of the Valley. This week we will feature the Mid Valley golf courses.
Tony Butler’s impact on golf in the Rio Grande Valley may be greater than any other golfer in terms of local influence.
The Harlingen public golf course bears the name of the man, Tony Butler, who helped bring some of the sport’s greatest athletes to the Rio Grande Valley for professional tournaments during the Great Depression.
Butler was born April 18, 1908 and died Dec. 9, 1979 after 49 years of golf. He was known to play entire rounds of golf with just a 4-wood, taking on challengers of all skill levels.
He was the city champion in Austin, captain of the Austin High School team and the first golf coach at UT. The public Tony Butler golf course is much like the man, requiring a sharp strategic mind and the ability to play consistent golf.
The course’s website says, “His style of play, a consistent short game and accurate putts, came to reflect the character of skills required for success to those pursuing challenges on the Tony Butler Municipal Golf Course.”
Butler’s biggest claim to fame came in 1933 when he defeated future hall of famer and National Open champion Gene Sarazen during an exhibition match. After that match he was hired as the Harlingen Country Club pro where he remained until 1937 – but his impact lasted for so much longer.
On June 20, 1973 Harlingen municipal course was renamed in his honor. He retired to become a professional emeritus in 1975. He was inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
Tony Butler Golf Course is located at 2640 South “M” Street in Harlingen. It is a 27-hole course that meanders through the natural South Texas terrain and is extremely easy to walk if you so choose. The 18-hole course is a championship layout measuring 6,400 yards (par 71).
Located at 1001 South Ed Carey in Harlingen, Cottonwood Creek was developed in 1984 and, according to the pro shop, “the course is the same. It hasn’t changed.”
A “very nice senior course,” Cottonwood Creek is open to the public. It’s a nine-hole par-3 course and that means golfers can fit it into their busy – or not-so-busy – schedule. The pro shop is open in the mornings and the signature hole is No. 5. It’s 175 yards across water. Make sure you hit enough club because “there are a lot of balls in there.”
To walk nine holes is just $13 and to do 18 is just $18 – one of the few joys in life that are still $1 per… even the cheapest of coffees are $1 at best (before taxes).
So, enjoy the serenity of this nearly 40-year-old course.
Harlingen Country Club
Harlingen Country Club first opened its doors in 1949 and its member-owned hacienda style clubhouse and course, which was designed in 1965 by Dave Bennett and Leon Howard, just fits like a glove. It is the epitome of country club living and the course has a personality that is eloquently South Texas.
The course has faced major blows, moving to its current location in 1970 on property that previously was Harlingen Airport. Hurricane Dolly then delivered a “crushing blow” to the clubhouse but the membership used it as an opportunity to create more and better, opening their new clubhouse in October 2010.
There’s comfort and peace on, off and in the facilities, which include the 18-hole course, driving range, putting and chipping greens. The large, majestic trees and layout have class and history written into them.
The annual and longstanding Life Begins at 40 match play tournament draws the top golfers and possibly the largest golf gallery of any Valley tournament.
The course ranges from 6,541 yards from the black tips to 5,035 from the ladies. The white markers snug in between at 5,625 yards. The course is located at 5500 El Camino Real.
Llano Grande Resort and Country Club
Located in the historical Delta Area, which includes the small communities of Edcouch, Mercedes, Elsa, La Villa, and Monte Alto – Llano Grande became a busy agricultural center in the Rio Grande Valley during the 1920s when the Southern Pacific Railroad laid train tracks through here. The area was coined the “Magic Valley” in an attempt to draw people to the area, and Northeasterners heeded the call and came to develop the land.
The entire part was named the best large park in Texas in 2015 and 2016 by the Texas RV Association and one publication described it as a small town, but its history looms large in the development of the Rio Grande Valley.
Nestled quietly in the midst of all this is Llano Grande Golf Course, recently ranked No. 20 on Golf Advisor’s top 25 most improved courses. Reviewers confirm that this course is noticeably getting in better shape on a regular basis. It plays from 6,781 yards from the tips to a comfortable 5,792 and 4,964 from the whites and reds, respectively.
It has various levels, something not especially known for in the flat plains-like Valley. Of course, it has wind and that is what makes the difference on most Valley courses. Llano Grande is historical and, at least for now, a diamond in the rough. As it improves, however, its popularity will continue to increase so play it now. Just like the Delta area is prospering from growth, so is the park – and the play.
Llano Grande is located at 2215 East West Blvd. in Mercedes.
Raymondville Municipal Golf Course
Lupe Serna, manager at Raymondville Municipal Golf Course, describes the course as a nice and flat 9-hole course.
But don’t misunderstand. It’s not a par-3 course. “It has par-4s and 5s,” he said.
The course is owned by the city and leased by Serna, who said that the course has been serving the public since the 1940s.
“Winter Texans love it,” he said. “It’s a nice little course that they love to walk because it’s nice and flat.”
The clubhouse has been recently renovated and the course plays about 3,000 yards from the whites, then around 3,200 from the blues and “it has just a couple of lakes.”
Raymondville Municipal Golf Course is located at 13839 Emma Ross Rd. in Raymondville.
Tierra Santa Golf Club
At one point, Tierra Santa needed a lot of work. At least to be recognized as a regular elite destination spot.
From that point on, that’s what has been done. The course is now one of the most pristine, prettiest, and challenging in South Texas. While its history has been good, its future is definitely on the path to greatness.
Owners have refused to rest on its laurels, seemingly always looking to improve the full golf experience from its grill for before, during and after a round, to creating a friendly relaxing atmosphere that feels like home all the time.
Its rolling hills, elevation changes and fairways with multiple routes to reach the hole gives it a special touch. When you leave, no matter your score, you’ve had plenty of opportunities (and, like good golf courses, you leave with that one shot that will make you come back for more).
From a redesigned clubhouse to an events center and more future plans, Tierra Santa is worth every minute – no matter how many golf balls you may “misplace.
The course is located at 1901 Club de Amistad in Weslaco. It ranges from 5,283 yards at the red tee to whopping 7,139 and challenges you to bite off as much as you can chew on several holes.
Treasure Hills Golf Course
Harlingen is a hotbed of golf courses and Treasure Hills is at hot as they get. The par-72, 18-hole course not only has one of the most unique layouts in the Valley but since the new owners took over in 2016, this course has boomed in relevancy to golfers across the Rio Grande Valley.
Playing at 6,960 from the tips, Treasure Hills is one of the last designs of Robert Trent Jones’ amazing career. Jones was a British–American golf course architect who designed -- or re-designed more than 500 golf courses in 45 U.S. states and 35 countries, according to his website. In reference to this, Jones took pride in saying, "The sun never sets on a Robert Trent Jones golf course."
That statement couldn’t fit Treasure Hills any better. For years, the rumors flew that the course was going to be shut down, not being able to find any buyers. It remained open and once Roger Bhakta purchased the place, the sun started rising again.
There are terrain elevation changes, plenty of doglegs, water hazards, 35 bunkers and usually a breeze. It's a fair golf course that rewards a little course management. There are a couple of tight spots, though most of the fairways are fairly wide. The front nine has a few traps, while the back nine might be a little tougher with water on five of the holes.
The course has also seen several improvements, most notably, a new irrigation system that has improved turf conditions.
The course is located at 3009 N. Augusta National Dr., in Harlingen. Just the address should pique your attention.
Stuart Place Golf Course
Stuart Place has become a golf superpower in the past decade. Considered among the favorite Winter Texan courses annually, the “place that feels like home” has risen from a little-known course to a mega star.
Stuart Place has transformed from a bird reserve sanctuary to a top-of-the-line par 36, 9-hole golf course.
A trio of Winter Texan owners of Stuart Place Golf Course took over in May of 2019 and since then have embarked on an ambitious program to bring the scenic 9-hole course back to being the best in the Valley. They purchased it from previous owners and immediately started renovating the course and getting it up to “snuff.”
All the tee boxes, fairways, and greens continue to be well maintained, seeded, and fertilized.
The clubhouse, staff and amenities have been updated and are the “friendliest in the Valley,” according to most visitors.
It has a terrific layout that can be extremely challenging depending on how brave one is.
But, no matter how the round goes, there’s always the comfort, safety, and friendliness of those who await the golfer inside the clubhouse. It’s a wonderfully fulfilling golf experience.
Stuart Place is located at 155 Highland Dr. in Harlingen.