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Private golf in Scottsdale, Ariz. sizzles in the sun

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,
Geronimo Course
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Players will want to yell "Geronimo" at the par-5 No.1 at Geronimo when preparing to launch this downhill tee shot. (Courtesy of Desert Mountain)

There are literally dozens of dazzling public golf courses in the high desert around Scottsdale, Arizona, worth visiting. Places like Troon North, Talking Stick, The Boulders and Grayhawk, to name just four.

But there also exist an impressive number of private golf courses, where homeowners and club members play on fairways unburdened by eager tourists. These fortunate residents have the dollars and desire to live in this spectacular setting of Saguaro, sandstone and red rock, and have established primary or secondary homes in one of the most golf-intensive communities in the United States.

Desert Mountain, the sultan of the Sonoran Desert, boasts six Jack Nicklaus signature design golf courses, each with distinguishing characteristics.

Geronimo is not only the name of the best course on the property, but also what you're compelled to yell looking down from the awesome view on the first tee box. This majestic par-5 with its breathtaking carry over desert wash to a fairway a hundred feet below sets the tone for a superb strategic challenge.

Chiricahua debuted in 1999, a full decade after Geronimo. Nicklaus is not mellowing with age, as this is the hardest course of the six. It's the highest in elevation, which makes the greens more severe due to the steeper slopes. Not even the world's worst putters will lose balls off the putting surfaces, but the rest of the golf course is a different story entirely. Numerous forced carries both off the tee and towards the green along with an extremely penal design philosophy makes Chiricahua play something like Pine Valley with prickles.

Renegade is the original course, and is distinguished by a unique set of dual flags on every green that allows more accomplished players to shoot at a protected pin, while the less skillful can aim towards the middle of the green.

Rounding out the sextet are Apache, the most traditional of the layouts, Cochise, which until a few years ago served as the venue of the Tradition, one of the majors contested on the Champions Tour, and the newest course, called Outlaw. This 2003 effort plays more in the tradition of a Scottish links course than the other five Desert Mountain courses.

Estancia is among the classiest courses in town, an exclusive Tom Fazio jewel. Other area courses dazzle the senses, but Estancia exudes more subtle beauty.

Sandstone boulder formations frame fairways and greens, while elevated tee boxes showcase not only pristinely manicured targets but the town of Scottsdale itself, falling away in the distance. Here you'll find a great variety of one-shot holes, playing both uphill and down. More impressive are the par-4s, several of which are among the most daunting in the valley. The final hole in particular, 450 yards from the tips, brings a stunning course to a stirring conclusion. Estancia isn't easy to access, but it's hard to forget.

Classic Desert Forest debuted 45 years ago, which in the go-go golf world of Scottsdale qualifies it as a turn-of-the-century antique.

This is an entirely different animal than its myriad new neighbors, with their drastic elevation changes, thick rough and bunker-framed fairways. This Red Lawrence design is a much more organic golf experience. In winter the fairways are dormant and fast-running. There isn't a single fairway bunker on the premises; ill-aimed shots will bounce along the firm turf and meander off into the scrub lining the fairways.

The combination of tight lies, natural conditioning and warp speed greens make this track play like Royal Dornoch of the Desert.

The rest of Scottsdale is available for virtually anyone with the requisite finances, but old line, low profile Desert Forest, where rumor has it Phil Mickelson was denied membership because he's "too flashy," is by invitation only. It's an invitation anyone would be lucky to receive.

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Chiricahua Course at Desert Mountain

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

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