The Redding Pro-Am Comes to Riverview Golf and Country Club
● By Jon Lewis
Story and Photo by Jon Lewis
Beginning on the second Saturday in June, professionals and amateurs alike will stand atop a bluff adjacent to the Sacramento River and take in one of the greatest views golf has to offer in the North State.
It’ll be the first round of the 45th annual Redding Pro-Am, and golfers on the first tee at Riverview Golf and Country Club will start play by staring down the 592-yard, par-5 first hole. Among the options: hook the ball left, where it very well may end up in the river and out of bounds; slice it to the right and it’ll be in jail with tall trees standing guard. For those averse to adventure, hitting it long and straight is also a possibility.
“I heard of a golfer who played in the Pro-Am who hit five balls in a row into the river to start his tournament,” says Bill DeWildt, Riverview’s golf professional. “It might have been seven, but we’ll just leave it at five,” he adds, shuddering at the thought.
When he’s introducing guests and new members to the course, DeWildt says he encourages them to aim right. “Why get stuck in that big ol’ pond?” he asks. “New golfers are kind of nervous anyway if they think anybody is watching, so I tell them to miss it right. Don’t try and hit the nicest shot of your life and hit it into the river.”
Putting aside the prospective hazards, Riverview’s first tee does provide a sweeping panorama that seems to encompass all that the region has to offer: blue skies, the shimmering river, mature oaks, cedars and cottonwoods, the lush fairway and, on the western horizon, Bully Choop, South Fork and Shasta Bally mountains.
“I’ve never heard anything but positive things,” DeWildt says of the first-timers who play the course. “Not only do they say it’s the best view in Redding, they say it’s the best hole they have ever seen.”
That view didn’t escape the notice of Henry and Irene Rother, the avid golfers who transformed the Graf Ranch – which consisted primarily of rocks, scrub oaks and pines – into a nine-hole golf course in 1946. After admiring the view from the top of the hill, Irene Rother named their course Riverview.
Henry Rother put the land up for sale the following year and the 28 members of the Redding Golf and Country Club, who had been making do on a rustic course where Lawncrest Cemetery is now located, negotiated the purchase of the course and it opened for play to members on May 10, 1947.
Ten years later, the course’s growing membership agreed to an expansion project to remake Riverview into a traditional 18-hole layout that opened for play in the fall of 1958. A decade later, the four tennis courts were added. A new pro shop appeared in 1971. The current clubhouse and pro shop were built in 1991.
Riverview underwent an extensive $1.4 million remodel in 2001 that included the rebuilding of all 18 greens, the addition of 40 bunkers and a state-of-the-art irrigation system that linked each green with a weather station and the course superintendent’s office.
The Redding Pro-Am dates back to 1972 and in its early years, when the event supported Jerry Lewis’s Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, the event was a lively affair that attracted professional athletes and other celebrities.
“It was a pretty good event but it got out of hand as far as netting any profit for the charity,” recalls Dennis Ellis, chairman of the Pro-Am. “It was wild,” agrees Curtis Byron, sponsor chairman for the tournament. “It was the old clubhouse and there was a Calcutta party the night before the tournament. We always had celebrities come up. It was a big, big deal back in the day.”
Notable participants included Oakland Raiders players Ben Davidson, Art Shell, Fred Biletnikoff and Daryle Lamonica, along with San Francisco 49ers linebacker Skip Vanderbundt. The fun didn’t end, but the focus shifted in 1983 when Riverview’s board members elected to keep their charitable contributions local and settled on Special Olympics Shasta County as the beneficiary.
“It’s been 30-plus years and still going strong,” Byron says. Last year’s Pro-Am generated $15,000 for Special Olympics and the year-to-date total is approaching $450,000. Denise Caldwell, area director for Special Olympics, says the Pro-Am “is everything to Special Olympics. They are our primary sponsor and they are what makes our world spin. Their support allows us to provide year-round sports practice and competition in eight sports, all at no cost to the athlete.” The annual contribution helps the organization train and provide competition for some 400 athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Lloyd Hayden, a Riverview member since 1983, says he enjoys the competition and community spirit of the annual tournament, and he also enjoys the daily camaraderie and fellowship with other members.
One of Hayden’s favorites is the Marching and Chowder Society, a monthly gathering of golfers that started in the ’50s as a foursome and now numbers around 70 players who draw cards to form teams and then enjoy a steak dinner after the golf is finished.
Randy Jensen, Riverview’s general manager, also enjoys interacting with the country club’s 570 members, and helping preserve cherished traditions like the monthly “chowder,” but says he also has accepted the challenge of making Riverview attractive for the next generation of members “and bridging that gap.”
New membership options, a slightly shortened course to speed up play and a marketing campaign have already enticed a half-dozen younger golfers to join, Jensen says, and the future for the granddaddy of North State golf courses is looking pretty green.
Riverview Golf & Country Club • 4200 Bechelli Lane
(530) 224-2255 • www.riverviewgolf.net
The Redding Pro-Am is June 9-12; visit www.reddingproam.com for details