Text Size

20220319 Tierra Santa Golf Course ALB 0009 wbA “Hidden Gem” is something that isn't well known or popular but has something special or unique about it that inspires positive feelings. The term is often used for travel destinations and restaurants, but people also use it to describe books, movies, games, podcasts, and more.

We’ll be honest with you, as the popularity of golf has returned to a growth stage since the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become harder and harder to find hidden gems on the golf course. Now, they’re precious gems.

This is the last week of our three-part series covering these hidden gems in the Valley. These hidden gems are recommended by the golf pros, or regulars, at the golf courses.

Hidden gems, diamonds in the rough, unexpected surprises — like finding an extra $20 that was forgotten in the pocket of a pair of pants — can have a profound positive effect on one’s day.

Similarly, golf courses have some gems of their own. Sure, they have their “signature holes,” usually the most difficult, most scenic, or most unique (most of the times all three) hole on the course. But hidden away are those other holes that bring a smile to a golfer’s face (sometimes dread).

Some of the courses that often appear on top of Winter Texans’ favorite places to play are no different. And, over the years have made some changes to not only improve the course but also have made some of their gems all “shiny and new again.”

Tierra Santa, Weslaco

Tierra Santa is somewhat like baseball’s hitting great, Tony Gwynn – it rarely, if ever strikes out, it improves with age and it delivers hit after hit. The only difference, Tierra Santa has more home runs than Gwynn ever hit.

A course that has about every shot-making challenge, Tierra Santa is a course that provides one of the best layouts in the Valley, and what was once the overwhelmingly favorite closing hole with No. 18, which ends with a long shot over a lake unless one goes up the left side, keeping the water out of the way.
Tierra Santa is all about shot making. Its gems are similar to when you wake up on Easter morning for the infamous egg hunt – little gems everywhere.
While you can grip it and rip it off the tee, which is very forgiving, second shots and approaches are the key to getting a good score on this course.

It also may have the best breakfast tacos of all the courses (competing with Tierra Del Sol) and the best hamburgers as well (watch out Palmview and Los Lagos). These have only gotten better over the years as owners continue to invest in the course and its buildings.

20181207 Treasure Hills Golf Course HMiller 125422 webTreasure Hills, Harlingen

What makes this course so special is the bulldog-like way that it not only remains open, but how it has risen in popularity with a truly loyal group of golfers.
It was almost shut down due to revenue and the fact that the company that owned it was a medical company that had no reason to keep the amazingly designed 18-hole course.

Then it sold and with a lot of word of mouth – and even more tender, loving, care – the course immediately returned as a loved one in the mid-Valley. The course that had left the minds of most, has had a sequel better than the original.

Easy-looking holes on the scorecard do not translate to reality. The common phrase says 90 percent of trees are air. It’s a lie. The wide openness of some holes leaves you to think it doesn’t matter how you hit off the tee, just hit long. That’s also a lie – go too far left, even if its wide open, and you won’t have an easy shot, or a shot at all and will have to punch it back to the middle.

What's truly precious about this nearly 7,000-yard course is the scenic rolling hills and the amazing difference between holes. It’s almost as if you’re playing several different courses with different styles. Therefore, bring all your clubs – you’ll use them all.

20180208 Tony Butler Golf Course 09 webTony Butler, Harlingen

This course is a jewel of golf history. That alone is a gem for golfers of all levels and experience.

The municipal course doesn’t, however, just rest on its laurels. It’s now resting (not really) on all of the work it is doing to improve the highly popular course. Right now, only nine of the 27 holes are open with the others re-opening in August or September.

Butler, a PGA champion from Ganado, Texas brought some of the greatest golfers to the Valley for tournaments during the Great Depression. He was known for his use of the 4-wood, which he would sometimes play entire rounds using only that club. We just don’t recommend you try that unless you’re in the mood for a super challenge and want to be a part of the mystic lore of the course.

It’s a place where golfers will always be able to reminisce about the past while making new memories once it re-opens fully. It has a unique design and is truly a gem – historically and playing wise, among not just mid-Valley courses, but among all of the courses in South Texas.

20220319 Stuart Place Golf Course ALB 0058 webStuart Place Country Club, Harlingen

There just isn’t enough time to talk about this tiny giant of a course. This is a course where “everybody knows your name.” Well, at least it has a feel like that – from the time you decide what color tees you’re going to hit from (a big deal since there is a 700-yard difference) until the time you return to the comfort of the small, but relaxing clubhouse.

It feels like home, a place where your worries are thrown out the window. You can play competitively or just for fun, by yourself. There’s a certain peacefulness that comes from the moment you step onto this property. It’s unique – and it’s a must-play course.

The course isn’t super difficult, but it still has its challenges, and you can’t just plan on wedges and putters, but you could probably still have fun with only that on this scenic course.

Llano Grande Resort and Golf Club, Mercedes

If you haven’t visited Llano Grande Golf Course, you’ve missed out. If you have visited it, you’re probably still going.

Nestled quietly in the historical Delta Area, Llano Grande has racked up accolades like a high school star athlete’s trophy case. In an area that once was the agricultural Mecca of the Rio Grande Valley, it was deemed the “Magic Valley” in an attempt to draw people to the area.

Now, their entire park, their convention center and their golf course continue to attract positive feedback and more accolades.

The park itself 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.

The golf course has been voted by Winter Texans to have one of the Valley’s favorite holes, No. 9. Recently it was ranked No. 20 on Golf Advisor’s top 25 most improved courses. Reviewers have also confirmed time and again this course is noticeably getting in better shape on a regular basis.

The area is historical, the golf course is fun and, at least for now, a diamond hidden in the rough. However, chances are its popularity will skyrocket – so put this one on your bucket list and play it now.