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Riverwood Golf Club attracts players of all abilities

December 22, 2023
By Staff Report

By Scott Cotherman

Situated thirteen miles from the Boca Grande Causeway, a mere 17 minutes by car, Riverwood Golf Club offers a wonderful experience for visitors and vacationers coming to the Cape Haze Peninsula. A for-profit, semiprivate club, it is a favorite of Boca Grande area golf club members who cannot access their courses due to scheduled maintenance and renovation-related closures.

A highly recognized golf club by the traveling public, Riverwood has amassed numerous awards and recognition from golf industry sources for more than two decades. It has been voted among the top ten places to play in the U.S. by Golf Digest, among the top ten Florida courses based on Golf Pass (formerly Golf Advisor) customer reviews, and one of the most lady-friendly courses in the U.S. by Golf for Women.

Riverwood’s Director of Operations, Bob Ridge, acknowledges the conundrum posed by such recognition. He says it increases the number of rounds played and therefore revenue for the owner, but it also drives the perception among the club’s members of limiting course access.

“Membership is always the tough thing, because the more recognition you get, the more the members think that we’re going to get more outside play,” said Ridge. “Being semiprivate, that is what we are about. But they consider the outside play to be obtrusive – even though they are going to have an advantage, because as members they get to make tee times much farther in advance than the pub- lic.”

Ridge is proud of the recognition Riverwood has garnered and credits it to his staff’s performance. “Our staff is extremely proud of the awards,” said Ridge. “We stress it is because of them, the condition of the golf course, and how they treat people. We cannot do it if we don’t have a great staff.”

It was the female-friendly nature of the golf club, as well as the desire to leave central Indiana for warmer climes, that brought Judy Hester and her husband, Don, to Riverwood in 2021. Frequent visitors to Gasparilla

Island to see friends, the Hesters sought a golf-oriented community like the one they enjoyed back home in Indiana. Judy rarely played golf there, but she has enthusiastically picked up the game since moving south.

“The women’s program makes me feel a part of the community,” said Judy. “I am the nine-hole coordinator for the Riverwood Ladies Golf Association because I wanted to get involved, wanted to know people. I have been told that prior to my coming, they couldn’t get four people to be part of the nine-holers. Now we are approaching 40 players. Some people are brand new to the game like me, and others are very good golfers not ready to take the entire day to play 18 holes.”

Don agreed. “It is such a stark contrast between a beautiful country club like ours in Indiana and a golf club in Riverwood as far as the number of female players. I would say on any given day down here, you go up to the first tee and you may see 30 to 40 percent of the players warming up to be female.”

Lest one think that Riverwood was built for golf novices, its course presents a formidable challenge from any tee box. Measuring 7,004 yards from the back tees with a course rating of 74.8 and slope of 139, it is a layout that rewards pinpoint accuracy. A shotmakers course of sorts.

Murphy Hart, who has been vacationing in Boca Grande for 35 years, sports a 3.8 handicap index and skilled short game that any golfer would covet. If not playing a round with a member at Coral Creek Club or Sarasota National, you can find him at Riverwood every day of his vacation.

“It would be nice to have access to the course on the island, but that doesn’t appear to ever happen. So, yeah, Riverwood is the place that I think is the best,” said Hart. “The range is nice. The chipping and putting greens are nice, and it’s the closest and nicest public-access course to the island. It is certainly harder than a lot of other places. I like that challenge.”

Hart typically arrives at the golf course 75 to 90 minutes before his

tee time to get warmed up for his round. That daily discipline paid off for him when he made par on every hole at Riverwood a few years ago. He has never achieved that feat any- where else.

When hosting annual tournaments for members, Riverwood staff encourages full community participation. Don Hester has made it an annual event to play in the member-guest tournament with his son, Stuart. First at his club back in Carmel, Indiana, now at Riverwood.

“I was lucky enough to play in the Riverwood member-guest for the first time this past May with my golf-addict son, Stuart,” said Don. “We were very fortunate to get in the championship round against another twosome, but we lost on a very epic 40-foot birdie chip-in. The element of playing in that kind of environment with your younger son is a moment that I will never forget. So, it was outstanding.”

Judy cites being a witness to this family achievement as one of her best experiences since becoming a part of the golf-obsessed Riverwood community. “It was awesome, so exciting. Even more so because you get to follow the players around the course during the competition. There were like 80 golf carts driving around. It was fun, very fun. Our oldest son, Joe, was there as well, so my whole family was there watching it.”

Judy Hester sums up her new life in the Riverwood community simply. “I value most the people we’ve met. I truly feel that I have friends here who care about me. People here are happy and active. It feels like home.”

Players interested in booking a tee time at Riverwood Golf Club should call the Pro Shop at 941-764-6661 or visit

Scott Cotherman writes about all things golf-related in and around the Cape Haze Peninsula. He is a retired marketing communications profes- sional, member of Coral Creek Club and an avid golfer. Contact him at

■ (Above),The Hester family: Judy, Stuart, Joe and Don. Photo submitted