Argentina’s Termas de Rio Hondo is a Robert Trent Jones II tour de force

October 13, 2018

Northern Argentina has long been fertile ground for world-class golfers, from Angel Cabrera to Eduardo Romero to Emiliano Grillo.

However, superb new golf courses — especially public spreads — have been as rare to the region as hills in the Pampas, the rich lowlands that dominate the middle of the country. Rare, that is, until now. In early June, Termas de Rio Hondo opened for play with serious hoopla. Argentina’s President Macri and his wife attended—both are golfers. Romero was there. Every dignitary from the nation’s various organizations and federations paid their respects. Many made the journey to Santiago del Estero Province from Buenos Aires, 740 miles to the south. The golf course and the occasion were that worthy, that transformative.

Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Bruce Charlton have crafted a varied layout on flattish terrain along the Rio Dulce. Natural sand areas, native vegetation, ravines and a large wetland/marsh habitat that affects play throughout the back nine call to mind arid parts of Arizona, Nevada, Nebraska, Hawaii and Spain, although in reality, the course stands on its own.

Termas de Rio Hondo
Sand Trapped: The puzzling third hole at Termas de Rio Hondo is out there, somewhere.
Joann Dost

Termas de Rio Hondo can stretch to 7,510 yards to accommodate tournaments. Yet the joy for regular Joses revolves around options and the ground game. The ball runs briskly on the wide Paspalumturfed fairways, and there are few forced carries into the low-profile greens. And flexibility? The sixth and ninth holes can be played as par 4s or 5s, depending on setup and day, and the 15th may play as a par 3 or 4. Jones borrowed the “ribbon” tee concept from his work at Chambers Bay, where tee boxes are set down at fairway level for maximum elasticity and that truly low-key feel.

On a larger scale, the course is yet another foundational element in the effort to transform the region, traditionally one of the country’s poorest and known mostly for its thermal hot springs. Aside from the golf, an airport, a Formula 1 racetrack, and art, history and auto museums—all new—are increasingly enticing tourists. “We designed a golf course that will attract people to the region who will want to stay and play for several days,” says Jones. Adds Romero, who hails from Cordoba just to the south, “Termas de Rio Hondo is very challenging. There’s nothing else like it in this country.”

And that’s reason enough to go.