Tuesday, August 26, 2008
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.