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Breezy Point

Travel Club
July 22, 2017

Blue Top Ridge At Riverside Casino & Golf Resort Dealing Drama Inside And Out
Riverside Casino
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Riverside Casino
Blue Top Ridge at Riverside #6
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Blue Top Ridge at Riverside #6
By E. Nolan

As the Course Ratings Director for a national golf network, I believe that Iowa has 12 golf courses every Tee Times reader should play, and Blue Top Ridge (38 miles south of Cedar Rapids) is in the upper half of that dozen. We focus on fun, design, beauty, playability and intangibles in comparative evaluations, and this championship design gives you plenty to respect and appreciate in each on-course category... with even more to enjoy throughout the rest of the resort.

In case you didn't know, there are over a hundred casino golf courses in America and the great Rees Jones designed them all. Okay, so that's not quite true... it just seems like it. Mr. Jones, of the legendary Robert Trent lineage, has designed well over 100 courses around the world though, (including 15 Major Championship venues), and he clearly loves working in Iowa (he recently completed Iowa's newest course, at Grand Falls Casino, in the northwest corner of the state). On top of that, Rees is a perfectionist - an attribute that I love - assuring that his "finished projects" will be both unique and awesome, living up to the strictest standards of any golfer.

Case in point, Rees's Blue Top Ridge was honored in 2008 as one of America's "Top 10 New Courses" by Golf Magazine. Golfweek and Golf Digest came over to Riverside to give their second and third opinions the next year and - not surprisingly - made the verdict a consensus. (BTR has graced every Iowa's Top 10 list since.) Still, Mr. Jones thought the course could "be more," and he was granted the fiscal authority to go back to work. He returned to Blue Top Ridge in 2012 to spice up a few holes and amp up the overall routing. Now, in 2017, the course is fully and beautifully grown in, a "finished product" - all that it was hyped to be, and up there (I'd imagine) with what Mr. Jones imagined it could be.

A tour around the course - with or without clubs - astounds. There are holes here where a camera will be your preferred weapon... others where you'll stand in awe on the tee box trying to grasp how Mr. Jones could have ever foreseen what you see. I will give a quick tour of the more spectacular course highlights in a bit, but first I'd like to take you back to the parking lot - to drop you off at the front door of Riverside Resort and Casino.

This is an all-in-one destination. The conceptual beauty of that is you pull past the magnificent fountains at the resort entrance and up to the Porte-cochere, unload your clubs, suitcases and lucky rabbit's foot, and then you won't need your car again until you check out.

The hotel has double deluxe queen, king and suite rooms (all upgraded in 2014) with luxury linens, new carpet, 42" flat screen TV's and panoramic views of the world-class golf paradise out your windows. High rollers and "splurgers" can step it up in the opulent corner Grand Master Suites with separate bedrooms, living areas, kitchens, decks and whirlpool tubs.

Beyond the golfer's playground the resort has other amenities, like an indoor/outdoor pool with a large hot tub and the sybaritic Aveda Salon & Spa with a variety of indulgent services and treatments for anyone with the urge to be physically (and quite generously) pampered. There is also an event center with a calendar full of concerts and shows, and the casino itself leaves no table unturned. Over 1,000 new slot machines, and several dozen poker, craps, roulette and blackjack tables keep the action jacked around the clock for those who prefer to make money even while sleepwalking.

There are five restaurants - four year-round and one weather-dependent-feature. Ruthie's Steak & Seafood expresses its focal fine-dining specialties in its name. The kitchen at Robert's Buffet collects popular food recipes from around the globe and scatters them before your hungry eyes, with a dessert table that you might as well start your meal at. The Ripple Diner is my personal favorite place to plate up at Riverside, be it for the Ripple Omelet, Honey Stung Buffalo wings or the Mississippi Longboat sandwich. You can always grab a quick shake or snack at the Ripple Express, or take in a meal outside on a sunny spring, summer or early fall day. You can have your cake, and eat it too... even while playing golf.

Your golf clubs will be waiting for you at the Blue Top Ridge pro shop, likely loaded up on a cart - ready to go. Blue Top Ridge features one of the nation's preeminent performance studios where a certified Titleist sensei, Golf Director Bryan Haas and five other PGA professionals have all the newest technological tools at their disposal to get your head and game set straight - before or after your round. New in 2017, BTR and Footjoy are partnering to provide another layer to your Performance Fit-ness (with Boditrack Technology) focusing on what shoes you should be playing in - between "Stable" and "Mobile" options. You'll learn in a single lab session that the right shoes will add a full 10 yards, and infinite comfort, to every swing. (Amazing benefits from such a simple examination.)

Take your (new shoes and) golf knowledge to the course for another dimension of lasting impressions - and you'll be impressed right out of the gate. Rees is famous for his dramatic bunkering, and he protects his greens with sandy teeth at Riverside. The front nine has an abundance of pretty golf views, with some particularly fun tee shots on the short Par-4 third, and the two great 3-Pars at #6 and #8.

The back nine doesn't stop dealing drama from the 13th hole on. The 3-par 14th showcases the signature Blue Top corn crib, and the summit of #15 yields the panoramic platforms of #16 - Big Drop Daddy - Iowa's longest golf hole at 665 yards. They say the green looks five miles away on #16. I'd go with eight. This is the hole you'll tell everyone about - the one hole where driver might be the right play on three different occasions. After all the greatness of 13 through 16, you'll be counting on a letdown, but the dogleg-left 17th just might be the best hole on the entire course. That's how much pure and natural power Rees infused at Blue Top Ridge.

You appreciate Blue Top Ridge so much more after a second round. You will see why the Iowa PGA entered and agreement with them to host the Iowa Open for the next three years, starting this August. The Iowa Open is a true Open hosting amateurs and professionals from all over the United States. Zach Johnson is a two time winner and Mike McCoy, U.S. Mid Amateur Champion are both former champions to name a couple of greats.

Want to get in on the action? Their 2017 golf packages let you take advantage of that fact. Book a hotel room and two rounds of golf on weekdays for $199 + Tax (double occupancy) with a $30 Resort Credit, or $249 + Tax on weekends with a $50 Resort Credit. And, if you do want to check out the Performance Studio on your visit, you can get a 1-Hour Session (or a massage in the spa) added on to your "package" for just $70 more.

So now you have plenty of reasons to make tracks towards Riverside this year. Less than 2 hours east of Des Moines, less than 5 hours south of the Cities, right next door to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City... bring the family... bring your friends. There is something for everyone and Blue Top Ridge.

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