Lord Byron's Touch on Display at Riverhill Country Club

By: Steve Habel

Any golfer looking for a little piece of history off the beaten track should venture up the road about an hour northwest of San Antonio for a round at Riverhill Country Club, one of Texas' top golf courses and the final home (and home track) of the legendary Byron Nelson.

Riverhill Country Club

It was here - on a course designed by Nelson and Joe Finger - that "Lord Byron" played his final round of golf. His creation, updated through lengthening in recent years by its new owner, Southern Golf Properties, is outstanding from the opening tee shot to the last putt and worthy of mention on the short list of bucket-list items in the Lone Star State.

All you really need to know are these words delivered by Nelson himself: "If I had only one golf course to play, it would be Riverhill."

In the spring of 1973, Stuart and Sherman Hunt of Dallas purchased the community's 1,100 acres and - with Nelson as the architect - began the process of creating Riverhill. Its operation as a private club began in fall 1974 with the opening of the 18-hole course. Nelson remained closely associated with Riverhill as a consultant as well as a homeowner until his death in 2006. Nelson's former residence is near the landing area on the first fairway.

The layout crosses the rolling hills and valleys just a stone's throw south of the Guadalupe River. It features beautiful bentgrass greens with severe slopes and subtle breaks that challenge even the best putters.

No. 1 at Riverhill Country Club

Tests Aplenty

Players will find an interesting mix of tests at Riverhill that include water hazards, fairway and green-side bunkers, and more than 25 different types of trees. There's a variety of uphill and downhill holes to keep you alert, and elevated putting surfaces that require the right club be used. What you see is what you get here though, and every day the course plays a little differently depending on the wind directions and pin locations.

There's a bevy of quality holes at Riverhill, and finding a few to highlight is a tough exercise. The nines were switched in 2010 to make the course more playable and to bring the round to a crescendo at its conclusion.

The 211-yard second is a knee-knocking but handsome par-3 where the tee shot, usually into the prevailing wind, is over water. It must also clear a short rock wall in front of the green - take one more club than you think. No. 3, which Nelson felt is the hardest hole at Riverhill, is a 423-yard par-4 that requires the tee shot to be placed at the corner of dogleg-left about 260 yards out. This spot will allow a clear view of the uphill, over-water approach to an elevated green.

Riverhill CC's 16th hole

The 598-yard, par-5 fifth doglegs left twice before rising to a green that slopes toward the fairway. The elevated green produces the most three-putts (and some four-putts) at Riverhill.

The 11th - a par-3 playing at 199 yards into the wind and over water to a wide but shallow green - can be even tougher if the pin is back-left on a small shelf. The 12th is a reachable par-5 that must carry a creek, and the approach must find the deep and narrow putting surface. No. 13 plays back to the right, skirting a pond and a ball-eating stand of trees on the port side.

No. 15 is just 377 yards on the scorecard, but is uphill and longer than the yardage indicates. The putting surface sits above the fairway, so don't be tentative as pulling the wrong club will result in a pitch from back down in the fairway. The finishing hole at Riverhill is 464-yard par-4 that plays through a chute of trees to a wide fairway. Three huge bunkers protect the green, which lies in the shadow of Riverhill's massive clubhouse.

The centerpiece of the Riverhill experience is the clubhouse, built in 1899 and once the stately, three-story mansion of the Gustav Schreiner family. The land under the present Riverhill golf course is approximately the same acreage deeded to Schreiner in 1907, when life was slow, elegant and refined. That style of place, born in the quiet simplicity of the Texas Hill Country, has only been enhanced at Riverhill.

The honeysuckle creeping over the clubhouse's rock walls clearly reflects evidence of the Schreiners' interest in flowers and gardens. A massive oak, encircled by flowers at the entrance to the club, is more than 200 years old and was a special tree for the family.

One of the best ways to enjoy Riverhill is via the club's stay-and-play package. Accommodations are in the comfortable two-bedroom Riverhill Cottages overlooking the course. Special privileges during the stay include access to golf, dining, tennis and the club's swimming pool. Because of its exclusivity and rich history, a stay at Riverhill provides a unique and memorable getaway.

Joe Finger's Turning Point, a cozy tavern located off the 18th hole, offers casual dining and its walls are filled with Nelson and Texas golf memorabilia. With its numerous flat-screen televisions, this is also a good place to watch a game, the action on the course and enjoy a beverage.

In the locker room, Nelson's space has a sealed glass door and been preserved as it was on the day of his death in 2006, a fitting tribute to a good friend of the club.

Put Riverhill in the small group of must-play traditional Texas golf courses, which also include Oak Hills and Pecan Valley in San Antonio, Memorial Park in Houston and Colonial in Fort Worth. It's truly a jewel.

For more information about Riverhill, visit www.riverhillcc.com.

Kerrville is Full of Surprises

In Kerrville stay at either the expansive YO Ranch Resort Hotel and Conference Center (check out the huge pool and the chandeliers made of branding irons in the lobby) or the Inn of the Hills Resort and Conference Center. Both hotels are run by 1859 Historic Hotels, Ltd., a firm known for quality service.

As far as restaurants go, we visited a couple which are great. You must try the steamed mussels at River's Edge Tuscan Grill on the banks of the Guadalupe River (try to get there before sundown for Mother Nature's ultimate show).

We were supremely pleased with the offerings at Francisco's Restaurant on the square downtown; order the Veracruzana nachos (they are made with a signature chicken salad), then sit back, relax and contemplate your next round of golf at Riverhill.

For more about Kerrville, visit www.kerrvilletexascvb.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com)chronicles his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.