Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club: No Membership Required

By Ray Bangs, Contributor

Chip Shot: Just north of Phoenix, in an area normally known for its pricey private courses, golfers will find the spectacularly scenic Dove Valley Ranch, as close to a country club as public courses get. Throw in a one-of-a-kind saloon stop and you've got a day to tell the grandkids about.

CAVE CREEK, AZ - With our tee time set for early afternoon, I convinced my compadre to skip work altogether and join me for a pre-golf lunch of appetizers and suds at Crazy Ed's Satisfied Frog Saloon. He balked, but I promised him a day to remember. Besides, I reasoned, we'd need some sustenance before playing Dove Valley Ranch. When you're planning your day around golf, you know you're going to have a great day, but when you're planning your golf around beer, even better.

Entering the Frog, my mouth was already starting to water. "We'll take two bottles of chili beer and two fried green chili appetizers," I ordered after sitting down. My panic-stricken pal started to object to the promise of future fire-mouth, but I waved off the server with a smile and quickly assured Dave in my best Rastafarian accent. "No worries mon!"

The wonderfully unique Crazy Ed's Cave Creek Chili Beer has a small chili pepper in the bottle, not unlike the worm you might find in a bottle of tequila. Unlike the worm however, which, before modern technology, was actually used to determine if the tequila was toxic, I can't help but think Crazy Ed had other plans with his spicy swill. With that first fiery sip, my taste buds snapped to attention. Toxically delicious! After finishing the bottle (Dave had two!) and the fried chilies, the warm fuzzies of the capsaicin buzz reminded me it was time to play some golf.

We hustled over to Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club and with a gracious welcome, were shuffled off to the practice tee. I normally go through a vigorous warm-up session, but Crazy Ed's answer to firewater had gotten me at least halfway there. Throw in a healthy dose of pristine desert beauty courtesy of Dove Valley Ranch and I couldn't help but be rearin' to go.

Arizona is blessed by dozens of courses only a few years old that, for most practical purposes, are incredible. Dove Valley Ranch is no exception. No matter how young a course is, it's especially hard to argue against it when you have Robert Trent Jones II to credit for designing the layout. Dove Valley Ranch opened for play in 1999 and ever since has been getting rave reviews from everybody who steps foot on the grounds. The classy, home-course feel is no accident - the staff takes pride in treating golfers right.

Renowned architect Robert Trent Jones II has nearly 200 courses to his credit, masterfully manipulating his designs to accommodate jungles, mountains, oceans, and even lava beds. His courses can be found on every continent except Antarctica, and his reputation alone brings a lot to the table.

Unlike some designers who seem to get thrills out of making their courses impossible for all but the golf gods, Jones Jr. has managed to blend Dove Valley Ranch into the perfect golf cocktail of challenge and playability, garnished with sweet scenery and an air of elegance. That being said, don't forget the sand wedge, because no matter how well you hit your approach shots, the bunker demons seem to reach up all too often. Bob sure loves his sand traps.

"This isn't just another golf course," says Robert Trent Jones, Jr. "This course is unsurpassed in natural beauty and play and will be rated among top golf and residential communities in the Western United States. It has been personally satisfying to see this beautiful course emerge from this magnificent desert setting."

Adding to the treasure chest of scenic panoramas, losing a Titleist to the desert can mean unexpected discoveries as well. As early as A.D. 300, the Hohokam people lived in the very same area where Dove Valley Ranch sits today. Known as the first farmers of the Southwest, the Hohokam used elaborate and ingenious methods of irrigation to channel monsoon rains to their crops. They disappeared in A.D. 1450, however, for reasons unknown. Five hundred years later, here in the shadow of Black Mountain, it's not entirely uncommon to stumble upon a clay pottery shard or piece from a primitive tool while searching for an errant drive. If you somehow manage to never find yourself in the desert, the clubhouse has a nice display of relics.

It's difficult to find any flaws in the Dove Valley Ranch operation. The bermuda grass fairways and light rough (overseeded with rye for the winter) are perfectly and pedantically manicured, and the greens, allowing the occasional scuff or ball mark, are far and away some of the best in the state. Keep in mind pin-placement on your approach shots to some of the healthier-sized putting surfaces, that is, of course, unless 80-footers are tap-ins for you.

Those visiting from other areas will be treated to magnificently lush surroundings of saguaro, ocotillo, palo verde and cholla, very common plants of the Sonoran desert. Rascally roadrunners and the occasional wily coyote provide entertainment in addition to the holes where your shot-making escapades would make for a good cartoon. Even for accomplished golfers, par is still an achievement.

Watch out on the signature second hole; at 447 yards, this tough par-four only gets tougher if you try to fly the water. Stay to the left and let the natural contour funnel your ball into good position. The back nine gets trickier as doglegs are added and the fun doesn't let up until you are safely on the 18th green; be especially wary of that nasty bunker on your final approach shot. Dave's otherwise decent round was ruined here.

Dove Valley Ranch is simply a great golf course year round. The summer rates are ridiculously low and high-season prices are better than most courses in this class. To complete an otherwise perfect day, spend a little time in neighboring Carefree, a town whose name matches the delight you are sure to experience there.

For extra credit, make it into a weekend and stay at the Carefree Conference Resort, which offers spacious rooms complete with private balconies for enjoying the views, not to mention a fitness center, botanical garden, heated pools, fine dining, and more to maximize your enjoyment. But really, what better name of a vacation destination. Imagine the envy when you tell your coworkers about how you spent your relaxing retreat in Carefree, Arizona!

As they start to teem with jealousy, you could really rub it in by talking about the fajitas you enjoyed at Crazy Ed's Satisfied Frog Saloon and all the fun you had there, but as they say, you catch more flies with honey. When you unveil a couple souvenir six-packs of Cave Creek Chili Beer, you'll be the most popular person in the office. Then again, maybe not.

Course Stats
Black Tees: 72.7/131/7011
Gold Tees: 69.6/120/6630
White Tees: 66.8/117/6138
Green Tees: 70.5/114/5337
Par: 72

Driving Directions: From Phoenix, follow I-17 north. Exit and turn right onto the Carefree Highway. Go seven miles to 48th Street and turn right. (48th Street becomes Black Mountain Parkway). Turn right onto Clubhouse Road.

Ray BangsRay Bangs, Contributor

In addition to being a frequent contributor to several publications, Ray Bangs is the author of "52 Great Weekend Escapes in Arizona." He is also the co-publisher and senior editor of Arizona Explorer Magazine, a regional publication focusing on active travel, leisure, and recreation. Ray's motto is simple. "If you're way too busy to go fishing and golfing once in a while, you're way too busy!"

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