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Nicklaus takes on all comers at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain near Tucson, Arizona

Scott BordowBy Scott Bordow,
Dove Mountain - Wild Burro golf course - hole 2
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Somehow, Jack Nicklaus made The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain playable, even for the average hacker. (Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton G.C.)

MARANA, Ariz. -- Ritz-Carlton hotels are designed to wrap their guests in luxury and comfort.

So what the heck was Jack Nicklaus thinking when he designed the 27 holes at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain just north of Tucson?

OK, we're kidding. Still, the Golden Bear clearly didn't have plush Egyptian cotton sheets on his mind when he built Dove Mountain's Saguaro, Tortolita and Wild Burro nines in 2009. They're more like a thin blanket on a hard floor.

"It is a lot of golf course," said Director of Golf Operations Jeff McCormick.

There's good reason for that. The golf club was built to host the Accenture Match Play Championship. If the 64 best golfers in the world were going to come to Tucson, Nicklaus wanted to make sure his golf course would be up to the challenge.

He accomplished his goal. The three nines are a wonderful test of a golfer's length and touch.

Let's start with the length. No matter which two nines a golfer plays, 18 holes are going to stretch more than 7,700 yards from the tips. That's right, 7,700 yards. Saguaro, which serves as the front nine for the Match Play event, is 3,894 yards. Tortolita, which is the back nine, checks in at 3,955 yards, and Wild Burro is 3,897 yards.

Want more? Five of the six par 3s are longer than 200 yards, and the eighth hole at Wild Burro is 253 yards from the back tees.

Somehow, though, Nicklaus made his monster design playable, even for the average hacker. There are five sets of tees. And unlike some of Nicklaus' designs, the fairways are generous.

"You have to have a lot of game to manage the course from the back tees, and some golfers are masochists and want to play from back there, but if you move up you can put up a good score," McCormick said.

For that, two things must occur. First, you must avoid the huge fairway bunkers Nicklaus sneakily built on the inside or outside of doglegs. Their location makes one think twice about trying to bend a drive around the dogleg in order to shorten the hole.

"You can play conservative and be in the fairway all day long, but your approach shots are going to be twice as hard," McCormick said.

Second, you have to somehow conquer the diabolical greens.

"Jack's gone on record as saying greens really are a golf course's only defense anymore when it comes to the best players in the world," McCormick said. "Those guys can hit it as far as they want to and for the most part pretty straight.

"If you're going to have a golf course here in desert and not have 22–yard fairways and 6-inch deep rough, the greens need to be the challenge."

It's not just putting that presents such a stern test. Because of the contours, it's imperative approach shots land on the same tier as the pin. Otherwise, it's hello three-putt.

Fortunately, Nicklaus had a soft spot for the average golfer. Many of the greens feature a backstop or sideboard that make it easier to access the pin, and the front of the greens are available for bump-and-run shots.

"Most of our guests really enjoy the greens," McCormick said. "They like the creativity."

It's impossible to pick out a "best hole" among the 27, but No. 7 at Tortolita, a downhill 247-yard par 3, is as beautiful as it is difficult. Nicklaus' favorite nine, by the way, is the Wild Burro, and McCormick said the nine gets "rave, rave reviews" from the public.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain: The verdict

Not that he needs it, but kudos to Nicklaus for designing a course that will test the best players in the world but can be enjoyed by the average hacker. Eighteen holes at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain don't come cheap, but the course is in great condition, the practice area includes two chipping greens and the staff is very helpful.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain courses are a must-play on any Tucson golfing adventure. Just be prepared for a few three-putts -- or four-putts.

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Dove Mountain - Tortolito golf course - hole 7Dove Mountain - Saguaro golf course - hole 3Dove Mountain - Wild Burro golf course - hole 6

Scott Bordow is the golf columnist for the Arizona Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @sbordow.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Dove Mountain 5/18/2013

    Brian wrote on: May 18, 2013

    Made a special trip down there today with 3 friends after getting a good deal through "dealcaddy." Wasn't worth the trip. The course was disappointing in its maintenance. Our local municipal course is in better shape for half the price. All the greens were punched and sanded. "Putting on a Chinese checkerboard" is how it was described by a playing partner. The greens were very slow in this condition. The worst part of it is the pro shop never even bothered to tell us. The layout was challenging and the vistas beautiful but I wasn't expecting the rocks in the bunkers, the terrible greens and the burnt areas on the fairways. Unlikely to make another trip to this destination.