Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain near Tucson: Truly ideal for match play
MARANA, Ariz. – Watch the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on television, and it's obvious that Jack Nicklaus accomplished one of his major goals when he designed the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain.
Nicklaus said he built the Tucson-area golf course specifically for match play. And it has, indeed, made for some interesting matches.
The WGC event, which features the top 64 available players in the world, is played on the Saguaro and Tortolita nines, a par 72 that measure 7,833 yards from the tips.
In all, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club includes 27 holes.
Nicklaus did his best to create options, the intent of match play. Go for a par 5 in two and even if you hit the green, you might not own an advantage over an opponent who chooses to lay up with a wedge. Many times with Nicklaus' sloped greens, it’s easier to get up and down than to two-putt.
In fact, those greens might have been a bit too severe at first for the world's best players, whose complaints spurred some changes after the first year in 2009. And even Nicklaus, reluctant initially to make some of the changes, admitted that the golf course probably improved in 2010. He said he thought it would soon become a favorite among tour players.
Ritz-Carlton Golf Club's match-play attributes
Difficult greens can make for an interesting match, but the Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain includes some other solid, risk-reward features – another key attribute to a good match-play golf course.
Nicklaus' mixture of long and short holes – particularly the par 4s – makes an intriguing experience of this Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. When they shorten the par-4 15th, long hitters can attempt to drive the green for a good chance at birdie and maybe eagle. That move, though, comes with plenty of risk as the hole narrows, meaning anything over-cooked, right or left, can sail into the desert. And playing out of the desert is almost always bad.
Meanwhile, a golfer like Tim Clark, who patiently plods along, has a better chance at birdie than most long hitters who attempt to drive the green. Clark knows he can lay up on a 300-yard hole and rely on his superior wedge game.
The golf course also presents an outstanding short-game test, critical in match play. Miss a green at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and you can face some pretty intense wedge challenges, especially with tough pin positions.
In many cases, a chip, pitch or bunker shot around the green provides an exercise in risk-reward. Miss the shot by short distance and you may be forced to do it all over again from the same spot – or on the other side of the green. Conservative pitches or chips are often just as important as conservative play off the tee.
Ritz-Carlton Golf Club's good match-play finishing stretch
While the golf course offers a good test from the get-go, the last four holes, whether it’s the Accenture Match Play or just a game with your buddies, really offers drama.
At the aforementioned 15th, many handicap players can’t drive the green, but it still poses a risk-reward decision. Take it over the wash, a little more than 120 yards from the green, or not?
Lay up short an and you likely face a shot of more than 150 yards to a severely sloping green, guarded well by bunkers. Clear the wash, and it's presumably an easy wedge for the birdie opportunity.
A par 3 of more than 200 yards awaits at the 16th, with some pin positions at which the world’s best players shouldn't take aim. Some of the back flag locations, as well as the front, are difficult to access on this firm, undulated green.
Again, short game is king when you miss.
The 17th ranked among the holes that got the most attention after the first year of the Accenture Match Play. Officials have since softened the green – in addition to the putting surface at No.18 – and added a bunker to front right that helps prevent shots from running into the desert.
An extremely large bunker on the right side of the fairway makes more difficult the task to keep a tee shot in good position on this long, par 4.
And finally, the finishing hole arguably ranks as the best on the golf course.
The long, dogleg right provides an excellent risk-reward opportunity off the tee. Treacherous bunkers loom to the right of the fairway. Carry the bunkers and you'll be in perfect shape. But if you land in one, good luck finding the green while dealing with iffy lies out of the deep, high-lipped traps. Plus, the green, still some 150 to 180 yards away, sits across a wash.
The safe shot on the 18th? Lay up short of the bunkers. Even then, the approach over the wash into a two-tiered, difficult green offers no bargain from more than 180 yards.
Ritz-Carlton Golf Club: The verdict
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And to some, every hole here may appear similar - one typical desert target after another.
But I believe Nicklaus created a truly memorable golf course. The more you play it, the more you'll appreciate the greens and the many different ways to attack the holes.
One player in my group probably put it best.
"It's not my favorite golf course of all time,” he said, “but I would never turn down an opportunity to play it."
As a PGA Tour golf course, it stays in incredible shape - at least as long as rye grass and bentgrass greens grow in the Sonoran desert. And there’s first-rate scenery, especially if you appreciate the beauty of the Southwest, with its giant saguaros, the surrounding Tortolita Mountain Range and 700 feet of elevation change.
Five sets of tees challenge every level of player. The facility includes a tremendous clubhouse and great practice facilities, expected at a tour-level golf course. Lessons are also available from the excellent PGA staff.
Stay and play at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club
For the complete Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain experience, book a golf package at the Ritz-Carlton resort and spa - just a short shuttle ride from the golf course on the same, 850-acre property.
Arguably one of the finest properties in the Ritz-Carlton system, the resort, which opened in late 2009, offers super gourmet dining, state-the-art guestrooms and suites and a world-class spa that blends with its desert surroundings.
February 19, 2010