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Friday, May 12, 2006


Johnson Ranch

7141 Yds, Par 72, Slope 130, by Brian Whitcomb

They Say: "Johnson Ranch Golf Club is a challenging par 72 championship course set at the base of the San Tan Mountains. The front side is a classic desert golf experience while the back nine plays in and through the majestic, cactus filled mountainside."

Note that Brian Whitcomb's other Phoenix credits include Club West, The 500 Club, The Foothills at South Mountain, and Western Skies. While none of these really competes for The Best Golf Course in The Valley, they are all fun courses to play, each interesting in-and-of-itself-in-its-own-way. In fact, those 4 courses, plus Johnson Ranch make an eloquent case for Brian Whitcomb as a genious of entertaining and affordable golf. What's even more interesting is how different the design features of these courses are and how imaginative and unique are some of the holes on these courses -- I don't see a common touch like McKinzie or Ross or Von Hagge or Dye or Nicklaus, but that is an attribute, not a detriment, when one considers the whole Whitcomb oeuvre.

We played the same day, same time as the UHOG tournament. The tiny clubhouse was overwhelmed with boistrous golfers -- just too many UHOGs in one place -- the place felt like bedlam. The staff seemed strained, yet all we dealt with were unfailingly patient, polite, and cheerful. Good people in a foxhole, if you know what I mean.

We ate hamburger lunches together, then I dawdled over my Arnold Palmer and watched golf on the big screen tvs in the noisy, air-conditioned comfort while Mr Science hit his bucket. He'd stood, trying to leave for the range, but unwilling to abandon his french fries . . . "They're Delicious!" . . . so, I got the waitress to box & nuke 'em for him just before we headed out.

Because of the shotgun tournament, we started out on #10. I accidentally ripped my drive over the inside corner of the dogleg: perfect. I smoothed a 7iron left of the pin. "I feel like Freddy Couples!" I crowed, but my ball had actually gone long -- still on the green -- and rolled down the steep left-to-right incline. So I putted like Freddy Couples: a 3putt bogey. That is one steep green. In fact -- in the light of these other courses Brian Whitcomb has done -- I would have to say that this is the best hole on the course, a long uphill dogleg par 4 with an impossible green elevated into the side of a high hill. There are other good holes on this back 9, which could compete with the back 9s at Sanctuary and The 500 Club, as it winds in-&-around and up-&-down the San Tan Mountains.

The tee for the par 3 #11 is further up that same hill. I think I was still out-of-breath from the climb when I left my t-shot short of the green. Might have been distracted by the scenery from there, too: a great view of the Superstitions. That green -- most of these greens -- seemed even more tiny up close than from that elevated tee. Double Bogey.

#12 seemed more conventional and ordinary, but I foozled around too much to be a good judge. Double Bogey.

#13 is a vicious dogleg-right par 4 with a semi-blind tee-shot. Mr Science conked his drive with a tiny power-fade to less than a 100 yds. I had a full 5 iron, from straying left into the back of the dogleg. Bogey.

I don't remember the par 5 #14 -- I parred it, I parred 3 of the par 5s by scrambling after almost reaching them in 2 -- the greens were that hard that I couldn't adjust my shortgame, every little pitch or chip seemed to race yards by. It's amazing how little of a par 5 you notice when the 3wood is working right.

#15 is touchy little par 4, downhill to the landing area then back uphill over a huge crossbunker guarding a green. I cunningly left my 8iron short of the trap, but then my pitch over the bunker ran yards past the pin since the front of the green slopes away from that bunker. Bogey.

#16 is a tense little par 4, w-a-a-a-a-y downhill to a landing area crimped by large bunkers. Used a 3wood on both of these short downhill t-shots. Strategic, if you know what I mean. Another tiny green. Bogey.

#17 is a flat hole, with just a mid-iron, but against the wind, I wandered over into the gravel behind a trap. Double Bogey.

#18 is a long flat par 5 that sorta bends around a large water hazard. Both Mr. Science & I tomahawked our drives into a bunker on the left side barely 200 yds. He got out, even tho' he couldn't get over the high lip. I put the ole West Texas Fade on it like it was a hardpan lie (in fact, them fairway bunkers is ALL hardpan) and got out smartly to the right side of the fairway, 'bout 160 away. Mr. Science got as close the green as he could without challenging the water, and I ballooned a 6iron into the trap right of the green. "If you had gone straight at the pin", he said, "you would've been in the water." "Oh, Pshaw!" I said. When it took me 2 to get out the big hardpan bunker and 2 putts to get in the hole, I said "Oh, Pshaw!" again. Mr Science got up-&-up-&-in for his bogey.

I don't remember much about the front nine which is more desert-links style than the mountain desert style of the back 9; I do remember the 2 par 5s, which as I say, I nearly drove in 2, then scrambled for pars. Neither of us got a birdie. In our disgruntledness, we both blamed the hard greens, rather than any lackof skill on our part . . . it was windy, too, and on the downwind holes we were trying to land on the very front apron of the green to get the ball to stop on the green: too short and it would just die there; too long, and it would roll over the green. Only thing worse than fixing a ball mark on the front of the green then putting from the back of the green, would be a 3putt bogey -- Oh! they're the same!

Mr Science carded a 42-43=85, with 6 pars, in his usual steady play -- despite grumbling about the greens. I had a 44-48=92 with 4 pars and 12 5s.

So there's nothing wrong with the golf at Johnson Ranch, within the confines of the golf course itself; indeed, there's enough variety and challenge to make re-playing this course a pleasure to contemplate. But:

But this is all the picking of nits. Good golf course.

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