By ERIK PETERSON
Travel Editor, GolfChannel.com
MARANA, Ariz. – This week Ritz-Carlton Golf Club – Dove Mountain north of Tucson hosts its third WGC Accenture Match Play Championship.
I thought I knew plenty about Dove Mountain, the 7,489-yard behemoth that was designed by Jack Nicklaus specifically for match play and is home to centuries-old cacti and massive, undulating greens. But it wasn’t until I played the course that I realized the very characteristics that make it a great professional match play venue also serve the traveling golfer quite well.
It starts with the conditions, which are among the finest on the PGA Tour. After marveling at them through my TV the past couple years, they were even more stunning in person, from the cross-cut fairway mow lines to the island tee boxes and big bunkers. It’s one of the best-conditioned courses I can recall playing.
As for the greens, they aren’t just fast and smooth, they’re also undulating. It’s hard to believe they’re actually flatter than they were in 2009 when players complained they were too slow. When Tour officials countered by saying the greens were too undulating to make any faster, it was determined that the best option was to flatten the greens.
Lion tamed, sort of.
Though the greens are flatter than they once were, they’re still lightning quick by traveling golfer standards. Adding to the intrigue, most of these behemoths feature run-off areas, which make for some interesting short game shots for pros and amateurs alike.
Though most of us amateurs will mindlessly reach for our trusty chipping club, around these greens you’ll see pros use anything from lob wedge to 3-wood.
Of the 27 holes at Dove Mountain the Saguaro and Tortolita nines make up the tournament 18. The third nine, Wild Burro, is played mostly by the resort’s 50ish members, but is available for public play. Wild Burro’s greens weren’t part of the green-flattening renovation, so they feature the same severe undulation with which they were born. For this reason, many of the members consider Wild Burro the most entertaining of the three nines.
Though the greens and surrounding areas are tricky, Nicklaus stuck to his standard design M.O. by including wide driving corridors. In general this characteristic is frowned upon by pros who respect courses that favor accuracy over length, but medium-length drivers Geoff Ogilvy and Ian Poulter have won here, and short-knocker Tim Clark has also played well. It’s a pretty strong indication that at Dove Mountain shotmaking is just as important as hitting it long.
As for amateurs, arguably the most satisfying shot to hit well is the tee shot, so you’ll take pleasure in Dove Mountain’s forgiving fairways.
Even for the big hitters, however, some of these holes are just plain long. For the Accenture Match Play there are five par 4s measuring at least 480 yards and it’s the longest course on the PGA Tour. Even the 3rd-longest set of tees measure more than 6,800 yards.
But while length is indeed a factor, there’s plenty of variety, which gives the course great intrigue whether the format is professional match play or amateur resort play. The closing stretch is particularly interesting.
Although there are several scenic holes at Dove Mountain, I argue No. 15 is the signature hole because of what it is – a short par 4 – coupled with its placement at a defining juncture in the round. Since Nicklaus designed Dove Mountain specifically for match play and No. 15 fits the bill perfectly with its risk/reward opportunity.
If you’re feeling bold you can try to clear a hazard that crosses the fairway, leaving an uphill shot of fewer than 80 yards, but accuracy is paramount – a wayward tee shot will end up in the nasty desert. Though the hole is barely 300 yards and there’s no water, birdie is just as likely as bogey or worse.
The final three holes feature the course’s longest par 3 (No. 16) and two dogleg right par 4s. All three are strong holes that require a carry over desert waste areas.
Whether you’re playing against your buddy or Tiger Woods, you’ll enjoy the challenge, scenery and conditions at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club – Dove Mountain.
If you’re lucky enough to stay in the nearby Ritz-Carlton hotel you won’t be disappointed. With fewer than 300 rooms its one of the smallest Ritz-Carlton’s in the portfolio. After your round unwind in the outdoor seating area that backs up to a mountain range and overlooks a pool. It’s desert serenity in its purest form.