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Rio Secco



"So I jump ship in Hong Kong, make my way over to Rio Secco"



Home to the Butch Harmon Academy, Rio Secco golf club has long been thought of as one of the best facilities in the Las Vegas area. The course is located 20 minutes south east of the Vegas strip and a very affluent housing estate surrounds it. The course itself is really split into 3 very different sets of holes. There are 6 holes that wynd through steep canyons, 6 holes that run along a levelled area that has great views across the valley to the city and 6 holes that are made through a desert area described as a "wash." 


Rio Secco was designed by the renowned architect, Rees Jones in 1997 and off the tournament tees, plays to about 6,700 metres, which for Las Vegas, is pretty long. Combine that with the changes in elevation and you have yourself a very tough test for any golfer. Here is a run through of the holes.


 The 1st is a pretty simple start as long as you hit the fairway. Some of the fairways here at Rio Secco have a sort of a bowl look to them. Raised ground on one or both sides will help you at times, bring the ball back to the fairway. It doesn't always work and the rough can be deep, so don't count on it. At 335m, you should make an easy par if you hit fairway, green.


The 2nd hole and the steep canyons start to take effect. This 396m, par 4 dogleg right is the hardest hole on the course. From the back tees you only need fairway wood or if you take on driver, have the fade going. The steep downhill hole looks magnificent and your second shot should be played to the left side of the green because it slopes to the right. The fairway slopes right, the green slopes right, so if you hit this green and make par, be very happy.


Hole 3 is the first of the par 3's. At 170 from the back, it's all carry. This time you hit over the canyon and club selection here is everything. If the pin is at the back, then add at least 15, because it is slightly uphill as well. This 3 tiered green will mess with those not on the right level.


Up the hill a little further is the 4th tee. This par 4 is only 291 and you might be tempted to take out driver and have a crack; don't! The best play is to keep the ball in the fairway with a long iron or hybrid, then a wedge to the uphill green. The danger in this hole is all nearer to the green, so driver can put you into a terrible place. The green slopes from back to front.


The 5th asks another question of you. Heading down then up, this hole has several different ways of playing it, mainly because of the bunker on the left and the desert waste area on the right. Hit this fairway with a driver over the bunker, or a fairway wood out to the right of it and it will set you up for an uphill second.


Hole 6 is the second par 3 on the front nine and players will reach for their cameras here as this is a great looking hole. It is only 167m, but there seems to be a double elbow in the canyon here and it makes for a great photo. Don't be scared by the canyon, just play the yardage and a birdie or par will follow.


The 7th is a par 4, 366m and is the signature hole at Rio Secco, literally. They have carved "Rio Secco" into the desert at the back of this green. The hole is such a good one and brings an end to the canyon part of the course. Hit the fairway and the view uphill around the corner to the green with the cliffs above, is fantastic. The green is quite long with a bunker protecting the right. Great hole!


Hole 8 and we have reached the plateau part of the course. Most of these holes are quite flat and give you a chance to make a score. This par 5 will require a drive down the left hand side to be able to see past the desert waste area to the green. It's only 460m, but the second shot is uphill slightly, so take more club than what the yardage suggests. 


The end of the front nine and the 9th hole is a ripper. Load up off the tee because the landing area is wide. The hole is 540m long, so only the big hitters will get home in 2. Apparently, Tiger Woods hit 6 iron in here for his second and if you play here, remember that. It's incredible! The green has a large bowl in the left side, so if the pin is in it, get your club right and have a great chance at birdie.

Stop for a snack or continue to the 10th? Most in America will stop, if only for a drink, but there is more available. The after 9 hot dog is always my favourite. Don't forget to tip the server and ask for more ice, you might need it.


The practice fairway is off to your right here and at the very end you will see a few sheds. That is the Butch Harmon Academy. Past and onto the back nine, the 10th is another risk / reward hole. The long hitters will take on the left bunker and go straight for the green, for everyone else, middle fairway will do. It's a 380m, par 4 so hit the green and make your par.


Hole 11 is the second hardest hole on the course and requires a long straight drive to set up your second. This green is huge and so is the bunker on the left. Make sure you get it in the area of the pin and you can make your par easily, miss and a 3 putt is on the cards.


The 12th is one of the best holes on the course. It's a 158m, par 3 that has a tee and a green and nothing in between except a canyon. Make sure you take plenty of club because there is also a large bunker at the front of the green. A severe left to right slope is on the putting surface, so make sure you pick the right side to land your shot on. Going long is perhaps the best option.


Hole 13 is a 362m, par 4 that only requires a straight drive. after that, a wedge will get you onto this strange green that is surrounded by deep bunkers on the left and right, as well as a drop off over the back. Keep your second shot under the hole to have the best chance at birdie.


The par 5, 544m 14th hole has waste area in front of the tee, so bomb your drive out to the right to avoid all this and the left hand side fairway bunker as well. A second shot to the middle of the fairway with a long iron will set you up for a wedge to this green that is protected on the left by a large bunker. This green slopes from back to front, so try not to go long on the approach.


The 15th is a hole that demands a great drive. This uphill, 373m, par 4 will reward those who can hit 2 high fade with the driver. The fairway wanders to the right and the green is protected at the front by a deep bunker, to the left by another and a drop off over the back and right that will see a great shot needing to be played if there. Best to try and hit the left side of this green if you are looking for the best putt.


The famous Rio Secco "Million Dollar Hole" is the 16th. It's a 191m, par 3 over water the entire way. The sign that sits on the hole replicates the famous Las Vegas sign on the south of the strip. It's a lilttle bit of Vegas and you may want to get out your camera to snap a shot or three. One thing is for sure, there is less people waiting for a photo here than on the strip. As far as how to play this hole, you need to take plenty of club and make sure you land on the pin side of the green. There is a severe tier in the middle that separates the two halves. 3 is a great score.


The par 5, 17th is a genuine 3 shotter as there is a deep waste area about 80m from the green that prevents you going at it in two. Keep your drive right off the tee and lay up with a long iron, you should make par.


The 18th needs a long drive down the right and a mid iron to a smallish green to finish. Keep it out of the left all the way or you might find yourself with a blind shot back to the green. Great finishing hole!

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The Score:


1. Tees                      14/15

2. Fairways            15/15

3. Bunkers              14/15

4. Greens                15/15

5. Design                 15/15

6. The 19th            12/15

7. Price                        8/10


Total:                       93/100



Unfortunately for us, the 19th hole was closed for Thanksgiving Holiday when we were there, but we looked inside and it was pretty impressive. We cannot give it full marks because we were unable to sample the food or drink, but we look forward to it next time as the clubhouse looks great. This golf course was a total surprise to us. We only got a booking late and we were not expecting that much, but what we got was nothing short of fantastic. The views across the valley on some of the holes were really breathtaking. The views of the canyons through the steep section of the course is amazing and the Rees Jones design, plus the reconditioned bunkers and greens, make this course continually interesting. All the holes seem very different and it never gets boring. The added touch of the Million Dollar Hole is a great one and it feels like you are in casino country as soon as that sign comes into view. A great touch on a superb golf course. If you are in Vegas, don't miss playing this one.



"Gunga galunga"

The par 3, 3rd Hole

The signature 7th Hole

The Canyon, par 3, 12th Hole