Rio Pinar Country Club: A fixture on the Orlando golf scene for more than five decades

By Ed Schmidt, Contributor

ORLANDO, Fla. -- An integral player in Orlando's rich golf history, Rio Pinar Country Club has been a fixture on the local golf scene for more than five decades.

18 Holes | Semi-Private | Par: 72 | 7001 yards
Rio Pinar C.C. golf course - hole 1
Rio Pinar is quintessential central Florida golf.
Rio Pinar C.C. golf course - hole 1Rio Pinar C.C. golf course - hole 9Rio Pinar C.C. golf course - 9th hole

Once the site of the PGA Tour's Florida Citrus Open and LPGA Tour's Florida Ladies Citrus Open, the golf course has gracefully stood the test of time and remains a quintessential central Florida golf experience. Before Bay Hill and the Walt Disney World golf courses hosted high-profile PGA Tour tournaments, Rio Pinar was a must-stop for the pros from 1966 to 1982.

Nestled in the Rio Pinar neighborhood in southeast Orlando, a residential community with streets bordered by well maintained ranch style homes, the course is the centerpiece amenity.

While homes line some of the fairways, they're set back sufficiently and the mature trees provide an excellent buffer.

Thanks to tall pine and palm trees, large oaks, cypress, palmetto and native Florida plants, the golf course has a lush, park-like feel. You'll see a variety of wildlife such as squirrels and birds.

Rio Pinar Country Club: The history

Rio Pinar has hosted 17 PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events. PGA Tour pros such as Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Hale Irwin played in the Florida Citrus Open from 1966 to 1978 and LPGA stars including Patty Sheehan and Beth Daniel played in the Florida Ladies Citrus Open from 1979 to 1982.

Arnold Palmer won the Florida Citrus Open in 1971. Other notable winners of the tournament include Julius Boros in 1967, Lee Trevino in 1975 and Gary Koch in 1977. The tournament moved to Palmer's Bay Hill in 1979 and was initially named the Bay Hill Citrus Classic and eventually evolved into the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Originally designed in 1959 by Mark Mahannah and later redesigned in 1995 by Lloyd Clifton, Rio Pinar C.C. provides challenge with medium-sized greens, strategic bunkering and sometimes-narrow fairways framed by mature pine and oak trees.

Much of Clifton's work focused on enlarging the greens, adding in some mounding and reshaping or altering bunkers. He worked diligently to stay true to the original design and the result is a course that has aged remarkably well. Some of Clifton's other notable designs are Hunter's Creek Golf Club in Orlando, Debary Plantation in Debary and Plantation Bay in Ormond Beach.

Played from the back tees at 7,001 yards, Rio Pinar has a 73.7 rating and a slope of 130.

The routing is definitely "Old School," with short distances between greens and tees on almost every hole.

My favorite holes are the 164-yard (from back tees), 150-yard (intermediate tees) par-3 third, which requires a pinpoint shot over water to a kidney shaped green and the no. 1 handicap hole, the 510-yard (back tees), 485-yard (intermediate tees) sixth, a treacherous par 5 requiring an approach shot over water to a heavily bunkered green.

How to play Rio Pinar Country Club

With more than 50 years of tree growth, rest assured, Rio Pinar's fairways are adequately framed to encourage accurate tee shots.

If you try to channel John Daly or Dustin Johnson off the tee with little regard to where you might end up, think again, you might want to save that approach for a newer residential golf course with more wide-open spaces.

Should you find yourself amid the trees, you'll generally have some kind of shot, but be careful. Analyze the risk/reward possibilities and if you can't shape your ball around a tree trunk or two, pitch out and live for another day.

The last thing you want is exiting the course with the sound and image of your ball ricocheting off multiple tree trunks.

Since Rio Pinar's greens aren't particularly expansive, take the time to get an accurate yardage before you pull a club for an approach from the fairway. Hit short and you'll end up in some menacing bunkers. Over the green on some holes means you'll definitely be scrambling for bogey.

Amenities at Rio Pinar Country Club

The clubhouse has a fully stocked pro shop, and golfers can enjoy breakfast or lunch in the Grillroom. For a warm-up before a round, the facilities include a 30-tee driving range, a short-game area with a bunker and large green just outside the pro shop.

If you enjoy courses that have a sense of place and history with a classic design and routing, Rio Pinar has everything you want and more.

Rio Pinar Country Club: The verdict

There's always a tinge of added anticipation and excitement to play an historical course where players like Palmer and Trevino competed during their glory days.

Rio Pinar C.C. doesn't disappoint because it has been updated through the years to make it playable and enjoyable for modern day equipment.

The classic design and routing make it different than newer residential courses that are spread out and often require long commutes between holes. At Rio Pinar, you get the sense you could easily play 18 holes in three or four hours if there were no players in front of you.

Simply put, Rio Pinar C.C. pays homage to its illustrious history without forgetting how to accommodate the needs and desires of today's golfer.

Ed SchmidtEd Schmidt, Contributor

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.

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