Rough Ranch |

Rough Ranch

When I played River Valley Ranch Golf Club in Carbondale last summer, I was shocked at how difficult the course played.

The weather was hot, the rough punishing, the greens slick, and by the time I finished, I felt like I had just boxed 18 rounds, not played 18 holes.

I couldn’t have been happier. I honed my game in “Carnoustie country,” a sliver of weather-beaten land on the east coast of Scotland. Courses snarl at you in that part of the world.

Locals have nicknamed Carnoustie, the course where Sergio Garcia famously shot an 89 in the British Open and Jean Van de Velde took a 7 on the last hole when a 6 would have won, “Carnasty.”

I think golf should be punishing, a test of man’s resolve. But not everyone agrees with me. There are those who play golf for a pleasant afternoon of sun-sational camaraderie.

These golfers would like to see courses do everything they can to turn “a good walk spoiled” into “a pleasant ride in a golf cart.”

This is the direction the River Valley Ranch course is going. Last summer, the course hired a new general manager, Jim Sanborn. Since his arrival, Sanborn has worked diligently to make a visitor’s experience at the course more enjoyable.

Every aspect has been addressed, from changes in staff to a newly outfitted pro shop to alterations to almost every hole on the course. Rough has been trimmed, fairways widened, greens slowed.

The course has undergone what Sanborn describes as a “face lift,” making the old beast prettier to look at and nicer to spend time with.

Sure enough, I had a very pleasant experience on the course. I scrapped around in 76 strokes, with a level of ball striking that would have landed me in the 80s at the valley’s other courses. The course was quiet; I finished in around three and a half hours.

Everything at River Valley Ranch is now so nice – the course, the staff, the prices. But still, I felt somehow let down. Spending a work day on sprawling green fairways, I guess I felt I deserved a little more punishment.

Through May 31, River Valley Ranch is offering spring rates of $60 a round (cart included), $50 after 12 p.m. and $40 after 2 p.m. Spots are still available for the women’s league on Tuesday. The men’s league is full, but there is a waiting list.

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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