River Oaks Country Club was founded in 1923 and the original golf course was designed by the famed architect, Donald Ross. The original layout was a par 71 over 6,375 yards. The new golf course was regarded as one of the best in the country and in 1926 the Texas Golf Association hosted its amateur championship at River Oaks, thus beginning a long history of tournament golf at River Oaks. The Texas Amateur would be played at River Oaks 6 times between 1926 and 1973.
Touring Professionals came to River Oaks for the 1940 Western Open, widely considered one of the elite events at that time, evidenced by the fact that the entire American Ryder Cup Team played in the Western Open at River Oaks. Jimmy Demaret, the hometown favorite, won in a playoff and followed that up two weeks later by winning the Masters at Augusta National.
In 1946 River Oaks hosted the Tournament of Champions which would ultimately become known as the Houston Open. Byron Nelson had won 18 times in 1945 including his record 11 wins in row, so it wasn’t a total surprise when he won this inaugural event. But Nelson finishing first, Ben Hogan second and Sam Snead third, had never happened before and would never happen again.
River Oaks also featured prominently in the beginnings of women’s golf by hosting the 1935 Texas Women’s Tournament. Beaumont native, Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias, although she was relatively new to the game, made that her very first victory on the way to a total of 82 amateur and professional victories in her hall of fame career. We are thrilled that she got it all started at River Oaks.
The tournament history was really made possible by the presence of River Oaks’ first Head Golf Professional, Jack Burke, who drew the greatest names in golf to River Oaks. Mr. Burke spent 20 years in that position and his influence was immense. His son, Jackie, Jimmy Demaret, and Claude Harmon all spent time at River Oaks and would all go on to be Masters Champions and have tremendous influence on the game. Claude’s son, Dick Harmon, would become Head Golf Professional at River Oaks in 1977 and hold that post for nearly 25 years. Dick would become known as one of the best teachers in the game, a family trait, and continue the tradition of drawing the game’s greatest players to River Oaks. All of these gentlemen helped put River Oaks on the golfing map and we are proud of their influence on our Club.
Obviously there is a great deal of golf history at River Oaks and we are very excited to continue a modern chapter by investing in junior golf. Our golf course and practice facilities have been “modernized” and are well suited to host tournament competition. Although much of the original Ross layout still exists, in 2014 River Oaks hired another renowned golf architect, Tom Fazio, to undertake a complete renovation of the overall golf facility. Fazio Design created three new holes, a massive practice tee with a short game facility that is second to none, and stretched the golf course to 7,050 yards. Every hole on the golf course was reconstructed with new contouring throughout the course to highlight the natural elevation changes that River Oaks enjoys as a result of being along the banks of Buffalo Bayou. The result is a beautiful golf course that offers undulated greens, a wide variety of short game challenges, plenty of scoring opportunities early in the round, and a very strong finish.