Longbow gets a new look, but some wonder if it's any better

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

MESA, Ariz. - It's another hair-straightening, lip-cracking summer day in the East Valley as Ken Kavanaugh tries to muster up a description of the new-look Longbow Golf Club. The club's new owners, Daedalus Real Estate Advisors, brought in Kavanaugh to redesign the course last year. The course reopened in the fall of 2003 following a $5 million renovation that included the reconfiguration of all 18 holes, the addition of 25 acres and 253 yards.

"You could say it is a longer, wider bow," the Tucson-based golf course architect says.

Kavanaugh's first crack at Longbow came in 1996 when McDonald Douglas hired him to shoe horn a desert target style layout into a 140-acre site next to its Apache helicopter plant. The original recipe Longbow was a compressed collection of quirky holes lined by thick strands of desert scrub. The new Longbow (L2 if you will) is a modern 7,000-yard golf ball buster with plenty of lush Bermuda grass and landscaped waste areas between holes.

"This is the only project I have been involved with or know of where you just don't recognize the course at all from before," Kavanaugh says.

The question many are asking, though, is whether the redesigned course is any better than the original?

"Probably depends on who you ask," chuckles Kavanaugh. "I'd say it is a better golf course for the majority of players."

He is not the type to toot his own horn. To whit, Kavanaugh says some of his single-digit handicap buddies and even a few guys in the proshop preferred the tight routing and strategic shot values of the old Longbow. He also is the first to admit that he'd like a mulligan on the relatively benign 369-yard par-4 eighth.

"It needs more strategy off the tee and that could be accomplished by bringing the bunker on the left into play," he says.

If it sounds like Kavanaugh is being a bit hard on himself, he is. The new Longbow is a welcome addition to the mid-level Mesa market and is a layout that could easily command a triple-digit green fee if situated in swanky Scottsdale. Instead, the going rate for 18 holes and a cart in the summer months is $45 and $75 during the peak winter season - just a $5 increase from the bow of old.

The project also included the construction of a new, desert chic clubhouse and a spacious new practice range. The Arizona Republic went so far as to name Longbow's outdoor patio one of the best 19th holes in the Valley. All of these new bells and whistles appear to be a hit with the "golfing majority" - Daedalus' target audience.

"I'd estimate that 99 percent of the golfers we've polled, formally and informally like it better," says assistant professional Justin Furat. "We used comment cards and we are constantly seeking feedback from word of mouth. Honestly, I like the old layout better. But high handicappers like this set up much, much more."

On this particular day, a large group of local roofers had assembled in the clubhouse after a morning scramble. An informal survey revealed the group's average handicap (high) and Longbow preference (new). Talking to Kavanaugh, it is obvious he internalized this struggle between the pleasures of the low handicapper and the needs of the average golfer. Moreover, the notion of bulldozing a course he completed just six years ago was the cause of some initial trepidation.

Once he bought into the concept, though, Kavanaugh apparently approached the project like Bobby Fisher measuring up a chess board. Holes were re-routed, redesigned and pieced together in an almost savant like fashion. The original front nine is gone almost in its entirety, the exception being the 451-yard par-4 opening hole. Five holes on the back nine are new, and the four that remain from the first bow have new numbers.

Golfers familiar with the old course will recognize the 168-yard par-3 16th as the original 17th hole. And reports of deja vu induced madness have been linked to the 429-yard 13th, the original 18th hole. The new 18th hole, a 474-yard par-4 that usually plays downwind, is the most shocking display of "wider" bow. The fairway is at least 80-yards across - a veritable sea of green that would have never fit into the old bow scheme.

The Verdict

The new Longbow is an aesthetic triumph over the original. Whether or not the overall design is better is a matter of some debate between low and high handicappers. Thing is - it shouldn't be. Those who pine for the days of the old bow must not remember teeing the ball high, letting it fly and having the stiff desert wind wisp it into the unconquerable desert scrub. And those who lament the shot values of yesteryear must have skipped holes like clever par-3 7th, a classic, 224-yard Redan hole that demands a laser like tee shot to the right side of the green. What you don't get at Longbow - new or old - are sexy surroundings. The course is still located in the flight path of Falcon Field airport and the nearest neighbor is an industrial park.

Stay and play

The Mesa golf scene is on the up and up. But Phoenix and Scottsdale are still home to the Valley's best accommodations The Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs is a 30-minute drive from Longbow via the 202 and 51 freeways. The Mediterranean style resort tumbles down the cliffs north of the city, making for a cocktail sipping background that's hard to beat. The resort houses an 18-hole resort track, Lookout Mountain Golf Club, that's perfect for an afternoon money match. Don't miss the live jazz at the decidedly sheik Different Pointe of View restaurant, located atop the resort. For reservations or more information on package deals, call (800) 947-9784 or log on to www.pointehilton.com.

Longbow a hit with locals, traveling golfers to follow?

MESA, Ariz. - Longbow Golf Club - in both its original and new forms - has always been a hit with locals. Its location (nearly 20 miles southeast of burgeoning North Scottsdale) has kept it off the radar of many traveling golfers, according to local packagers.

"It a little off the beaten path," says Alex Isaac of Arizona Golf Packages.

Isaacs says only a handful of clients have requested Longbow in their packages, but added that inquiries should rise as cooler weather sets in this fall and word of the redesign spreads.

"It's just that it is really hot there now and most of our clients are after the usual Scottsdale suspects because they are more affordable in the summer," Isaac says.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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