Longbow Golf Club: Golf With the Occasional Fly-by

By Ray Bangs, Contributor

Chip Shot: If you're looking for a scenic and playable desert course at a very reasonable rate, Longbow Golf Club is the perfect choice. Spectacular mountain views and desert landscaping, with no housing developments, make this walkable 18-hole championship course an enjoyable desert golf experience.

MESA, AZ - While most know that Arizona is one of golf's most popular destinations, few realize that the flying conditions in the Grand Canyon State attracts air aficionados as well. From soaring, ballooning, and skydiving statewide, to the German airline, Lufthansa, hosting its pilot-training program in Goodyear (near Phoenix), Arizona air is world famous. Longbow Golf Club is a unique opportunity to combine the two; it's situated right next door to Boeing.

Longbow recently opened in November of 1997, its name paying homage to the elite AH-64D Longbow Apache, the creation of Boeing Helicopter Systems. The name matches well both the chopper and the course since the longbow is also known in archery circles as Robin Hood's weapon of choice, inspiring distance and accuracy. If either one, or hopefully both, bless your golf game, you will fare well at this target layout in the East Valley. As an added bonus (in more ways than one), you'll see all sorts of aircraft during your round. Classic planes, privately owned Cessna's, and cutting-edge technology helicopters create a spectacular show. Plus, while some say it's a distraction, I believe it's a great excuse if you find your desert game not up to par.

Next, imagine a course with no housing developments. For many golfers (including me), the chance of your ball landing in somebody's pool or going through a house or car window just creates added pressure that would rather be avoided if possible. Longbow Golf Club has no homes lining the fairways-it was built right in the middle of the Sonoran desert. Set in the shadow of Red Mountain, this challenging, yet manageable layout with four tee boxes, offers golfers of every caliber an opportunity to score. Even if your card gets tossed or burned immediately afterwards, you'll not soon forget the fantastic scenery.

Acclaimed designer Ken Kavanaugh made full use of the natural surroundings to create this desert track. The only drawback.although he didn't put too many bunkers in, he made them too darn big and went especially overboard on a few. With the sandy desert just waiting to snag less-than-perfect tee shots, factor in the bunkers and several holes become gigantic sandtraps. Of course, many people see this as a challenge rather than a drawback, but I'd imagine those are also the golfers who don't find the sand as much as yours truly.

Despite the warning of the starter, I fired straight for the pin on the first green. Mistake number one of the round as I was chipping from the far rough. I soon realized that Kavanaugh also showed his sadistic side with the contoured greens that are as tough to stick as if they were desert shale. But to everyone's credit, the putting surface is remarkably true. The breaks don't stray towards the mountain, or away from the mountain, or perpendicularly to, or whatever you've experienced elsewhere.at Longbow, what you see is what you get.

While lining up my long par-saving putt, a rumbling suddenly was upon us. I immediately looked up and directly overhead, at no more than 750 feet, was a classic World War II bomber called the B-25 "Mitchell". Well, I missed my putt, but at least the fly-by was a great excuse.

With hundreds of golf course choices in Arizona, one of Longbow's draws (pun intended) is the very reasonable greens fees. The peak season prices top out at $85, which for the Phoenix area, is comparable to many courses' summer rates. Hot-weather golfers will be especially pleased to find the cost as low as $35. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better value. Even in the summer, the course is in top-notch condition. Head Golf Professional, Jay Larscheid, credits the surprisingly superb state of the course to the Longbow crew. "We really try to stay on top of it in the summer and we're pleased with the results. This makes it a lot easier to get the course into top form for the peak season."

There are several patches where the grass is not a perfectly lush, emerald green, but even the summer sun-dried areas play well. Definitely a lot better than the desert scrub and washes, which with an errant shot, can come into play on every hole. Whether you shoot a longbow or not off the tee, distance takes a back seat to accuracy.

Before you set out and find yourself in the wasteland from an errant shot, be sure to ask someone to point out the teddy-bear cholla, affectionately named for their soft, fuzzy appearance. Those unfamiliar with this desert cactus usually don't know about its other nickname is jumping cholla. If you get too close, you'll learn why quickly enough-they seem to jump at you. Picking out cholla spines is never fun and always painful - a great way to ruin a round.

If you are a golfer who likes to walk, Longbow is for you. Instead of the dramatic elevation changes that a professional mountaineer would be wheezing from, Longbow features a much gentler, rolling terrain. Although only par 70, the course plays longer and tougher at times. The seemingly never-ending 489-yard 5th hole even exceeds the USGA length of 480 yards for a par four. Luckily, the back nine is quite a bit tamer, with great views of the McDowell and Superstition Mountains; Red Mountain seems close enough to touch.

The toughest handicap hole on the course in the 8th, a long par five with a 90-degree dogleg left. Hit it with all your might just to reach the landing area, but don't try to cut the corner. A sinkhole-sized sandtrap will more likely than not make you wish you hadn't been so aggressive. Even with a monster drive, long-hitters still have their work cut out for them to reach the green. Try to stay right on your second shot so you can play at least a little roll on your approach, but again, there's a strategically placed bunker to thwart your efforts. Better to leave it short if you are still some distance to the putting surface on shot three. Funky grass depressions, as well as two bunkers, guard this slender green carefully.

While every hole could be considered a signature hole, one stands a little higher than the rest. Kavanaugh must have had some spare sand to use up, because he decided to create a beach-like bunker to surround most of the 16th green. Interestingly though, you don't get the amazing views of the beach while playing the 16th, so make sure to look west across the water while on the 9th hole. With the lake in the immediate foreground, then the beach, the meticulously groomed green, miles of desert, and a horizon of mountains, the signature view is truly spectacular. Hit your approach shot on hole 16 too stiff or miss your mark left, you'll be storming the beaches, and if you're lucky, with an overhead fly-by. Longbow is subtle, yet exciting golf.

Just when you think the adventure is over, hole 17 welcomes you with quite possibly the world's largest trap. Three pot bunkers surround this short par three, but the huge expanse of sandy desert between you and the green can thoroughly confuse your concentration. Hopefully, if you do miss badly, an Apache helicopter will be there to distract you. Even if it's a little late, the occasional fly-by is always a good excuse.

Driving Directions: From Phoenix, follow US 60 east to Higley Road. Turn north (left) to McDowell Road. You'll see the sign at the intersection. Turn right on McDowell, Longbow Golf Club is the first left. The entrance is tough to see.

Course Stats
"The Tips": 71.8/128/6,750
Championship Tees: 68.6/122/6,222
Regular Tees: 65.7/113/5,626
Forward Tees: 67.1/109/4,890
Par: 70

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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