Rancho Manana Golf Club

By Michael Hegarty, Contributor

CAVE CREEK, AZ - In the Valley's rapidly-exploding development that is swallowing up the desert, Rancho Manana Golf Club is well-known for preserving the natural environment of the High Sonoran Desert.

Few homes are scattered about the course located 50 minutes north of Sky Harbor airport. Wildlife, in the form of coyotes, rabbits and snakes, roam free. Vegetation is abundant, in the native cacti and brush, as well as transplanted palm trees and cottonwoods that feed off Cave Creek and its tributaries.

Elevated holes present panoramic views of all of this in tranquil, peacefulness as countless mountains - from Black Mountain across the street, to Camelback to Superstition to Mummy to Squaw Peak to Lookout Mountain - provide a magnificent backdrop in every direction.

"The sheer beauty is what everybody talks out," says Director of Golf Andy Short.

While it's easy to get lost in the scenery (many golf balls do), Rancho Manana is more than just a pretty face; there's plenty of substance behind Bill Johnston's 1987 design.

Although just 6,004 yards from the back tees (5,407 from the men's), the length for longer hitters is substituted by placing a premium on accuracy - off the tee as well as on approach shots. This form of distance and shot-making makes the course enticing for all levels of golfers on the par-70 course with green fees that range from $130 in the season, to as low as $25 in the summer.

"Since it's not that long, it's appealing enough for lower handicappers to be challenging," Short said. "For higher handicappers, it's not to overpowering."

The length of the course doesn't mean you should leave your driver at home, just know when to play conservatively and when to let it rip.

"There are areas where you need to air it out," Short said, especially the par-5s that are all reachable with a safe drive. Yet he adds: "anything that keeps the ball in play is helpful."

Tight fairways, thick desert terrain, elevated greens and water on a group of holes provide enough incentive to play smart off the tee. Besides, the undulating greens are tricky enough to hit out of the fairway - let alone a desert bush on the rocky native floor. Many of the putting surfaces are surrounded by steep, rolling banks that can dump shots hit just off-center, rolling through the grass, rocks and desert.

And with more than $6 million in renovations since 1994, when the current owners bought Rancho Manana - from bulldozing the course, reshaping the greens, adding more vegetation, to extending the clubhouse to "making the course more playable," according to Short - there is little left that keeps the course from being all that they want it to be.

That's why it's a good idea for those making their maiden round (and even those who have been around before), to take a moment before teeing off on each hole to read the helpful hints on the back of the scorecard.

Notice on the first hole, the capital lettering: DON'T GO LEFT OFF THE TEE. Once you see the thick Andora Wash that runs the length of the 398-yard par-4, you'll understand the less than subtle lettering (that is repeated on many holes and applies to most of them). Besides, you have the 18th fairway to use if you knock your tee shot right; left, and you're off to a costly start.

The third hole looks narrow from the tee box, with cacti lining the right side of the fairway off the hillside that slopes left to a massive wash. However, the farther you hit the tee shot, the wider the fairway becomes on this 374-yard (329 from the men's) par-4. An elevated tee sends all shots hit short rolling back down the fairway.

No. 4 is the top rated hole and a true challenge with a steep wash that bisects the fairway 190 yards off the tee. The approach shot is all uphill with the right side opening up to a beautiful view of Cave Creek below as the next couple of holes work their way up the side of a mountain.

The first par-5, No. 6, is also the shortest. It's easy to reach the slight dogleg left in two, at 465 yards from the back (422 up one), but any shots hit too far left could roll down the mountain nearly all the way to the clubhouse (trust me, it can happen).

Holes seven and nine are par-3s pushing 200 yards on the scorecard (172 and 167 from the men's respectively) but the club selection is reduced a couple thanks to the 150 foot drop on both holes.

With a par of 34 (just one par-5 to three short holes) on the front side, the back nine comes in at 36 with a trio of par-3s, 4s, and 5s. It's most notable feature are the lakes that come into play on holes 13-15 complete with palm trees to provide, as Short says, "a resort flare." Water also makes an appearance on 17 and 18.

No. 13 offers three lakes on the right side that are reachable off the tee on the 384-yard par-4 (310 from the men's). Play it left, although watch out for the wash on the far side. The next one is a short par-3 (148 from the back, 131 from the men's) with OB left and water right. Water comes into play all along the right side of No. 15, a 377-yard par-4 (333 from the men's).

One of the most intriguing holes is No. 16, a par-5 that doglegs left enough to form a semi-circle. But you can't cut too much off the corner as the Galloway Wash runs the whole length of the right side. It's thick with a wide variety of vegetation and reminiscent of an Eastern course, until you notice tall cacti dotting the desert behind the cottonwood and other trees that flourish along the river. But you're still in Arizona and this gem is just another example of the exquisite beauty that surrounds Rancho Manana Golf Club.

Par-70 Blue tees: 6,004 yards;
rating/slope: 67.8/125
White tees: 5,407 yards; 64.8/115
Red tees: 4,436 yards; 65.2/114

Tonto's Bar and Grill: This restaurant at Rancho Manana's is not just considered by locals as the best eatery in Cave Creek, but annually receives the accolades as the state's best golf restaurant. Contemporary American dishes - and beverages - are served in a historic setting on the southwestern ridge of the Tonto National Forest.

Michael Hegarty, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Rancho Manana Review

    Dan Van Keuren wrote on: Feb 19, 2010

    Play this course. It's never crowded, always affordable, it's very fair, you can score well if you can hit it straight, and good shots are rewarded. It's a lot of fun as no two holes are the same, and it will test every club in your bag. Bring an extra sleeve of balls if you can't control your slice, and putt carefully, but this is a very fun and enjoyable course that you can play in less than 4 hours, have a great time, meet nice people, have money left in your wallet, enjoy a great lunch & beer, and you'll come back again and again.