Rio Pinar Country Club
by Dave Daubert
In 1957 Mark Mahannah, a prolific golf course architect with over 40 courses in Florida, designed a private country club layout in southeast Orlando. Before there was a Bay Hill or an Arnold Palmer Invitational the City of Orlando hosted the PGA Tour stop, The Citrus Open, played at the beautiful Rio Pinar Country Club starting in 1966 and lasting till 1982. The classical designed golf course has stood the test of time with a redo from Lloyd Clifton in 1995. Recently, things were getting a little frayed at the edges at the club which had gone semi private a few years ago. So when Integrity Golf Management offered to buy out the equity of the members and guarantee a fresh and restored clubhouse and course, they were happy to accommodate.
I recently had the opportunity to take a first hand look at what has been accomplished in less than six months by Integrity. Talking with some of the members, they are absolutely astonished at the improvements. It has been over 10 years since I played Rio Pinar, and what a difference from then to now. The course has been extended to over 7000 yards from the championship tees, but do not fear, there are 5 sets of tees to enjoy the beautiful layout, no matter what level you play at.
Before I get into all the new nuances, let me tell you what hasn’t changed. The 56 year old landscape palette of magnificent pines, oaks, palms and plantings embracing this historical track as it meanders through the lovely residential area is still there. Private homes had been set back far enough from the course to never intrude on those who play from the tall grass more than the fairway. The integrity of the original design still exudes the picturesque flair and joy that Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin and the King enjoyed when they won here. The large 30 tee driving range that extends 350 yards allows players to grip and rip the big dog. There is a 75 yard pitching area, 2 practice bunkers and a putting and chipping green available to fine tune your short game.
John Signor, Head Professional for many years, is still there and provided me with a tour of the facilities pointing out the completed improvements and explaining the planned ones. A paint job and new carpeting throughout the clubhouse has improved the interior detail immensely. When you walk into the main entrance now you get a feeling of being in a first class country club. The banquet area and dining room have a fresh and inviting ambiance. The full service bar was always a unique feature with Vinnie, the ever present tender, working at a lower level so patrons could enjoy an unobstructed view of the practice putting green and the finishing hole. The Champions Grille has a new menu, great service and flat screen televisions to enhance your breakfast or lunch. We found the zucchini fries to be a nice change from the norm and very tasty.
Let’s get to it. The entire Rio Pinar championship course’s cart paths are all brand new. All 90 tee boxes have been regrassed. Every bunker has got pure sugar white powder sand in them. When the sun is out the reflection back from the sand requires sun glasses to play your ball. Every green complex has been sodded with Champion Dwarf Bermuda which is the purest running Bermuda. The USGA is redoing Pinehurst #2 with the same grass and will be hosting The U.S. Open and Women’s Open in 2014. Talk about quick, give the greens a couple months and watch the ball move. The well stocked pro shop, which is separate from the clubhouse, has all new flowers planted around it.
Integrity brought in Christopher Russell to be the new General Manager. Chris is a PGA Professional and was previously at Stonegate Golf Club as Director of Golf for the two 18 hole championship golf courses in the active adult community of Solivita in Poinciana, Florida. With the right personnel, and the major improvements Rio Pinar is the place to test your golf game at an affordable price. The beautiful clubhouse can host weddings, golf tournaments and large functions. If you are like me and hadn’t visited Rio Pinar in a while, take the time to check it out. You will be impressed. Contact www.RioPinar.com or call 407-277-5121.