Riverside Golf Course (Previous Location of Austin CC)

Perry Maxwell

Press Maxwell

Austin, Texas, United States

Austin, Texas, United States
Press Maxwell

Not every course on here is a masterpiece, even if you’re the guy that designed Prairie Dunes and Southern Hills and touched up Augusta and Pine Valley. Perry Maxwell’s original design for the second location of Austin Country Club (now Riverside Golf Course) is a shoulder shrug of a layout. It’s just…okay. 

This is a 1949 design, so post-MacKenzie and post-WWII when his son Press was involved, but you can see the Maxwell touches here and there. Designing the course by using what the land gives you. Broad, shallow bunkers with the natural edge cut inspired by his work with MacKenzie. The Maxwell Rolls are there, but more ripples run across fairways than the rolls ride the greens. And, wow, are these greens small, which is not characteristic of a Perry Maxwell course. Maybe those were Press’ design influences.

I snagged the 7 am tee time on a Thursday in June and before I teed off, I decided this was the nicest course I’d ever been to. Not Augusta nice, but rather manners nice. The guy I nearly ran over with my car had a huge smile on his face and gave a friendly wave as I veered around his cart. The pro who checked me in shook my hand and introduced himself. When he wished me a good round, he genuinely meant it. My playing partners introduced themselves as anyone would, but were more warm and welcoming than most regulars paired with a first-timer. I had a good feeling about Riverside Golf Course. 

Just 10 minutes east of downtown, I can easily imagine this as Austin Country Club with no buildings for miles and morning tee times roaring down the gravel road in a new ‘49 Cadillac. Even today, with the course surrounded by asphalt and government buildings, the wildlife was still very present. A coyote casually wandered across the 2nd tee while I was in the fairway. He was either headed home late or just in time for breakfast tacos. There were deer, rabbits, a very fat squirrel that was irratated by me peeing on his tree, a loose labradoodle that took a swim in the greenside pond on #13, and a rather large bird that looked oddly like a real-life albatross. Sadly, it was the only one we’d see that day despite a dead, solid perfect 5 wood that landed on the 12th green just shy of the pin. 

The course feels old in a classic sort of way. Google Maps calls it an “old timey course” and that sounds about right. This is a public course that runs $43 for 18 with a cart but I still had medium to high expectations for the course itself. 

Even if it was a great layout, it’s not in great shape. The best description would be inconsistent. A beautiful patch of grass here. A waterlogged fairway there. A threadbare green surrounded by three beautifully maintained bunkers. Soft sand where grass should be on tees, greens, and fairways that felt like you were playing your ball out of a bunker. The tee boxes were small and had the roll of a turtleback green. (Can edges sink over seven decades?) The grounds crew also put the tee markers so close together that it was claustrophobic to hit a driver and you’re feet were never the same height as the ball. 

My real complaint though was the routing. Par 3s bunched up on #3 and #5 on the front and right out of the gate with #10 and #11 on the back. That’s followed by two par 5s in a row with #12 and #13, then four par 4s in a row. The rhythm is off from the start with a 335/205 par 4/3 first. Yeah, I didn’t get an explanation and the front’s par 35/34 adds to the confusion.

There are some great holes mixed in and I enjoyed myself, but wondered what the day might have been like if the course had a country club’s crew to maintain it and the two groups in front of us played like they had no one in front of them. The third tee time of the day with a twosome and a threesome leading the way should never hit the four-hour mark for 18. It was like Steve Balboni hitting leadoff. Those first two guys need their GolfNow account revoked. No more Hot Deals. 

The second hole is fun. Just 313 yards from the blues, a bunker and creek sit in front of the green discouraging a driver off the tee. If that wasn’t enough to put the big dog back in the bag, a very tall, very old tree stands right in the middle of the fairway about 80 yards short of the green. A 5 iron should put you right in the fairway and out of trouble with an easy half wedge into the green. Mine put me just shy of a clear shot so I proceeded to chunk a sand wedge into the big tree. A second sand wedge landed on the fringe and I two-putted from there for a bogie. 

The fourth hole is a straightaway par 5. It’s 493 yards that all look familiar until you get to a small painter’s palette green framed by two forward bunkers with “Maxwell was here” drawn in the sand. There arent many amateurs that can get home in two and even the third shot had me checking my rangefinder because the green’s childlike size created an optical illusion that it was further away than it was. Bad drive, great second shot, and a decent wedge got me to the front door. Putted to 10 feet from the fairway and officially two-putted from there. Bogey golf. 

Eight is a dogleg right par 4 with large oak trees lining the right side. A safe player hits a 5 iron or hybrid just past the corner and has ~200 to get home. I decided to fly the 100-year-old oaks and cut the corner with the fade slash workable slice I’ve hit for most of my golfing life. This time though, I started my ball out over the oaks and witnessed a rare draw that meandered back to the treeline, crossed the fairway at the elbow and ran through to the left-hand rough. “So this is what the left side of a fairway looks like.” No worries. A wayward 8 iron followed by an up and down for par. 

Maybe because of the triple digit temp or maybe because the excitement of playing an original Maxwell had worn off, but the back 9 didn’t hold its own with the front. With two par 3s to start it off, then two par 5s, followed by four par 4s, I spent most of it confused by both the routing and the loss of my ability to putt. I started hitting bombs off the tee but every green read like IKEA instructions written in Portuguese.The back is also a par 37, which sounds like you’re starting one over before you ever tee off on the 10th

The test for any course is whether you’d go back. Riverside Golf Course is a very good value and nice for public track without the budget to keep it in Southern Hills shape. It’s no hidden gem though. Without traffic, it’s only 25 minutes from my house but I won’t make the drive again. I had fun, but it’s golf, so I always have fun. Overall it was a letdown. I can cross a Maxwell course off the list, but need to figure out how to get on one of Maxwell’s masterpieces and there surely are enough of those around. 

Chris Austin – Founder, Editor, Writer, Average Golfer