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Friday, April 28, 2006


Rancho Manana

6016 Yds, Par 70, Slope 134, by Bill Johnston

(this is an impressive list of course-designs, even tho' few: The Dominion in TX is a celebrated layout in San Antonio, The Pointe at LookOut Mountain is Great, too).


They say: "RANCHO MANANA GOLF CLUB, located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert in historic Cave Creek, Arizona, features a par 70, championship course with dramatic elevation changes and unspoiled desert terrain. Our stunning, high desert course invites you to match your skills against nature while enjoying the unparalleled and unforgettable surrounding desert. It's where Mother Nature plays!"

This round was Important. We, Mr. Science & I, are on a quest, not only to play all Phoenix Golf Courses, but to rate them, rank them, and analyze why we like the ones we do. I think Mr. Science likes We-Ko-Pa again as #1, but he ranks 8 as being in the #1 category. Not very scientific, I sniff, and incorrect, since there can be only 1 #1, and that #1 is Rancho Manana. Would Rancho Manana meet this challenge and retain its premier ranking with this Steely-Eyed & Flinty-hearted golf blogger? Keep Reading.

Mr. Science & I agree, not on so many issues, but absolutely on the important issues, such as, "How should one devote all of one's available spare time?" (Playing Golf is the only correct answer) We agree on our Calvinistic approach to golf (we do not admit that there is any other way than this true Paganican Life, but we do see there are many who fall short and we forgive them), but also, a generosity of spirit that makes our Quest an enjoyable one. All in the spirit of Inquisitiveness of Thoreau: "I am wealthy in sunny days, and I have spent them lavishly." And like Thoreau, we intend to do it economically.

Mr. Science is excellent at scoping out the bargains on the internet, from GolfNow and AZCentral, and half-a-dozen other daily emails he gets. Sometimes we get free rounds as raffle prizes at tournaments, or answer trivia questions right at some Par 3 challenge, or once, just once, I won a contest from AZCentral for a golf course review. Saweeeeet! The prize was this round at Rancho Manana.

Manana means "tomorrow" -- usually in the context of indolent procrastination, but when I was young, we often traipsed eastward to Ft. Worth, to see a show at Casa Manana, a theatre in the round. There, manana means "the Future", in a sort-of avant garde sense. Rancho Manana might mean, then, a kind-of Never-Never-Land, a golfer's paradise.

I love the whole gestalt of Rancho Manana neighborhood, which is mostly huge adobe-style Casa Grandes. The clubhouse is very nice, part of a complex of buildings that includes the Tonto Restaurant, but nothing is opulent, like the Phoenician Resort, just comfortable. We enjoyed the Cowboy-Golfers Prints they had framed around the pro shop.

We checked in and in our regular habit, Mr Science went off to bust a bucket while I warmed-up over lunch. I sat in the shade of a large tree on the patio outside the half-way house that sits on Hole 11 by the club house, eating my ordinary cheeseburger & chips lunch. We were taking comp-time again after a grueling weekend of work, and I found it very restful.

They called us early to the tee, so I didn't even have time to putt. I went on over to the First Tee and met our playing partners, Otis & Janelle. I could tell immediately by their cultivated accent that they were from the South: Virginia. Otis was great to play with, and Janelle was knowledgeable, just, apparently unwilling to take on the challenge.

<-- These Helpful Hints are English Bull, they seem to make sense, but really they are useless. Otis birdied the first hole, his only one. But I hooked my 5 iron approach (after a very weak drive) into Andoral Wash, left of the fairway, which cost me a triple bogey, all told. See, it seems like good advice, but the thing is, after #1, you can't hit it anywhere but the fairway or you are in trouble.

I chunked a couple approach shots on #2 from steep downhill lies, while Mr. Science went over the green and Otis flew over the green into the creek behind the green.

#3 is the first time the inevitable claustrophobia grabs hold. From the back tee it seems all you're looking at are pock-marked saguaros, then the green is elevated and tilted severely right-to-left. It doesn't look like a ball will stick, and the cavernous traps guarding the green look huge.

#4 is the hardest hole in Phoenix. It is definitely in the 18 Best, no matter if AZCentral says different -- I think it's the best hole in Phoenix. And it's one of, if not THE, most beautiful hole in Phoenix.

This picture shows my normal POV for my approach (in the desert on the left, the wrong side of the dogleg). Mr. Science figgers it's 60 feet uphill for the tee shot, then another 60 ft uphill for the approach. With the cross-hazard and the desert encroaching in on the fairway that tee shot is daunting, but it seems impossible to approach the green successfully from a steeply uneven lie to such an elevated green. With the wind we had that day, it was very complicated calculus to reckon the right club. Tough green, too.

#5 is a testy Par 3, long & narrow, a little downhill, with a green surrounded by trouble behind and left. The comical look on Otis' face when he realized his chip had rolled past the pin, off the green, and into the hidden back bunker made us laugh -- he may have misjudged the course after that opening birdie, even tho' we told him what to expect.

#6 is a short par 5, narrow, but downhill, so reachable in 2 for even me, but you have to have an A game to hit that green, protected as it is in the front with a large, LARGE bunker. I left my 4 iron shot just on the cusp of that bunker, cuz I knew there was no way this duffer was going to float a 5 wood over that bunker onto the green, but it wasn't until my little pitch over the trap rolled all the way across that green that I realized the green sorta slopes away from the fairway, too. Mr Science had sorta fanned his drive over into the grassy mounds along the right rough, then sorta squibbed his 2nd shot into the rough on the right again, but his 3rd shot from 70 yds almost knocked the pin down.

"Did I ever told you," I asked Mr Science, "how much it irritates me that you get inside my ball from further away?"

"Why, yes, I believe you have," Mr Science replied mildly.

But I eyeballed that little putt, 18 ft from the 2nd fringe -- this has been my specialitie lately -- and sure enough, holed it anyway for my birdie. Mr. Science burned an edge with his for a tap-in par.

"Doesn't that eat away at you," I teased Mr Science, "that I got my birdie from off the green and you missed an almost-a-gimmie?"

"Not at all!" declared Mr Science, "I am happy for you to get a birdie; I am rooting for you to make birdies!"

Well! didn't that make me feel a bout a foot tall?

Then I heard him say under his breath, "Besides it will stop your whining, for a while." 8^D

#7 is an awe-inspiring downhill par 3, with nothing but trouble all around. Enamored of my birdie, natcherly, I wound up over the green and bogeyed.

#8 I felt I was on my game now and confidently drove the ball into the fairway on the short par 4 . . . actually toooooo close, because that left a thin lie pop up pitch over the large and deep sand traps. My little quarter-wedge lob shot came a foot short from perfection, which meant failure. Bogey.

#9 is so similar to #7 that the deja vu is debilitating. But this hole is a club shorter; the green shows its thin side to the tee, unlike 7; the green has a long deep bunker down each side. I was in the trap, made a great sand shot, but missed the 8 footer. Bogey.

#10 is a par 5, right next to #18 . . . the only really dangerous part of the course as the people on 18 can't see any fairway except #10, so that's where they hit. There's a tree in the middle of the fairway that interferes with both your 2nd & 3rd shots, just messing with your head. It feels very narrow between the houses and the desert mounds separating 10 & 18. Bogey.

#11 is an apparent nothing hole, #18 handicap, 126 yds par 3 next to the halfway house. I'd sat and watched 4 groups come thru while I ate lunch. Not half the golfers hit the green. Not a quarter made par. Neither did I.

#12 restores one's sense of claustrophobia, this time with houses on the left and desert on the right. It's really pretty wide, but if your drive is sufficiently inhibited, you can't reach the way-downhill-green, protected by the arroyo in front, traps on the sides and a creek bed in back.

#13 introduces a lake into the paranoia. The very narrow fairway is squeezed by the Desert on the left and the water on the right, there's room, but it doesn't feel like it. I hit a good drive but wound up on the side of a knob, trying to hit a half-wedge downhill into the wind. Pin-high, but off the green . . . bogey.

#14 is another short par 3, 148 yds, over water, and the green looks like it is sticking out into nothing, elevated as it is over a ring of sand-traps with a backdrop of reeds. I pulled my shot into one of the bunkers, and the ball rolled up right against the bulkhead. Double bogey.

All this time I feel like I'm playing good, but events conspire against me -- the surest sign of a good course I know. . . meanwhile Mr. Science is cruising along, making pars, but fewer on the back 9 than the front.

#15 apparently fooled all 3 of us somehow, both Mr Science and Otis were off in the lake on the right, and I was just a few yards away myself, but dry. . . There's plenty of room over on the left, but also out-of-bounds. This fairway has a huge bowl in it that might make for some interesting shots. I'd like to find out someday. A Freakishly good chip got me a tap-in par.

#16 seems like a dangerous place, just to the left and below the 13# tee. This beautiful par 5 swoops in a graceful curve right, dares you to cut the corner guarded by trees gorged on creek water. Mansions looming over the left side of the fairway give you that claustrophobic feeling again, but there is room. I actually clipped a saguaro with my drive that caromed back into the fairway. I babied a 3 wood down to where I could see the green. But the large traps in front made me play long over the green again. 2-putt par.

#17 is another par 3 like # 14 in that there's no obvious trouble, but the foreboding persists. It looks like a simple shot with no hazards, but the giant bunkers guarding the green and the way the green surface slopes right-to-left, looks like it won't hold a shot. I hit a hosel-push into the sandtrap. Double Bogey.

#18 tee shot is an act of faith: that there will be a fairway for your ball instead of the desert mounds on the left and houses on the right. After 2 days of practice, I confidently hit it to theoretical postion A. OK. I pulled my second shot over some trees on the left, away from the water, short of the arroyo in front of the green, which I knew was there but couldn't see. Then I flat foozled my pitch shot to the green into the trap. Bogey.

Even in the wind, on these treacherous greens, on a course 19 slope points higher than the course we played yesterday, Arizona Traditions, we both scored better: I had an unusually symmetrical 45-45=90, with 3 pars & a birdie; Mr. Science, an unusually unsymmetrical 40-44=84, with 8 pars.

I have not changed my mind. I still think Rancho Manana is the # 1 course in Phoenix. It is as beautiful as any other course, has as beautiful scenery, has golf values the equal of any, has the #1 hole in the valley, has wind, water, sand, desert, trees, cactus, elevation changes, velvet fairways, fluffy-sandy traps, variety, tortured greens.

The juxtaposition of Rancho Manana to Arizona Traditions is telling, I think. They are both short-ish courses, Par 70, but Golf at Rancho Manana is an otherwordly experience, comparatively.

The lopsided (34-36) design works to the advantage of the charm of Rancho Manana, rather than appearing as a negative.

The par 5s are all unique and distinctive.
The par 3s, on the other hand, 3 to each side, resemble each other either as a similar or an opposite: #7 & #9 are both long and hugely down hill; # 14 & #17 seem like short uphill opposites to those; #5 and #11 are the 17th & 18th handicap holes.
The par 4s are the holes that seem the most constricted, these holes are the essence of Rancho Manana:
#2, #3, #4,#8, #12, #13 are each a great hole in its own right.

The mixture of those par 4s with the unique par 5s and the rhyming par 3s makes a very good design. I like the 5-3-4, 4-3-4, 5-3-5 back 9. The course is laid out very intelligently to take advantage of the terrain, which, as Mr Science says, you wouldn't believe could hold a golf course until you saw it there.

A course you could play everyday forever without getting bored: A Golfer's Never-Never-Land.

Just a word about the Tonto Restaurant: It is excellent. Mrs. Science & Mrs. Cactus drove up to join us for dinner there after our round. The men had the NY Strip cooked with bleu cheese; the ladies had the Tenderloin Medallions. We drank Tontoritas (which use orange juice instead of Triple Sec).

Click on the gold "Rancho Manana" at the top to link to the golf course web site . . . check out the photo gallery.

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