The final day of my recent trip took me from Las Vegas down to Bullhead City, AZ (just across the river from Laughlin). As I march toward 1,000 courses played, this was a semi-convenient side trip that would allow me to pad the course count a bit. There were a few short courses for me to play along with one regulation course here that I hadn’t played yet.
I hit the road and arrived in Bullhead City a little after 7:00 for my first stop of the day…
Chaparral Golf & Country Club • Bullhead City, AZ • 5/25/18
I had called ahead earlier in the week, so I knew that this would be the best course to stop at first. They open at 7:00 and they had a member group scheduled to go out at 9:00. Luckily, I got there when I did because that group actually went out at 8:00. Fortunately, I was just about finished with my 9 holes by the time they were heading out to their starting positions in a mini-shotgun, and there were no delays for me to finish quickly.
The cost was $31 with a cart. They also have GolfBoards for rent here now, but I just stuck with the regular cart and that worked out fine.
Chaparral is a 9-hole executive course that plays to a total par of 32. They have different tee boxes for front and back nine play and the 9th/18th holes actually have two separate green complexes right next to one another. It’s kind of overkill, but I did play two balls on my final hole and hit one approach to each green just to say I did officially play “all” the holes here. The holes here are a pretty good mix of distances with the par-4s ranging from 301 yards up to 388. The par-3s range from 133 yards up to 186, so you will get to play a variety of shots.
Otherwise, the layout here is pretty straightforward as you go out and back to play the first four holes and then cross the street for the remaining five holes. There isn’t anything too distinctive about the design and it’s a fairly basic executive course that will mainly attract seniors and novice players.
The course conditions were pretty mediocre as the course heads into the slow summer season. The tee boxes were fairly beat up and firm underneath, but flat enough to tee it up. The fairways were firm with pretty thin/dry grass coverage. The rough areas were mostly just dirt and hardpan. The bunkers were compacted and damp in the morning, but not terrible. The greens varied in speed and shagginess, with the holes across the street having nicer surfaces overall than the ones on the side where the clubhouse is. They were medium-slow in terms of speed and pretty bumpy at times.
That’s about all I have to report for Chaparral. Just a simple little locals’ course and nothing more.
Some pictures from Chaparral Golf & Country Club (5/25/18):
(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)
Next, I wasted no time and drove across town to the other short course in Bullhead City…
Riverview Resort Golf Course • Bullhead City, AZ • 5/25/18
I didn’t call ahead here and just took my chances in showing up. It worked out fine. I happened to check in right before a foursome of seniors, but they let me play through on the first tee. It was $16 to walk nine holes here and I got around the course without running into anyone else but maintenance workers.
Riverview Resort is a mobile home park on the east side of town and they have a public 9-hole par-3 course that turned out to be a lot more fun than I would have ever expected. It was the closest thing to a “pleasant surprise” on this day of golf. From the back tees, the holes range from 105 yards up to 166.
What makes this course enjoyable is that it has a lot of changes in elevation for a short course compacted onto a small piece of property. There are a few uphill shots and a few downhill shots, with no holes playing flat from tee to green. The greens are also quite undulated with shelves, humps and dips that make putting a bit of an adventure at times. There are also a couple water hazards in play, so it’s anything but a plain little “pitch and putt” course.
Pre-summer conditions were decent. The grass was pretty good from tee to green. Some of the greens were still pretty green while a few were pretty browned out already. However, the surfaces held shots fairly well and putts rolled relatively smooth at medium/fast speeds.
Riverview Resort is certainly not worth going out of your way for, but of the area’s handful of mediocre short courses it is definitely the most enjoyable. Make of that statement what you will.
Some pictures from Riverview Resort Golf Course (5/25/18):
My third short course of the morning was a little further south in Mohave Valley, and well, all I can say is that it exists…
Willow Springs Golf Course • Mohave Valley, AZ • 5/25/18
I really knew nothing about this course before arriving. It looked like a ghost town right along the side of the highway, but it was open for business. It is just a small little house with an honor box slot in the door and instructions to leave your $12 for nine holes. They have a few pull carts out that you can borrow (if you throw in an extra $2), which is more than you’ll find at most honor box courses.
The course itself is a 9-hole par-3 layout with holes ranging from 98 yards up to 135, so it is basically a pitch and putt. It is all out in a big field with some trees in play, and the design is extremely basic. To my surprise, there was actually one other player out on the course and I joined him for the last two holes
There was more dirt than grass throughout the course and the grass that was there was pretty browned out this time of year. The whole experience was giving me a bit of Trona Golf Course flashbacks, though at least there was some semblance of grass at Willow Springs and it’s definitely closer to civilization than Trona.
There’s not much more to say about Willow Springs. It exists and I checked it off my list. It’s time to move onto the next adventure.
Some pictures from Willow Springs Golf Course (5/25/18):
Before my trip, I did my best to full vet this area to try and hit all the courses I could. Sometimes it can be tough as not every course is rated or even shows up on Google Maps. I saw one private community called Palo Verde Meadows that looked like it once had a little golf course running through, but there was no current evidence of a course.
Then, I also saw a sign for the Snowbird RV Resort that said something about “free golf” for residents. I drove into the RV Park and found what could very loosely be considered a golf course, but it was below even my worst standards. There were no scorecards, no clear tee boxes, no designated green complexes or hole arrangements. It was really just a lumpy little corner of the park that had a handful of tattered old flags stuck in the ground atop anthill-style mounds. Not even I could justify playing this abomination and considering it a real course, and I think it’s just more of a dog walking area for the RV park at this stage. I wish I had taken a picture, but I just wanted to get out of there. I just slowly backed away and went on with my day.
That said, if anyone out there does know of other playable short courses in the Laughlin/Bullhead/Mohave Valley area (not Havasu or Kingman) that I missed, please let me know at email@example.com. Fortunately, I am not as hardcore about playing every course in Arizona like I am in California, but I still like to know in case I ever venture out that way again.
Anyway, back to the final stop of my trip…
El Rio Golf Club • Mohave Valley, AZ • 5/25/18
I guess you’d call this my main stop for the day as it was the last full-length course I hadn’t played in the Bullhead area. I still have a day’s worth of courses to play down in Lake Havasu and also Valle Vista out in Kingman, but those will be saved for another trip.
I was hesitant to visit El Rio on this trip because I knew through some dependable sources that the course had some major issues with their greens in recent months. Something they did pretty much wiped out the turf and they have been working hard to restore the surfaces. I knew it would be pretty rough out here, but it still made logistical sense to come out here this time around.
El Rio was designed by the late Matt Dye, who was the nephew of Pete Dye, though he definitely had his own style. This course was built on a pretty wide open swath of land. There are no changes in elevation (it’s a very flat piece of property) and it’s a pretty desolate setting with distant mountains providing the backdrop throughout the course. Like so many desert courses, there really aren’t many parallel fairways here as both nines loop out and back away from the clubhouse.
You could say El Rio has some links influences, using subtle undulations throughout to provide some shape and character. There aren’t many trees in play and only a few water hazards to contend with, but the native desert areas can certainly come into play if you hit a stray shot. For the most part, I’d say it’s pretty forgiving off the tee. The greens get a little trickier with undulation and some slight false edges. Overall, though, it’s not the most difficult course design you’ll ever encounter.
There are a few homes around the course, but not many, and the clubhouse is nice and big. El Rio opened in 2004, and it really strikes me as a course that was built toward the tail end of the golf boom and never really took off as either a destination course or as a high-end residential country club community. The entry gates have a nice look and there are signs that point to this having been a grand concept at one point. As it sits now, it just feels rather forgotten about.
I should note that I visited El Rio during a very slow part of the season. I thought there may still be some players out there given it was the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, but this place was pretty much a ghost town. I saw two guys in the bar as I checked in (one guy was running the bar and the pro shop). I saw a foursome of guys playing the 18th hole when I made my turn to the 10th. Then, I saw a couple gearing up to play as I was pulling out of the parking lot. That was literally the whole crowd I encountered. The pro shop guy mentioned that they were going to reduced summer hours the day after Memorial Day, so that makes sense.
With my early rounds going very quickly, I got to El Rio earlier than I expected. I looked at their rate schedule online and it showed the price $70 before noon, and that was way more than I wanted to pay. It looked like prices went down afternoon ($55) and then again after 3:00 ($45), so I figured I’d at least wait for the afternoon price. When I checked in a little after 11:00, however, he charged me just $45 and I was pleasantly surprised. I guess offseason rates have already gone into effect, even if it’s not listed on their website yet.
I still can’t quite say the course is worth $45 at the moment, but I played it anyway and I zipped around the course quickly. Afterward, I ate at one of my favorite local Mexican restaurants (Casa Serrano) and then hit the road. It was rather nice getting home just after 5:00 instead of rolling in late at night like I usually do after a road trip!
As mentioned, the course is pretty forgiving, but just interesting enough to keep you focused on your shots. There are some doglegs and the greens can be tricky. Probably the best hole here is the par-4 9th, which has a water hazard up the right side and has you hitting your approach toward the nice-looking clubhouse. The 18th is a similar hole, except the water is on your left and you play alongside the clubhouse rather than toward it.
The other most interesting hole here is the dogleg left par-5 17th. It’s a relatively short one, but it offers some good risk/reward options as the green is well-guarded by two water hazards (one short left and one long right).
From tee to green, the course was actually in decent summer condition. It’s definitely a bit rough around the edges, but fine in most areas that matter. The tee boxes were nice and the fairways were good for the most part with some thin sections scattered throughout. Getting lots of extra roll-out was nice, and I generally had fine enough lies to hit from. The semi-dormant rough was shaved down to almost nothing, so it always presented very thin/tight lies. The bunkers were decent, though full of those little AZ/NV pebbles I love so much.
Unfortunately, the recovering greens were as bad as I feared they would be. I can say it looks like they are trying their best to get them back to some sense of normalcy. They were rough. They were thin and shaggy at the same time—just sandy, bumpy and ugly. I am not sure what type of grass they are growing in. It’s a very coarse dark green grass that seems like it will be pretty tough once it fills in. There were a few greens that were actually pretty solid with full coverage. They were still a bit shaggy and slow, but I could at least see the potential. Hopefully they are able to get the greens restored. For now, it’s a pretty bad situation and I imagine it will take the better part of the summer to get them decent before the fall/winter season, as long as the oppressive Mohave Valley heat doesn’t kill the turf again.
El Rio is a fine enough option if you happen to be in the area. I would still rank Laughlin Ranch and Mojave Resort way, way, way above it and Los Lagos is also several notches better. El Rio is much better than Huukan in my experience, though, but that’s not really saying much!
Some pictures from El Rio Golf Club (5/25/18):