Way out yonder on Outlaw Nicklaus creates a stiff test

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Outlaw sounds like the perfect name for a golf course in Arizona - especially the 18 holes newly opened at the Desert Mountain Club in North Scottsdale.

This is the sixth Jack Nicklaus course to be built at this luxury housing development/private golf club in far North Scottsdale since the first, Renegade, opened in 1987. The complex at Desert Mountain was the brainchild of developer Lyle Anderson, who also built Superstition Mountain south of Phoenix. Working together, Anderson and Nicklaus are often credited with having "created" the modern concept of desert target-golf in the courses they built in Scottsdale.

But Outlaw is a little different from its fellow courses. For one thing, there won't be a batch of mini-mansions overlooking this course because much of the surrounding land is part of the Tonto National Forest. As you play here, you truly feel out yonder encircled by incredible mountains - Four Peaks, Pinnacle Peak and even the Superstitions way to the south.

For another, Nicklaus wanted to create a unique course for this 176-acre site and what he and his design firm came up with is a links-style course, filled with bumps and moguls, some wicked greens and 126 bunkers. "This was a real labor of love for Lyle and Jack," said Jon Underwood, president of Desert Mountain Properties. "They really wanted to do something different and they wanted to create a course that the low- or the high-handicapper could enjoy.".

Nicklaus made more than his average number of visits to the site during construction, according to Underwood, to ensure that each greens complex turned out just the way he wanted it to be. He even swapped a couple of holes to guarantee a smooth flow for the layout.

When this development started out in the mid-1980s, the original plan was to build only three courses. Outlaw probably will be the last, Underwood said. In order to build this course, in fact, Desert Mountain had to help pay for a new pipeline bringing in water from west of Phoenix.

When the first Desert Mountain course was built, some public play was allowed. Sadly, that is no more. Only members, who will eventually number about 400 per course, can play on these courses; member-guests are allowed, but no reciprocal players from other private clubs. "We're within a couple hundred of our membership limit," Underwood said.

You have to own a home or lot at Desert Mountain to join the club. The initiation fee is $225,000 and is supposed to go up soon. The maximum number of homes to be built around the courses is 2,665 at this 8,000-acre development. Call (800) 255-5519 or (480) 488-2998 for information.

Gallery introduces its new South Course.

One private Arizona club that does allow some public play has opened its second championship course. The South Course opened this month at the Gallery Golf Club in Marana, in the Dove Mountain area, about 25 miles north of Tucson.

The original North Course, built in 1998, was a joint effort between PGA player Tom Lehman and architect John Fought. The two are now doing less work together because of Lehman's other commitments, and Fought did the South Course by himself. Fought is a former PGA Tour player who began his design career by working with Bob Cupp on Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, Big Sky in British Columbia, and Crosswater in Sunriver, Ore.

Both courses are set amid saguaros, ironwood, mesquite and palo verde. The layouts have a desert feeling, but the fairways are wider and more generous than on some desert courses.

The North Course (par-72 and 7,435 yards) was nominated for Golf Digest's Best New Course of 1999 honors. Its par-5 No. 9 was named one of the world's greatest 500 golf holes by the editors of Golf Magazine this year.

Fought says he modeled the greens on the South Course (par-72 and 7,126 yards) after the turtlebacks at Pinehurst No. 2. He also made an effort to emphasize the need for a good short game. "The course brings chipping and shotmaking back into the game," he said.

This is a spectacular area for golf at 3,000 feet of elevation in the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains. There are thousands of acres of preserved public land nearby, but they are building a lot of homes here - about 6,000 to 6,500 in the Dove Mountain area as a whole.

There are limited tee times available here for public play from now until the club sells out. Green fees for the public are $100 now and $170 after Jan. 1. For more information, call 800-767-3574. There is a $65,000 initiation fee to join The Gallery.

TPC now longer and tougher for the Open

Nos. 15 and 18 at the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course could spell trouble for the pros playing in the Phoenix - oops FBR - Open next month.

The whole course is now about 7,200 yards from the back tees; it was 7,070 before. "Tournament players are more fit now, so we had to lengthen the course," said Russ Norris, the marketing director for the TPC.

The changes were supervised by Tom Weiskopf who designed the original layout in the mid-1980s along with architect Jay Morrish.

To get specific, No. 15 was lengthened by about 50 yards, making it a 558-yard par-5. Doesn't sound too serious, but there's a lake that runs along the fairway on the left that is now more in play for tee shots from the championship tees. This is a hole where pros could previously land on the island green with their second shots. But the new length means they have to hit about 235 yards from the fairway to do so while carrying water in front of the green, Norris said.

The par-4 No. 18 (438 from the back tees) offers new excitement as well. From the championship tees, the pros used to make big drives across the water to within about 120 yards of the pin. Phil Mickelson, John Daly, Tiger Woods - they've all done that.

But now the lakeside bunker has been enlarged to take away a big chunk of the safe landing area. A new bunker has been added on the right as well. "We've really pinched the fairway," Norris said.

The 2004 FBR Open, previously the Phoenix Open, will be played Thursday, Jan. 29, through Sunday, Feb. 1. FBR, by the way, stands for Friedman, Billings, Ramsey, an investment banking firm from Washington, D.C., that is the new title sponsor for the event.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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