Sedona's Oak Creek Canyon
SEDONA, Ariz. - Robert Trent Jones has made his mark in Arizona - both in the southeastern corner of the state with his classic Rio Rico design, and in the northern reaches of the state amongst the red rocks of Sedona at Oakcreek Country Club.
Jones' traditional layout at Oakcreek is widely recognized among Arizona natives as one of the must plays in the northern part of the state. The course opened in 1967, but the way that Jones routed the front nine through the breathtaking red rocks of Oakcreek, you could swear that the course just came with the territory.
Head Professional Gary Pearce has always been an admirer of the course, and describes it's features with the passion that only a true student of course design could muster.
"We have always considered Oakcreek a real traditional layout," says Pearce. "We have tree-lined fairways and greenside bunkers - many of the elements you find in a classic layout. I think the course is similar to the Phoenix Country Club, or a course of that type. Even though it is traditional, the red rocks make the course breathtaking and kind of give it a modern feel. It is not a really long course as it only plays about 6824 from the tips."
Yea, not a really long course if you're a golf pro. Many courses in Arizona present golfers with two distinctly different sets of nines - a sure fire way to provide players with a two course for the price of one experience. A disparity in nines is a signature feature of Robert Trent Jones' course design, and Oakcreek's premier nines provide two markedly different playing experiences.
"The front nine is more scenic," says Pearce. "When you play the front you have more view of the red rocks, and on the back you are away from the rocks. As far as the design, they are similar, but the front is more scenic. There are a number of houses that dot the fairways of the back nine."
But don't let the beauty of the front nine lull you into a "time to make the donuts" like trance. Instead, think of the red rocks as harsh reminders of the challenges that lie ahead. Pearce warns, "About seven months ago we had the AGA re-rate our course handicapping. The back nine plays a tougher than the front nine, about a stroke."
One of Jones most prominent design features, as carried on today by his son Robert Trent Jones Jr., is the concept of risk/reward hole routing. True to form, Oakcreek offers almost two different ways to play each hole - both standard and heroic.
"When you stand on the tee box and look out on the fairway, there is an obvious risk/reward opportunity on every hole," adds Pearce. "If you play the holes how they are designed, you can play it safe, but there is always another route.
But Oakcreek possess a few other Jones design flares that are not as commonly recognized as the risk/reward concept.
"All his (Jones) greens are elevated and there are long runway tee boxes on most of the holes," says Pearce. "We modified our bunkers in the late 1980's, and took out some steep faced bunkers. Right now we are working with an architect from Trent Jones, Inc. to make some improvements to the course."
Improving upon Jones masterpiece at Oakcreek and the challenge of golf it presents may be the biggest challenge that lay ahead for Pearce and his crew.