MARANA, Ariz. - Not even a year into playing the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, officials were already making changes to the golf course, primarily on the greens.
It seems Tiger Woods and some other top players in the world thought that Jack Nicklaus' greens were a little too severe in some places. The obvious question, though, is how does the everyday player feel about the course?
Unfortunately, when I played it, the Saguaro Course, which is the front nine of the Accenture, was already closed for renovations. But I did get to play the nine on the Tortolita Course, which is the back nine of the Accenture Match Play, as well as the other nine holes, the Wild Burro Course, which isn't part of the tournament. (Plans call for an additional nine holes to bring the resort up to 36 at some point.)
Right away, the golf course made several impressions: It has as many or more giant Saguaro cacti as I've seen on any desert golf course in Arizona. Conditions are immaculate. Fairways are generous. And the holes are very memorable.
Nicklaus designed this course specifically for the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. PGA Tour players hit the ball astronomically far, which most us can't relate to, but when you get to the greens, we're all playing the same game (although they're a lot better at it, of course).
So the only way to bring the best players and the average players together was on the greens complexes, said Nicklaus. The average player will be faced with the same putts, the same chips and the same pitches as the professionals.
Do these greens make it difficult on the average player? "Yes," said Nicklaus. "But it does make it a lot of fun because each year you'll get to have the opportunity to relate back to each of those players and say, 'Hey, I saw Tiger here, he didn't get it up-and-down, and I did.' Those are the kind of things that I think make the game fun."
Nicklaus conceded that there may be some spots on the course where tweaking would improve the golf course, although he believes his team, which includes longtime senior design associate Chet Williams, got it 95 percent right.
One of those problem holes might be the 17th hole at the Accenture Match Play, the 482-yard, par-4 eighth on the Tortolita Course. The drop-off on the right side is so severe that balls hit to the middle of the green could easily roll some 70 or 80 feet if they catch the ridge.
If you find the back bunker with a pin on the upper part of the green, it could render par near impossible. Tour officials discussed the possibility of raising the right side of the green and perhaps putting in another bunker.
But enough about the greens. There are a lot of really good holes on Tortolita-Wild Burro. The third hole on Tortolita is a really picturesque 219-yard par 3 with the mountains in the background. The sixth on the same course is a 343-yard par 4 that many of the tour pros tried to drive during the match play event, making for some interesting scenarios. And the ninth, the 18th of the tournament, is a 480-yard dogleg right where players had to challenge a deep fairway bunker on the right to cut the corner.
Wild Burro, which is named for actual wild burros that roam the resort, is no slouch either. At 3,897 yards from the back tees, it could easily be part of the tournament. It features a 253-yard par 3, the eighth, and a 490-yard finishing par 4.
My favorite hole, the 444-yard, par-4 third, features an interesting approach to one of Nicklaus' more difficult greens complexes.
While plenty challenging, the Tortolita and Wild Burro nines seem fair and are certainly interesting. There are definitely some birdie opportunities out there for the average to good player, especially on the par 5s.
Course conditions, which most resort players rank at the top of list in terms of importance, are superb, as you might expect of a golf course that charges $200 or more to play, and the staff here is extremely accommodating.
The clubhouse restaurant, Cayton's, offers a limited menu, but it's all good. And you'll enjoy the layout and locker room facilities of the 50,000-square-foot clubhouse. The Caddie Concierge program is also top-notch.
Forecaddies are required, and if the one we had when we played the course is indicative, they are very well-trained and helpful. You'll also get to enjoy the same great practice facilities the world's top players get during the Accenture Match Play.
There's a large range with excellent targets and perfect lies, a good chipping green with varied lies around it, practice bunkers and two large putting greens. Lessons are also available from the professional staff, including Head Professional Jeff McCormick, who used to be at Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami.
By this fall, the Ritz-Carlton's new hotel and spa should be open, so stay-and-play packages will be available. In the meantime, however, the public is invited to play the course on a limited basis.
April 13, 2009