Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain near Tucson: The pros' match play course is fun for everyone

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

MARANA, Ariz. -- Jack Nicklaus designed the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain for match play, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy it for a casual round of golf.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain - Tortolita - hole 6
The sixth hole on the Tortolita course at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain is a drivable par 4 by the PGA Tour pros.
Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain - Tortolita - hole 6Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain - Wild Burro course - No. 5Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain - Saguaro - hole 9
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The Golf Club at Dove Mountain - Saguaro/Tortolita

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The Golf Club at Dove Mountain features 27 challenging holes that are played in three different 18-hole combinations. The Saguaro/Tortolita golf course is naturally named after its beautiful landscape of centuries-old Saguaro cacti nestled at the base of the Tortolita Mountain Range.

18 Holes | Private/Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 7849 yards | Book online | ... details »

The Golf Club at Dove Mountain - Tortolita/Wild Burro

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The desert foothills of the Tortolita Mountain Range provide the stunning backdrop for the three nines designed by Jack Nicklaus at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain. They are played in three different 18-hole combinations, one of them being Tortolita/Wild Burro.

18 Holes | Private/Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 7852 yards | Book online | ... details »

The Golf Club at Dove Mountain - Wild Burro/Saguaro

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Nestled in the desert foothills of the Tortolita Mountain Range, the 27 holes at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain feature dramatic elevation changes and stunning views. The Wild Burro/Saguaro golf course combines Nicklaus' favorite nine, Wild Burro, with the front nine of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

18 Holes | Private/Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 7791 yards | Book online | ... details »

With PGA Tour-like conditions, first-class service and top-of-the-line practice facilities, clubhouse and dining options, the 27-hole Ritz-Carlton Golf Club is a treat for anyone looking for a premium golf experience. Plus, there are six sets of tees, so you don't have to play it at 7,800 yards; just pick a comfortable distance.

From the beginning, Nicklaus knew he would be crafting at least 18 of the 27 holes for the best players in the world. Since 2009, the Saguaro and Tortolita nines at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club have played host to the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play, which pits the top 64 available players in the world in a big-money match play week.

It is perhaps, for that reason, that Nicklaus says the other nine on the course, the Wild Burro nine, is his favorite of the three layouts. And plans call for another nine holes to eventually bring the resort to 36 holes.

What makes a good match play course?

Difficult greens, risk-reward holes such as drivable par 4s and great short-game tests make for match play intrigue. The 18 holes used for the WGC-Accenture Match Play have all of that.

The slick greens have plenty of slope. And even if a player can reach a long par 5 in two, the resulting short shot around the greens – or even a long putt – could be so difficult that birdie was often more difficult closer to the hole than it was for players who laid back for a full wedge. Basically, Nicklaus wanted players to have to think about each shot before pulling a club.

But because of early criticism, the Golden Bear made a few tweaks to soften some of the greens and reposition some bunkers after the first year, and now the course has grown on many of the players. Paul Casey, for example, who finished second in 2010, said it was a great match play course, but he wouldn't want to compete in medal play there.

Nicklaus' mixture of long and short holes – particularly the par 4s – makes for an intriguing test. Long hitters can, for example, attempt to drive the green on the short, par-4 sixth hole of the Tortolita course 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.

Tortolita's sixth hole plays as the 15th in the tournament, and it is the beginning of a dramatic finishing stretch. It's followed by a par 3 of more than 200 yards with pin positions that will even have the world's best players firing to the safe side. The 17th is a long par 4 with a difficult green that Nicklaus softened after year one. And the 18th, a risk-reward dogleg right with severe fairway bunkers, ranks as the best on the golf course.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Club is desert beauty

However difficult the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club can be, however, there's no denying its aesthetics. Perfect bentgrass greens, the Tortolita Mountains in the background and large saguaro cacti as far as the eye can see produce some of the best desert scenery in the United States. There's also 700 feet of elevation change throughout the course.

And while the first two nines are superb match play tests, the Wild Burro nine is simply a well laid-out resort course – still difficult, but perhaps a little more playable. On Wild Burro, you'll find a large lake, perhaps greens that are little flatter, but still plenty of length.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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