MESA, Ariz. -- Remember Tom Kite, the slight, bespectacled golfer who never was quite as spectacular as his contemporaries -- Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, etc. -- but forever was one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour?
That's Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Ariz. Longbow, a 7,003-yard par 71, doesn't have nearly the panache of some of the Valley's esteemed courses: Troon North, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, We-Ko-Pa, etc.
For one thing, the golf course's location (20 minutes southeast of Scottsdale) isn't, well, sexy. It's not built into the foot of a mountain or etched into a forest preserve. Rather, Longbow is situated in the flight path of Falcon Field airport -- the planes fly so low golfers feel like they can reach up and touch them -- and one of the closest neighbors is an industrial park.
And because the land is fairly bland, none of the 18 holes are visually spectacular or so alluring they'll remain in the memory bank for months.
But what Longbow lacks in style it makes up for in consistency. Ken Kavanaugh redesigned the course in 2003, transforming a layout that was so tight it bordered on being claustrophobic into one that is a good test for the low-handicap golfer but enjoyable for the weekend hacker who can't hit it straight.
"We have 18 really good holes," said Longbow Golf Club General Manager Jay Larscheid.
Longbow's original design was built on only 140 acres, and the narrow confines -- combined with an ever-present wind -- made some of the holes dangerous to a golfer's health, particularly the golfer who liked to hit the ball high.
But when Cavanaugh was given 20 more acres to work with, he tacked on 250 yards to the course. Just like that, Longbow G.C. went from one of the Valley's undesirable tracks to a layout that is well worth the sticker price -- $155 in peak season, as low as $35 in the summer months.
"When we first opened back up there were a number of positive comments from people who had played a bunch of times here," Larscheid said. "Ken did a really good job with the redesign."
Longbow Golf Club is a part links-style, part desert course. There are few forced carries, so golfers can play low approach shots into greens. And while the natural desert landscape frames every fairway, the vegetation isn't so dense to be unplayable.
"You can find your ball, put your club on it and advance it," Larscheid said. "It's not like some desert golf courses where if you hit it sideways you don't have a chance."
What gives Longbow its bite are the greens. The fairways are generous -- some are as wide as 80 yards, but the greens are extremely fast.
"We always have been known to have greens with some pace to them," Larscheid said, and it's rare to find a flat spot. The ridges and mounding make it imperative that golfers don't short-side themselves, either in bunkers or with their approach shots.
Longbow's nines were flipped three years ago, and the change has benefited the course. The old No. 18, now No. 9, was a 474-yard par 4 that ruined many a golfer's scorecard and left them with a bad taste in their mouths. The new No. 18 is a 538-yard par 5 that can be reached in two -- although the second shot is visually intimidating given the two bunkers that seem to squeeze the landing area just in front of the green.
Longbow doesn't allow golfers to ease into their rounds. No. 1 is a 626-yard, sharp dogleg left, and No. 4 is the No. 1 handicap hole, a 429-yard par 4 that turns left and features water left of the fairway and two bunkers right for those who want to play safe.
"It used to be No. 18 before the redesign," Larscheid said. "It's one of the few holes that were kept. It's a really, really good golf hole."
Larscheid's favorite hole is No. 5, a 416-yard par 4 with Red Mountain serving as the backdrop. There's a large, cavernous bunker left of the shallow green, which sits just below the fairway.
One last note about Longbow: The course always is in good shape, the staff is extremely friendly and the Longbow Grille's outdoor patio is a great place to reminisce about the round and enjoy a cold one.
Longbow Golf Club may never crack any top 10 list of golf courses in Arizona. But that's okay. It's not meant to be part of the ruling class.
It's simply a solid golf course that will entertain and challenge golfers. Its best attribute is its simplicity: Golfers can see what's in front of them and play their shot.
In this era of tricked-up greens and blind carries, that's not a bad thing.
May 27, 2011