JAs you pull into the parking lot, past a long-vacant office building that channels the worst of 1970s design, you go where few Houstonians have ever gone before. Moments later, you enter the distinctive shell of the new Riverhouse Houston Restaurant and see the green of what appears to be the best par-3 golf course Houston has ever had when it opened in September.

This is part of the Midway East River mega development that will forever change this section of Houston. But not just a part. East River 9 and Riverhouse will be the first part of East River that many Houstonians will see.

Making it one of the most critical elements of what would eventually become a 150-acre, 65-block city within the city.

“It’s always been part of the vision,” said Midway Vice President Clayton Freels. PaperCity. “We did not take this lightly. We knew this would be the first part of the activation here. So we wanted to do things right. We didn’t want to take any shortcuts. There are several ways to make a pitch and putt course.

“I think the quality of the course here is as good as any public course in Houston. To be able to showcase this along the natural resources of Buffalo Bayou and the canopy across the way – and the downtown skyline – we knew we had the backdrop to do something special. .

To make sure that happens, Freels – who is the visionary force behind East River 9 and Riverhouse along with veteran Texas restaurateur Don Cristopher – enlisted Mike and Bobby Smelek to design one of the best par 3 courses in America. This father-son team of golf course architects is used to designing Ryder Cup (Le Golf National Paris) and PGA Tour (Trump National Doral Miami) level courses. Now they are bringing that great golfing expertise into the usually more humble par 3 world.

“It’s unique,” ​​says Mike Smelek. “We haven’t done a lot of par threes. What’s different from par threes in general is that the location is phenomenal.

This is evident from the first tee as you head for sweeping views of downtown Houston, including Minute Maid Park, Discovery Green hotels, and the skyline. It’s a sight most Houstonians have never seen before.

This site was closed to the public for over 75 years with Brown & Root, the industrial services company that controlled the land, even manufacturing Sherman tanks for WWII on some of the land East River 9 and Riverhouse now inhabit .

Needless to say, tourists weren’t exactly welcome.

Now they will be. To play a par 3 course that sees six of its nine holes playing alongside the Buffalo Bayou. The n°2, when one runs along the crest of the Bayou, promises to be particularly striking. And unlike any other golf course in the country’s fourth largest city.

“Mike and Bobby engineered that first tee shot – teeing off into the downtown skyline with the Bayou behind the green,” Freels says, enthusiasm almost spilling out. “It’s a very unique hole.”

Much more than golf

East River 9 and Riverhouse Houston aren’t really about golf. Not even the kind of family golf that par 3 courses create (grandmother and grandkids will be able to play comfortably on this course where the longest hole is 150 yards). At least not first.

Golf is more of a way to create an accessible outdoor course that will include an outdoor restaurant (at least when Houston weather permits), a patio bar, a grass bowl for the kids to run up and down down, a full driving range and six pickleball courts.

East River 9 isn’t so much about golf as it is about being a family hangout that adults will enjoy too.

“In a city without zoning, the fact that we have one entity controlling this mile-long waterfront experience and really hosting this experience is really important and a responsibility that we are very proud of,” said Anna Deans, vice -President of Midway. Investment and Development, said. “We know this is going to become a destination not only for Houstonians, but also for people outside the region.

“We hope to become a source of pride for the city.

East River 9’s first hole is perhaps one of the most scenic holes in all of Houston golf.

The first phase of East River is well underway, with construction nearing completion on a number of things in addition to East River 9 and Riverhouse. What many don’t realize is that East River’s first phase alone is 26 acres, roughly the size of all of CITYCENTRE.

This is no small first step.

“I think the quality of the course here is as good as any public course in Houston. To be able to showcase this along the natural resources of Buffalo Bayou and the canopy across the way – and the downtown skyline – we knew we had the backdrop to do something special. . —Clayton Freels

East River 9 puts the outdoors first

To make it memorable, Midway pulls out all the stops. By deciding to reclaim a former Brown & Root maintenance building and use its setting as the base for the new Riverhouse Houston restaurant space, Midway created a place that feels like it’s been there for a while. Because it is. The golf course designers even worked with the Houston Audubon Society to ensure the course used natural grasses and wildflowers that would attract migrating birds and help them thrive. Eight large oak trees – over 25 years old – rescued from other sites have also been replanted here to help create a more sustainable feel.

It really is a premier outdoor spot.

Even the Riverhouse restaurant will have two large tilting glass doors that can be fully rolled up and opened on sunny days. There is also a covered pergola which will serve as a live music stage.

Golfers playing on the ninth hole will have an audience of all diners and cocktail drinkers on the expansive patio. The Smeleks designed the ninth green almost like an amphitheater stage.

Still, it’s not a golf course that will punish you. There is no forced transport on the course, which allows everyone to have fun playing golf here. Even if they never lift their golf ball off the ground.

A surprise may come from how East River 9 is links-style. There are even 16 bunkers on the course, including seven on the seventh hole.

“Because we try to bond style, I would say we have fun sometimes,” Mike Smelek said. PaperCity. “I would say there are fancy outlines on the greens. Which I think will be a lot of fun.

View of Riverhouse Houston;  Image courtesy of Midway
Clayton Freels (left) watches from the future bar at Riverhouse Houston.

East River 9 could become a regular source of entertainment for conventioneers and visiting business leaders. Its proximity to George R. Brown and Discovery Green makes afternoon or evening trips easy for conventioneers.

The full 300-meter driving range and stadium lights – yes, the course will be fully lit for night play – help with that. Freels suggests the latest tee times will likely be 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with Riverhouse Houston closing at 10 a.m. and 11 p.m., respectively.

As Clayton Freels, whose father Bradley Freels built Midway from a small business to what it is today, shows this reporter a site few have seen, something quickly becomes apparent. In many ways, it’s a completely different side of Houston.

A truer river side.

“It’s an absolute dream to see this all come to life,” says Clayton Freels, gazing down the long driving range as a wind very different from Houston’s picks up. “In the truest sense of the word.

“The grass is starting to grow. The building is framed. More than anything, we just want to show that side of Houston. This is what excites us. »

Just golf? Not by far. Go ahead and think again. East River 9 is much more than that.