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|Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club's second hole throws a water decision at you. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)|
Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club is a surprisingly tame golf course from often diabolical celebrity golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. in Cave Creek, Arizona.
CAVE CREEK, Ariz. - Once you're off the highway, it's a steady parade of cacti on the side of the road. Phoenix's skyscrapers and Scottsdale's trendy clubs and beautiful people are far behind now.
The anticipation for Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club reaches a nice level at this point. It seems like you're heading out to a real desert retreat, one where the prickly bushes and rattlesnakes reign.
Then you get out onto the course ... and start hitting toward houses.
Calling it a letdown would be like saying Mike Huckabee isn't evolution's biggest fan.
This isn't completely fair to Dove Valley Ranch though. Truth is, you wouldn't have a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design out in Cave Creek (35 minutes from Scottsdale) if it weren't part of a big housing development. The course came about as a lure to draw golf-loving homebuyers into a town otherwise known as one of the last real western outposts in the Valley of the Sun.
Still, that's no comfort to a vacationing golfer seeking adventure and finding the true desert course surrounded by houses. It's like finding out that Starbucks took over that eclectic neighborhood coffee shop you loved.
Best to forget any notion of getting lost in the desert at Dove Valley Ranch. Rather, look at it as the rare Trent Jones Jr. golf course you can slap around a little.
Have unresolved issues with being pummeled on one of Jones Jr.'s often-crazy decisions? Head out to Dove Valley Ranch and settle up the score western style.
"This is Jones' work?" visiting golfer Bradley Hirsh asked. "Are you sure?"
It's Trent Jones Jr. - only intentionally muted. One of golf's most eccentric designers purposefully dialed it down for Dove Valley Ranch, aware of the average age of people who retire to communities like Dove Valley in Arizona.
If Jones Jr. did his usual number here, he'd have set off a revolutionary uprising of white-haired citizens with permanent tans and wicked slices. Some of them would be wearing cowboy hats too.
Dove Valley starts with a straight-as-an-Evangelical 540-yard par 5, Jones' version of a lullaby.
That's not to say that Jones Jr. removed all bite. There are tough holes if you want them to be tough. But there are usually chances to bail out.
No. 2 typifies Jones Jr.'s use of risk-reward on Dove Valley Ranch. You can take the hard way, the fun way, and try to sail a nice chunk of lake off the tee, cutting down the hole's length. Or you can play it safe and more conservative than the guy who keeps his entire life savings in a checking account and stay completely left for a long, green way to the hole.
This would be a really picturesque hole too, if there weren't so many houses around, leaning in the background.
Cave Creek's not as quiet as it used to be, partner.
At least you can still head into town after your round and belly up to the bar at an old Wild West-looking saloon. In the case of Harold's Corral, the bar dates back to 1935.
That's the thing about Dove Valley Ranch. It may disappoint in some ways, but it's still something of a scene - a near getaway from your vacation getaway. Some crotchety-looking old character might even drawl, "We don't see your type around here very often."
Just to mess with you a little.
"Part of the allure of Cave Creek is that its feistiness is still alive and well," Cave Creek Mayor Vincent Francia boasts in the town's Chamber of Commerce literature.
You can find some of that attitude out on the golf course. Signs declare, "Do not use the outdoors as a bathroom" as if golfers are an uncivilized lot (Ok, some are, but do we really need a reminder? It certainly makes you think twice about looking for that ball in the desert bushes.)
Dove Valley Ranch is a different world than those Scottsdale courses that will probably dominate your trip. The bugs are worse, the sun's more intense and everyone's straight to the point.
Dove Valley Ranch isn't a golf course that you travel to just to play. But if you plan to check out Cave Creek anyway, it's not a bad course to work into the day.
The fairways on the front nine are especially forgiving, but this can make for fun holes too. Like the downhill par-4 fourth, where ordinary hitters can feel like He-Men.
Dove Valley Ranch wasn't in great shape at the time of this early winter review visit. There were some patchy parts on a cart-path-only day, but it's not that bad. You can still enjoy the round.
The back nine takes you deeper into the desert, but first you have to navigate holes like six and seven, where you have a chance to plop a ball into someone's backyard pool, while little yappy dogs shriek at you the entire time.
In fact, forget all the course literature talk about the ancient Hohokam people who lived here a thousand years ago under the shadow of Black Mountain. Or even the miners who flocked here to try and strike it rich in the 1870s. Dove Valley Ranch should be nicknamed Land Of The Yapping Mini Dog.
Just make sure you see the town of Cave Creek too. It's the best part of a Dove Valley Ranch trip. Cowboy up.
January 18, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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