CAVE CREEK, Ariz. -- The list of endangered species in Arizona includes the bald eagle, the jaguar and something called the bonytail chub (which is a freshwater fish).
There was one glaring omission from the list, though: Non-sadistic golf courses.
You see, the Phoenix-Scottsdale corridor is inundated with courses that have a degree of difficulty that's off the charts. The fairways are razor-thin, the desert is overgrown and abundant, and the greens are so fast and so undulating that golfers should practice by trying to stop a downhill putt on their roofs.
Every so often, however, there's a course that doesn't bring out the fear factor. Such is the case with Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design located about 50 minutes north of Scottsdale.
Now, Dove Valley isn't a pitch-and-putt course. It's a 7,011-yard, par-72 layout, and there's enough desert off each fairway to induce a couple of lost-ball penalties. But it's also a course that even hackers can play and enjoy, as opposed to monsters such as Troon North or The Boulders.
"We're set up, and I hate to say it this way, as a neighborhood golf course," Dove Valley Ranch general manager Mike Humphrey said.
Humphrey is reluctant to use that term because he knows travel golfers will take it to mean Dove Valley isn't worth playing.
But that's not the case.
It may not be one of the Valley's most picturesque or challenging layouts (and golfers at Dove Valley still have to pay for their range balls), but isn't there a place for a golf course that's easy on the scorecard and in terrific shape?
"If you have four guys and they all have a 5 or lower handicap, they'll still have a good time because there's a challenge," Humphrey said. "But if my mom comes out and she's a 25 handicap, she can still enjoy her day."
The biggest difference between Dove Valley and its wicked stepsisters are its greens. They're not elevated or protected by so many cavernous sand traps and false fronts that getting an approach shot to land on the putting surface requires a presidential pardon.
Golfers can bounce -- or skull -- a shot onto the green.
"I think Trent Jones did that on purpose," Humphrey said. "As he was looking at so many courses in the Valley I think he said, 'You know, maybe we need something a little more receptive to the average golfer, but still a challenge.'"
Dove Valley's front nine is fairly non-descript, except for the 447-yard, par-4 second hole. Golfers have to decide how much they want to cut off the lake that runs along the right side of the fairway. Play it safe, and the approach shot is much longer and more difficult.
The golf course picks up at No. 12, a 364-yard par 4 with a split fairway. The safe play is to the right, but place the ball on the left side of that fairway and a blind approach shot awaits. To go left, however, requires a 215-yard carry over desert.
No. 14 is a vixen. Because of an overgrown tree just in front of the tee box, golfers can barely see the fairway from the tee. Then, because the hole is a drastic dogleg left, any drive that stops on the left side of the fairway requires another blind approach shot, this time over a wash.
Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club won't blow golfers away. That's not its purpose. But it is an enjoyable track, particularly for the travel golfer who needs a break after getting pummeled by some of the Valley's most notorious courses.
April 29, 2011