LOOK OUT HOUSTON, There’s a New Golf Course in Town

With a beautiful design and terrific location, the new East River 9 golf course and Riverhouse Houston restaurant are teeing off this Fall.

Roger Munford

September 2022

Clayton Freels is passionate about bettering Houston. Take in the view of his hometown's skyline from the first tee, and you’ll see how he’s succeeded. Graced with a view of the city that is novel to most Houstonians, the stunning new par 3 golf makes a must-see destination out of land that has long been neglected. Freels’s vision brings life to a part of town many had written off.

The real estate and development executive is spearheading Houston’s newest entertainment destination with East River 9 golf course and accompanying Riverhouse Houston restaurant, both of which are part of the master-planned East River development, located on the largest undeveloped tract of land inside the 610 loop.

“The entire East River site is nearly the size of 60 downtown blocks,” Freels says, who determined early on that an approachable golf course and family friendly restaurant would be a good way to appeal to Houstonians, many of whom, he notes, may never travel east of Minute Maid Park.

“We are creating an outdoor, recreational use on an old, industrial site,” says Freels. “I love that it will bring people together.”

The site used to be the corporate headquarters of Brown and Root, a Texas construction company founded in 1919. The new restaurant will be based in the metal structure of an old warehouse maintenance building. “We’ll be incorporating original timbers and rails into the décor to celebrate some of that history,” Freels explains.

Freels’s vision for what would come next incorporates some of that history, but with a vision of a spot where families and friends can enjoy this beautiful part of Houston that was until now undeveloped and underutilized. Replacing the undeveloped tract of land will be the only public 9-hole golf course inside the 610 loop. East River 9 opens up this part of town so its residents can more fully enjoy the wonderful view of the city and river. Right within reach, folks will be able to play a nighttime round of golf and then enjoy a nice dinner afterwards.

Local golf course architect Michael Smelek and his son Bobby of Smelek Design—renowned for their designs and restorations of top-rated courses around the world—were brought in on the nine-hole, par-three course design.

“They’re fantastic to work with,” says Freels, explaining that the course design has enough natural topography to make it challenging for golfers.

Every hole is designed with two tees—each at a different length, direction, and elevation—so players can also have an outstanding 18-hole experience. “East River 9 will be a fun course for the beginner as well as the experienced player,” adds Freels.

Family-Friendly All Day… And Evening, Too

With the golf course design, Freels wants to minimize the impact on the environment. From transplanting trees, including live oaks, red oaks, and crape myrtles, to generating energy from solar and wind power and using the untreated water from the Buffalo Bayou as an irrigation source for the golf course, East River 9 is committed to “going green,” he says. (Pun intended.)

“We’ve also been working with Houston Audubon,” he adds. “They’ve helped us select native grasses to plant at the golf course that will attract migratory birds and also benefit the natural wildlife along the bayou.” Early on in the design stage, it was decided to incorporate LED stadium lights so that golfers could enjoy evening play. Imagine leaving work, playing a round at East River 9 to unwind, and catching a bite to eat and drink at Riverhouse. Not a bad way to spend a week night!

“That’s great for the winter days when evenings come early, but even on a hot summer day, you may want to wait to tee off until it’s cooler,” he explains. And what could be better than teeing off as the sun begins to set over an unobstructed panorama of downtown Houston? And if you and the family want to do more than play golf, there will also be six new pickleball courts and a kids playscape.

The Riverhouse Houston restaurant will focus on family fare—everything from tacos to Buffalo wings to burgers, heavy on appetizers and sharable plates; an impressive selection of beer, wine, and spirits will round out the menu. A large, covered dining area will comfortably seat 250 people, with an area for musicians and entertainers to perform, as well as a parking lot that accommodates more than 200 vehicles.

While East River 9 and Riverhouse have not yet fully marketed the venue’s potential for events, Freels reports that there are ten corporate and private events planned for when the course opens officially this fall.

“What’s really remarkable is that you’re only a mile from downtown,” he says, “and yet you feel like you’re in the hill country.”