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Subtlety Usurps Length at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain

By: Steve Habel


A lot of the publicity surrounding the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain now hosting the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, has been centered on its length and options it offers for match-play tournaments.

Par-3 Third Hole at Saguaro

But the Jack Nicklaus Signature design's real strong points are its nuances and subtle characteristics, many that keep even the world's best professional golfers off-balance and in a thinking rather than bomb-and-gouge mode.

In fashioning the Dove Mountain track, Nicklaus took advantage of the high Sonoran Desert setting to integrate strategy, variety and fair shot values into each of the resort's 27 holes, 18 of which are used for the February tournament, which is now underway.

The three separate nine-hole layouts (called Saguaro, Tortolita and Wild Burro) play at elevations ranging from 2,300 to 3,200 feet and offer distinct character, blending naturally among noble saguaros and the surrounding Tortolita Mountain Range. Nicklaus's mixture of long and short holes - particularly the par 4s - makes the course an intriguing experience.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain is Nicklaus's first Tucson-area course in 25 years. The track was first unveiled in 2009 and, despite its relative youth, has hosted a prestigious event featuring the top 64 players in the World Golf Rankings three times.

Nicklaus purposefully designed the course to be challenging yet enjoyable to play, time and time again. "This is a combination of tournament, resort and residential golf," Nicklaus said. "People are going to be able to come here and have a nice golf course, an enjoyable playing experience. I'm very pleased with it."

It's About the Little Things

The "Golden Bear" said he built the layout specifically for match play, and the track - because of its risk-reward opportunities (especially in the first half of the Tortolita course that serves as the back nine for the Accenture) - has already produced many interesting matches.

But the same things that make for a good match-play course also heighten the experience for those looking the post a real score and for the traveling golfer seeking a memorable desert-golf experience.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain has the wide driving corridors that Nicklaus has worked into most of his recent designs. There are plenty of carries over desert washes, and the track's bunkering varies from classic, pot-style obstacles to expansive areas that stretch close to 80 yards along the edges of the fairways. The courses feature bentgrass greens, while the tees, fairways and rough are Bermuda (with perennial rye overseeding) - ideal for the desert climate.

The course also puts a premium on the approach shot as the green surrounds and the putting surfaces themselves are remarkable and demanding. The large greens baffle golfers with their significant undulation, so much so that - at the urging of WGC-Accenture participants - some of the original slopes on the Saguaro and Tortolita courses have been flattened and made easier.

No. 8 at Saguaro

Each Nine Has Own Flair

Each of the nine-hole sides at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain play to a par of 36, and the Saguaro-Tortolita pairing used during the Match Play Championship is carded at a whopping 7,849 yards from its back set of five tee boxes. That configuration carries a rating of 77.1 and a slope of 147; even the next-lengthiest tees are punitive at 73.9 and 145.

There are scads of great holes at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, and many - because television coverage of the Match Play Championship will focus on the final holes in deciding matches - fly under the radar unless you actually tee it up on the course.

The Saguaro nine is set against the backdrop of a majestic eponymous cactus forest to the west. Its opening hole, a 460-yard par-4 played over a wash on the approach, is indicative of many of the things you'll encounter during a round. The hole has a little bit of everything - a slightly elevated tee, a rolling fairway lined on the right by desert, and a left-hand border with a deep and hungry bunker. The green is slightly raised as well, and pitching to the quick and sloped putting surface can be hazardous.

Hitting the green on Saguaro's 185-yard par-3 sixth is paramount as you can see little of the putting surface - which slants away from you - from the tees. And while the pros will consider using a 3-wood off the tee on the 476-yard par-4 ninth at Saguaro to stay short of the wash that dissects the hole, most players can - and need - to swing away. The approach is more the 200 yards and uphill to a green that slopes from right to left.

The Tortolita nine is the longest course at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain at 3,955 yards and will get the bulk of the television coverage because it's used as the inward nine for the Match Play Championship. The side winds along the base of the Tortolita Mountains and hole Nos. 5-8 (14-17 if you're watching the tournament at home) wander through a secluded canyon.

No. 3 on the Tortolita Course

The 219-yard, par-3 third marks the highest elevation of the course, and a grassy hillside stadium setting surrounds the ninth green. Perhaps the best hole of the 27 at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain is the sixth at Tortolita, a 343-yard par-4 split in two by a wash. Players can take it over the wash or lay up short and face a shot of more than 150 yards to an elevated, severely sloping green.

The ninth at Tortolita (the finishing hole for the tournament) is also top-drawer. This 480-yard, dogleg-right par-4 provides an excellent risk-reward opportunity off the tee. Treacherous bunkers loom right of the fairway. Carry the bunkers and you're in perfect shape. But if you land in one you'll be some 150 to 180 yards away, with the difficult, two-tiered green on the far side of a wash.

A View of the Wild Burro Nine

The third nine, Wild Burro, is played mostly by resort members, many of which consider it the most entertaining of the three sides. Nicklaus concurs, calling it his favorite nine here. Wild Burro's putting surfaces weren't part of the green-flattening renovation, so they contain the same severe undulations as originally designed.

Incredible vistas of the Tortolita Mountains highlight several points on Wild Burro, which also has more pronounced elevation changes than the other 18 holes. Players will love the challenge of the downhill, 444-yard par-4 third, which moves left to right off the tee and through a tunnel of trees and over a large wash on the approach.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain

The fifth green includes a panoramic view of the resort facility, and the sixth - a 586-yard par-5 - demands precision on the approach as trouble abounds on three sides if you miss the heightened putting surface.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain also features a 50,000-square-foot clubhouse with all of the services expected from a luxury private club, including tennis courts, fitness center, steward-serviced private locker rooms and a double-ended practice facility. The clubhouse includes indoor and outdoor dining venues with great views, including Cayton's, serving American comfort cuisine with a Southwestern flair.

Resort Facility at Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain

A Fine Experience Awaits

Staying and playing at the 850-acre Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain Resort is an unparalleled experience. The resort is an indulgent retreat that boasts a 17,000-square-foot spa, fine cuisine, and personalized service. Included are a 250-room hotel and adjacent cluster of secluded, multi-bedroom casitas-ideally suited for golfing families and friends.

Activities range from nature walks to mounting up for an authentic, Old West cattle drive, as guests at Dove Mountain can enjoy 20 miles of hiking trails along with marked mountain biking routes and guided jeep tours. Three swimming pools and a 235-foot water slide flow throughout the water complex.

For more information, visit www.ritzcarlton.com/DoveMountain.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Texas CEO Magazine and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.