Thursday, January 13, 2011

The grass may be greener...

The Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, host of the Accenture Match Play, has the greenest grass I have ever seen.  The emerald fairways are pristinely manicured, the greens look untouched, and the sand has descended straight from heaven.  The greens on the course contrasts sharply with the dry desert browns and greys of the desert off the course and the crystal clear blue Tucson sky above.  It looks like Nirvana.

Unfortunately it doesn't play that way.

While I have never played or on seen better conditions, I can only say that I was disappointed with my overall experience at Dove Mountain. 

With an 8 AM tee time I awoke before dawn.  In true southwestern spirit, I started the day with New Mexico coffee and a Breakfast Burrito.  A breakfast of champions. 

We arrived at the course about 40 minutes before our tee time and the parking lot was empty.  The complementary valet parking was a nice touch, so was the friendly staff handling our bags.  I was beaming.  It looked as if we would blow through our round without seeing a soul, save the occasional quail and roadrunner that frequent the Saguaro Cacti that line the course and the mountains above. 

Then the troubles began.  As we walked into the undersized proshop, I was surprised to see about a dozen grown men huddled around a small TV.  Sure it was still a wee bit nippy outside, but since when has that kept die hard golfers off the green? or the Range?  Oh, right, since there was a frost delay.

As we walked up to check in the staff informed us that the greenskeepers were still working on the course and that unfortunately it looked like there would be another hour to an hour and half wait before we could get out on the course.  No problem we said, why not have another cup of coffee and just relax a bit.  I am on vacation, no rush here.  "Where's the restaurant," we asked? 
The restaurant was closed.  No hot coffee for their cold delayed golfers.  We figured we would at least go have a seat in the clubhouse.  No luck there either.  Closed.  "You can't sit down because the restaurant is closed," they answered apologetically.  So, with no options left, my Dad and I just left to sit in the car, then drive around in circles for forty-five minutes.  When we return, the staff informed us, still apologetically, that we would have to still wait another 20 minutes before we could even hit balls and putt.  Thirty minutes later, we finally set foot on their precious grass.
Traffic jam at the practice area, 9 AM
The delay was understandable, but frustrating.  They do have arguably the best regular season PGA event coming up in about a month, so it only makes sense that us mortals should not be messing up the course for the real pros.  But the course staff was so matter of fact about it, and so-- I'm sorry i still can't think of a better word-- unapologetic, that it made the whole experience maddening.  Then, when we were finally allowed on their grass, the flood of golfers to the practice areas was like nothing I have ever seen.  Players were two deep on the range and there were three players putting to each hole.  It was crazy.

At 920 I walked up to a staff member and asked when our group would be going off.  We had an 8 AM tee time and it seemed as if we should have been one of the first groups off.  Oh, let me ask, he says.  He briefly walks away as his radio crackles, exchanges a few hushed words, and then returns to inform us that they are already waiting for us at the first tee.  They explain that we will be playing the "Tournament" course, which begins with the 9-hole Saguaro course and is followed by the 9-hole Tortolita course.

As we make our way over to Hole #1, my anxiety is beginning to melt away.  We briefly discuss the course with the Starter and decide that the 6,811 yard, 134 slope Copper tees are the right ones for me.  I tee up, take a deep breath, take a little waggle, and hit a straight ball right at the bunker the starter told me to aim at.  My ball draws a bit instead of fades, but hey, you cant ask for everything to go right on the first tee, right?  When we get out to the first fairway my ball is nowhere to be found.  The anxiety returns as I realize that my 10 yard draw probably made my ball careen off a small hill and off into the desert abyss.  Damn.  I didn't really need to start with a double bogey today...

It took a few holes but I managed to turn it around by the par five fifth.  The hole was a 535 yard, double dog leg that was protected by desert oasis's on either side of the fairway.  With little rough to slow errant shots, placement and distance control was at a premium.  In the thin 3,000 foot air, I was already struggling with my distance control, so after a drive that found the fairway, I opted to hit an iron to a safe spot at about 80 yards out.  It was a good call.  A pitch, a putt and a tap in later, I was safely in with my first par of the day.

Leading up to the round, I had read that the greens are the only defenses for this course.  That the subtle, hard to read undulations made precision putting difficult.  While this was true (I missed about a dozen 5-10 footers by an inch or so...) I didn't really think they were all that hard.  Yes, a ball occasionally broke left that I expected to go right, but the greens were so consistent that this didn't matter.  The speed of the Dove Mountain Greens were remarkably consistent which really helped build consistency and confidence. 

The highlight of the day came on the par 5 eighth hole on the Saguaro course.  The long dogleg right is punctuated by a dry wash along the right hand side that crosses the fairway at about 285-300, depending on your line.  From the teebox, the fairway in front of you is obscured  by a set of three massive bunkers, leaving a player who has never played the hole without a good target line.  I stepped up and pushed my drive a bit to the right and saw it land and take a big hop in the wash to the right.  It took a while but I was able to find my ball sitting up nicely at about 220 yards out from the green.  The line was yet again obscured by a set of bunkers that crossed the fairway about 20 yards from the green.  I figured that I was lucky enough to find my ball, so why no push the luck a little further?  I grabbed my 3 hybrid and tattooed the ball straight at the pin.  The ball landed just over the bunker and rolled up to 15 feet.  Although I missed the putt for my first-ever eagle, I did have an nice 3 inch putt for my first birdie of the day.

When we made the turn to the Tortolita side, I felt the scenery improved.  The mountains that were once in the background were now pressing up closer to the course.  The massive 30 foot cacti remained a constant, but the homes and washes were replaced by orange and rose colored boulders and foothills. 

I played much better on the back nine, improving my score by four strokes, but as I approached the finish I couldn't help but feel that there was something missing.  Yes, that's right, I'm telling you that before I even finished this course I knew it had not met my expectations.  What stands out now is that there was not a single shot which required me to take an elevation change into account.  It was flatter than flat.  And given the fact that this course is literally abutting a picturesque mountain range, I think this is entirely unacceptable.  The course even lacked elevated tee boxes that would showcase the extraordinary settings of the course. 

Frankly, I think course designer Jack Nicholas really missed an opportunity to make this course spectacular.  The greens and conditions did make up for a lot of his lack of insight and poor design, but it could only make up for so much.  In the end, it turns out, you cant hide a boring course with great conditions.

Grizzly Golfer Rating:  8/10

1 comment:

  1. I agree. The next door Gallery Course is much more picturesque and challenging.