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Tuesday, August 26, 2008


TPC Champions

7113 yds, Par 71, Slope 140 by Randy Heckenkemper

They Say: "Rivaling its famous sister course in both beauty and playability, the brilliantly crafted Randy Heckenkemper designed Champions Course offers the consummate desert golf experience. Featuring 7,115 yards of undulating Bermuda fairways, pristine greens and challenging bunkers, the par-71course meanders over natural ravines and picturesque foothills, with five par-3’s and a diverse variety of par-4’s and par-5’s to thrill golfers of all skill levels. A quartet of dramatic finishing holes make this golf gem a “must play” at prices commensurate with municipal golf facilities, including being able to walk the course."

I had been anxious to re-play the TPC Champions Course (nee' TPC Desert Course) . . . Heckenkemper has done some of my favorite courses (the Sanctuary & Stone Ridge up in Prescott) -- as my playing companions this day put it, "It used to be so-o-o-o-o boring, they had to do something!" And I could tell that he had done something . . . but the something didn't include introducing his special brand of green designs, nor any major re-routings, just some touch-ups on the original lay-out . . . now some of those touch-ups are very interesting . . . but I have to admit a small amount of disappointment -- not to say disillusion -- that the changes were not more dramatic.

The first hole portended interesting if subtle changes. I remember it as kind of a nuthin' hole, except for the water on the left, but now with those new reachable traps on the right pinching the landing area, that tee shot takes a little more concentration . . . I hit a 3wood to keep it short of the traps, but sure enough, my low-rising quail had enough pepper on it to roll just past them on the left, middle of the fairway. If feels like that green has been "aimed" away from the fairway more than it usta, but it's still pretty large, which is what I remember. Chunked my wedge trying to get at the front pin placement, but I chipped up for a gimme par, easy enough. I wouldn't say it was much better, but this hole is definitely some better with the tighter fairway.

#2 has been tightened up, too, but also straightend out, which I tho't was a shame. I pulled my drive left into that tongue of rough about 160 away from the pin -- the first of many pulls this day -- had a fluffy lie that I picked clean enough to hit a bullet right over the pin. I putted with a 7iron thru a couple yards of close-cropped rough back there to kick-in distance again. This green has been massaged a little bit too, but it's still very large, but not as deep as it was. I had really liked the optical illusion of the old green & dogleg fairway, so while there's not much to critique about this new version, I can't say it is much improved from the old version.

Now . . . if there was a hole that this course could have stamped its identity on before, I think it was #5. So Heck has messed with this one, too . . . I think even apologists for target golf would have trouble with this re-design. . . see how those tongues of desert waste area intrude up into the fairway? They didn't usta do that. It usta be a straightforward proposition "How Much Do You Dare Bite Off?" Now, I question whether you really have much choice other than to go for the right side fairway. I did try to hit that middle tongue of fairway, but with that bunker buried in there too, it's not much of an option. I had the wind with me, but even so bounced once on the rough and then into the waste area -- instant double bogey. Going right, you're going to be hitting 175 - 200 yds at least to that green, which would be a challenging shot too, with the bunkers guarding the front left, and OB on the right . The way the fairway is chopped up is just too severe, too unfair, IMVHO.

OTOH, it looks to me like he's made #8 too easy. When we played this course as The Desert in a scramble, from the white tees, it already seemed like an easy hole, even with the pin tucked behind a bunker on a skinny part of the green. On another round, from the blues, that same shot seemed much more difficult, if not impossible. But now, it's wide open. This day I hit a 4iron that ballooned up into the wind to fall on the fringe in the front left of the green. I pulled my 7iron chip too far left, allowing for the break, then missed the par putt, but I blamed that on the recent aeration, more than anything else. This might have been a good chance for a few ridges intersecting the multiple tiers in the green -- and it did look like there were an amazing number of unique pin-sites, but the green complex just lacks that Heckenkemper touch that I had come to expect.

So the greens were aerated and putts did not roll true nor smoothly, it was hot as bugger-all, slow (a killer combo in AZ, doncha know), I had a terrible case of the lefts with my woods, bladed a couple of wedges, and just felt a little deflated by the less-than-awesome make-over I found. I wound up shooting 46-49=95, no birdies, 5 pars, 3 8s. I was 7 over on the 4 par5s and 5 over on the 5 par 3s. Not playing well, but pulling your drives and foozling your wedges will wear on a boy.

I got away with both on #15. I pulled my drive left of that little bunker on the left side of the fairway, out into the middle of the fairway, 50 yds away from the pin. I didn't really blade my half-wedge, but it was definitely thin, ran 25 ft past the cup. 2 putted for a par, dangit. My partners both tried to drive the green . . . it was against the wind, so I didn't have a go, since I was not so confident. They both wound up in the desert. Heck has cleared out the little Arizona Forest that usta be inside that dogleg, so that people can go for the green -- I'm not sure I like having yet another opportunity for people to hit into me while I'm on the green. I tho't the old design was better, with only the dogleg to consider . . . but oh,well . . . that green is much the same as it was before, very elevated, which mitigates the short yardage.

So, there's nothing of Sanctuary nor Stoneridge at The Champions . . . and there's not much more, nor much less, of what was the Desert course in the Champions, either. It's still a middling course, which is disappointing only because I had hoped it might become more. It's longer & harder, but not more interesting.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


McCormick Ranch - Pines

7187 Yds, Par 72, Slope 130, by Desmond Muirhead

I ducked out early of work Friday after a grueling week, to get a quick 18 in at Sanctuary, so quick I forgot to change my glasses from bifocals to my "golf" glasses. It freaks me out, hitting in bi-focals, but I decided to make it a training exercise, to look thru the tops, and keep my head still with a smooth swing . . . I tho't it would be easy, after I birdied the first hole, but periodically, I'd forget and get a bad shot from the vertigo that results when you switch frames of bifocal during a swing.

I felt like this was a breakthru of some sorts . . . letting my spine be straighter from cocyx to noggin, a purer axle of power, if you see what I mean . . . I hit several approaches over the green as a result . . . birdied 3 holes: #1, #14, #18, but had 2 Snowmen, too, after amazingly bad sand-play, so wound up with 42-43=85. I've just been playing once a week, so it was only to be expected that my short game would suffer . . . but I feel very confident on the Sanctuary greens, insouciant . . .on the first two birdies, I took no time at all, just a quick look and bang! in the cup.

on the par5 #18, I hit 2 five-woods . . . 247 off the tee to position A, then 228 to 15 ft past the pin, as soon as the group in front of me cleared the green . . . but I TOTALLY misread the putt, a foot right and 6 ft past, but just as nonchalant as the other birdies, all but one-handed it in . . .

So, I hoped that would put me in good stead for the next morning, my first time at the Pines at McCormick Ranch.
I started off strong, hitting 3woods off the tee since the 1st few holes were kinda obscure . . . without a guide or GPS or a yardage book, I couldn't tell what was what . . . I wound up 2 over after 3, coming into the attractive par5 #4 . . . I split the fairway with my drive, but hooked my 3wood from 260+ into the water short of the green. Hit a perfect little half-wedge into the green from there but missed the par putt. These greens were, the whole course was, reminiscint of Orange Tree, except better . . . instead of whorls it was just heavy bermuda. Kinda overwatered the same way, so I didn't get my roll in the fairway and the rough got ankle deep at times.

#6 was another one of my 8 missed greens on the front 9 . . . Hit a 5 wood to keep it short of the water (which this doesn't show how it wraps around the rough on the right, making the landing area even smaller than it looks here), but then hit my 4 iron fat, just short of the greenside trap. Lobbed my 3rd over the trap to makeable distance, but missed that putt, too. I can't complain . . . I had 5 pars, even with all those missed greens.
#11 is perhaps the most Muirheadish hole . . . like all the holes at McCormick Ranch, the fairway doesn't cause any palpitations -- there are some humps and hollows in the fairways, linksy-style, but when you get to this green, the whole front half is a false-front, sloping 30 degrees and crowned so it slopes left & right, too. . . I'd pulled my drive left so that I had a little tree trouble, but the main thing was that I just came up short with my 8iron trying to be too cute and stay below the pin on that false front . . . my 7iron chip blew 8 ft past the hole, leaving an impossible putt that I just lagged close for a tapin bogey. . .

#14'd hardly be worth mentioning, except that after I'd hooked my drive into the water, I plopped my approach into the left bunker. My sandshot wasn't a flub -- maybe a little of a dub -- just to the rough between the green and the sand, but I smartly chipped in from there to save bogey . . . I haven't chipped in often lately, but I'd almost holed a putted 3wood out of the rough, a la' Tiger on the par 3 #8, too.

The par 4 # 15 is the #1 handicap hole. I'd correctly sussed out that I needed to hit it as far as I could straight down the right side, but instead, in execution, I tomahawked it out onto that bulge on the left, left me 186. I decided to soft-peddle a half-7wood, but gave it a little extra, so even tho' the ball landed into the slope of the elevated green, it ran over the green and down the steep back, a yard short of the water on the back. I flopped it back up on top, only just then missed the 25 ft par putt. Good hole.

I wound up with a 40-44=84, one birdie on the par 5 #12, with 15 missed greens. Just abysmal. Those greens are small, but not THAT small. My two playing companions, Handy Han and Rhee, from Korea, studying at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, said at one point, while we waited on the group in front of us, "This course doesn't seem that hard, but our scores are terrible!" So I told them about Desmond Muirhead, how he designed outrageous courses, then started Jack Nicklaus off on course design -- I'm not sure how much comfort that was -- but this course is definitely harder-than-it-looks, but not because of condition.

I couldn't find a picture of that famous Fish Green Desmond did on the internet, so I made this poor imitation, but what I did find was this outrageous quote: "There has to be a kind of proportional exchange between abuse and exhilaration to make the hole interesting," he said. "If there isn't, if it's just straight thrill, then something is lacking. It's like the best sex is when you are angry. There is a blandness in most other golf courses. There is no blandness to ours. I am pleased with that."

I don't think either of the McCormick Ranch courses are as good as Angry Sex, or even Makeup Sex, and in fact, playing these courses is a lot like dealing with a spouse that's never quite pleased with anything you do, if you see what I mean . . . 8^D . . . but one still tries, doesn't one!


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Sunday, August 10, 2008


Wildfire - Faldo

6846 Yds, Par 71, Slope 127, by Nick Faldo

They Say: "The Faldo Championship Course, which plays up to 6,846 yards, sits on a 174-acre site and offers a slight variation from the typical desert-theme courses. It features generous fairways, large Bentgrass greens and tee boxes. The surrounding mountains and century-old saguaro cacti as well as 106 sand bunkers, reminiscent of the Australian sand belt courses, provide a spectacular setting for the golf course and golfing guests."

I really like these first 3 holes . . . I birdied the 1st the 1st time I played here, but this time I blocked my drive right out into the desert . . . I'd'd so much time before my round I hit a couple of drivers on the range before hand, unlike my normal routine and it musta put me off . . . I was blocking drives right the whole front 9 . . . but just hit it in the fairway, then on the green . . . easy . . . should be . . . 8^D . . . that 2nd, divided fairway is very intimidating from the tee, with the left side elevated from the right side . . . I was a little uncertain of the distances and steer-jobbed my drive into that bunker on the left with a big, low, scottish sweeping hook. Actually the ball wound up on the tongue in the middle of that bunker . . . a much worse lie than in the bunker . . . I tomahawked a 6iron over the trap left of the green, then didn't get up and down. That par 3#3 is dicey, too, with the green elevated over the desolate desert on the left and the bunkers on the right. Hitting an anti-left tee shot, my shot bled off into the bunker, pin-high . . . I hit a spectacular sand shot (I love the heavy sand here) up out of that cavernous bunker to a foot from . . .

My playing companions were 2 young flatbellies -- sorta stand-offish -- and a peevish retired lawyer . . . I have to admit I think he put me off my game with his whinging about the flatbellies whispering during his backswing (from 40 yds away) and his own personal problems . . . aggghhh, it's mostly me remembering my 38 on the front side last time . . . but I've said it before, I have the temperment of a toy poodle, and it doesn't take much to set me off . . . my main ambition, if I can get out in front of the curve, is to "keep the poodle on the leash" . . . now that it's doctors orders. I was putting well, speed-wise, but my reads seemed to be off, too.

Something that's perplexing me lately is that either I'm not reading the yardages right or else my driving has gone puny on me . . . on the par5 #11, f'rinstance, I hit such a high straight shot that my plaing companions had to commen, it was with the wind, too . . . so I'm figgering an eagle chance is in the offing, but even tho' I was the furtherest down the fairway -- down the middle of the fairway -- I still had 263 to the pin . . . then I hit my 3wood off that bare downhill lie just short of that bunker right of the green . . . so I figger it must be the yardages, right? . . . 8^D . . . I flopped the 3rd up on the green about 6 ft from that pin. At that point, the peevish lawyer holed out his par putt, shook my hand with an excuse about taking his granddaughter to dance class, grabbed his bag and started hoofing it back to the clubhouse. After I made my birdie putt, the two flatbellies laughed and said, "Don't worry, we won't tell your partner that you play better without him!" . . . 8^D . . . they were a lot looser after he left . . . mebbe they heard him kvetching.

So I was feeling a little more confident, finally . . . I'd missed a makeable par putt on #10 after a horrible tee-shot, and then I missed another on #12, as I said before, with good speeds but missed-reads, I'd guess you could say these greens were a little Panksian in their subtle difficulty.

So I was disappointed on #12 when I blocked my 3wood again, but it got a good carom off the slope back into the very wide fairway, and still felt positive, when a very weird event occurred. After I hit a cart with a single zoomed up and stopped at my tee. A sweat-soaked golfer jumped out onto the tee and hit a driver out by my ball, but without so much as a by-your-leave. With a shrug I just went down to my ball, and so did he. The flatbellies were over on the left side fiddling about. With some sign language the mystery man arranged to go ahead and hit, as if he was in a rush, and came up sorta short on the front of the green. Then he jumped into his cart without a word and went up to the green . . . as he measured his putt, one of the flatbellies hit to the pin. The man on the green spun around when it landed and stared daggers back at us. The flatbellies were non-plussed. They went back and sat in their cart, the mystery man finished putting out, then I hit, and the other FB hit, then we drove up to the green.

"Someday," I said, "somebody's gonna have to explain arizona golf etiquette to me: This guy plays thru without a word, you hit into him, and nobody rakes traps or fixes ballmarks . . . "

"Well . . . " one of them said, " he's deaf, but I tho't he was joining us, not playing thru!"

"Amazing," I said, then -- why would it bother me, I don't know -- I 3putted from 30 ft, after narrowly missing the birdie putt.

Then naturally, we had a double long wait on the par3 #14 . . . I celebrated with a heel-hit tee-shot, two bladed chips & a chunk, and a 3putt for a 7. Grrrrr.

Regathering myself for the par 5 #15, I hit another high, straight drive that drew plaudits from the FBs, but I still had 280 to the green. Since the wind was with us, I went ahead and hit 3wood, or tried to; almost whifft it, skulled a measly 40 yds. As I switched to a 5wood for the next shot, not going for the green anymore, one of the club-pros drove up. "I just wanted to apologize to you for the slow play today . . . we had a couple of very slow groups up in front, but they're off now and so it should speed up."

"Well, that's one thing, but we had a single play thru, when we're wall-to-wall 3somes & 4somes, and that's slowed things up too."

"Didn't he join that group in front of you?" asked the pro, as I striped my 5wood down to the green.

"No! He didn't join us and he didn't join them, he just played thru!"

"Well," said the Pro, "sometimes it is difficult dealing with the physically-challenged. I wish I could make it up to you."

I put my head in: "Well, a free round would go a long way to soothing my ruffled feelings!"

"I can't do that," he said, seemingly genuinely pained by his shortcoming, "but I can buy you a drink."

"That'll do!" we chorused. He drove off talking to the cart girl on his walkie-talkie, and we drove up to the green.

Remembering the par3 I was very nervous about that short pitch, so it was 25 ft long, but at least it looked like a good shot. Another burned edge that left a tap-in bogey.

On the short par4 #16, the flatbellies hit irons off the tee into the fairway, good position. I hit a 5wood, thinking if I kept it right the traps wouldn't bother me. I pulled it left, but it came up just short of the bunkers, anyway. Perfect. That green is pretty elevated, but I didnt allow for it and came up short on the front of the green . . . that green is heinous, with a bowl on the back left, where the pin was. One of the FBs was inside the bowl, which if he made it would have been his 4th birdie of the day; the other was inside me, outside the bowl, not quite on the same line. Still, when I made my birdie from 35 ft, I told him, "you can't miss now, you got the read and the speed!" But he did, and so did the other. "You know," said the other, those 6 ft straight putts are harder than 35 ft double breakers . . . there's less margin for error!" "So True" the first FB agreed. . . 8^D . . .

So now I really felt like I was finally playing well, and over-the-ball, I felt comfortable for the first time, hit a high-fade into the wind that looked great. I couldn't see, but when we got up to the green my ball looked funny. . . it's stuck in the divot . . . 2nd time this month that's happened to me. So I had about 12 ft with an uphill curve of about 18 in. for my birdie. I hit it just online, 11ft. Heartbreaking. That would have been 3 birdies in a round. Shoot.

As we waited on the tee the cart girl finally made good the Pro's generosity. I gotta say, I don't ever remember the staff apologizing out on the course, unsolicited for slow play, much less making it good with a free beer. What a class act!

The two FBs saluted me with their cans: "Thanks, Dave!"

The long par4 #18 doesn't look like so much to me but I've made 7 both times. I tried to hit that same fade I'd hit on the par 3 over that trap on the left, but it carried over into the desert. Then my 6iron flared up into the wind and drifted short-right of the green. My 7iron chip to the front pin came up short, 3 putts for the 7.

So: I was thinking I needed to downgrade this course . . . I had it rated as a 2, while Mr Science gave it only a 3. The condition wasn't the best, and I have to wonder whether I could justify my rating with the assertion that Wildfire-Faldo could be the best course in the valley. Is it just that I carded a 38-46=84 the first time and I am disgruntled this time with my 46-44=90? But like I say, I blame myself more for the reaction to the peevish lawyer and the weird events. I am unswayed by the free beer; I am not so cheap . . . 8^D . . . but it was an uncommon gesture on behalf of the staff to be out there in the heat trying to keep people happy . . . I think it's a very good layout (especially the 1st 3 holes) over a relatively ordinary piece of land -- good use has been made of what was there, and it makes an excellent example of desert links golf . . . the tees are not so elevated, but many of the greens are very elevated. There's several very interesting holes I didn't mention on the front 9. I think I'll leave it a 2.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Orange Tree

6775 Yds, Par 72, Slope 121, by Johnny Bulla

For a couple of years, I've wondered why I didn't have a review of Orange Tree . . . so I finally got over there again to see . . . now I remember . . . of all the high-dollar, over-rated, nuthin' courses in Phoenix, this is the most . . . It's totally flat, lacking even the Panksian interests of mildly elevated tees and greens . . . the main defenses are soft fairways and grainy greens with whorls of bermuda that don't run smooth nor true . . . the fairways are sorta narrow in places, with either orange-tinted condos or to-be-honest magnificent mansions crowding the field of play . . .

it was heinously hot, even by 10 am, and humid by PHX standards, so maybe I am just a cranky duffer with unrealistic expectations, but then again it could have had something to do with the 6 hour round, too . . . I had a 40 on the front 9, but the tedious pace in the heat & humidity and the grainy greens took their toll on the back 9, lost my concentration and ballooned up to a 47, for a total 87, no birdies, 6 missed birdies (5 on the front9), one blow-up hole on #12, where I took a 7 with 2 balls in the water, trying to hit a miracle shot over a willow tree after I pull-hooked left of the green, in frustrato-rage . . . I had developed some sort of uncompromising giant hook by the back9 that kept getting me into trouble, then when it betrayed me when I relied on it, like on #16, I wound up pin high in 2, behind a tree and a bunker.
So I finished weakly with a double bogey on #18, which I would have to say is the most interesting hole on the course -- certainly better than the #1 handicap, straight-away, short par 5 #2 -- in that the water on the left takes the driver out of my hands . . . so trying to smooth a 5wood without hooking into the water, my magna-hook betrayed me one last time with a power fade that caught up in the trees on the right . . . I hit a spectacular punch-half-3iron out of the trees that faded just right, came up just short of the water on the left 60 yds short of the green. My half-wedge came up inexplicably short of the front pin, my aggressive par-Texas-wedge wiggled well past the hole, and I missed the come-backer.
I won't demote it, but it's a very low 3, compared to the rest in the class.

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