As one rounds the corner at Blackstone Country Club, they may be reminded of numerous bold golf holes from around the world...but what else would one expect of a Jim Engh design in the Arizona desert, aside from boldness?
The No. 9 hole is a par five that will require multiple forced carries to reach a green that sits in a natural “amphitheater,” which is to say three vertical stone walls on its sides (calling to mind Engh’s own Black Rock in Idaho...the name similarity being strictly coincidental).
Making the turn, golfers may compare the pot-marked fairway to No. 18 at Trump International in Scotland, which features similar pot bunkers that turn the fairway into a hopscotch of sorts. Finally, at No. 11, you may sense familiarity with any number of Pete Dye’s “Double Dogleg” par fives; here, a lake guards the right side off the tee, but it may not be worth challenging. At 611 yards, very few will consider going for this green in two.
Desert golf invites inventiveness and Jim Engh has always looked for a place to let his flourish. His first design in Arizona serves its purpose.
This is the first layout architect Jim Engh created in Arizona and it surprises me how little attention it generates for those not from the Valley of the Sun area.
Engh has been quite successful in creating layouts in difficult land conditions but that's hardly the case at Blackstone.
The land has its movements but is not abrasive and Engh has smartly provided for sufficient playability but still
includes a range of design vehicles he has employed at earlier efforts.
One wise technique used by Engh at Blackstone is breaking up fairways so you don't have the monotonous wall-to-wall greenery seen at other desert layouts. This breaking up of fairway provides for both a shotmaking challenge and adds a visual appeal to keep the desert environment foremost.
The other aspect you will find at Blackstone is Engh's desire to include center-placed fairway bunkers. With modern equipment -- the wherewithal to lose shots to the extreme right and left is far less so -- especially for
talented players. Having center-placed bunkers makes players be especially aware of ball placement and when the wind kicks up can mean a range of options when playing such holes.
Housing is part and parcel at Blackstone but the overall land plan is sensible so that the housing is not hugging the fairways like a kindergartner grasping his mother's apron strings on the first day of school.
Another of Engh's creative design inventions is having bunkers be somewhat more than just peripheral ornaments. At Blackstone you will find the trademark squiggly bunkers Engh has used at other layouts he has crafted. These bunkers are often long and quite narrow. There's no guarantee when you enter them you will secure a flat lie. Balls can gravitate to any number of positions and golfers who find their ball within one need to exercise a healthy bit of common sense when seeking to extricate oneself from them.
Among the better holes on the outwards side is the par-4 8th which dog-legs left and features snippets of land engulfed by the desert landscape. It is beautifully done and the greensite is quite testing if not in the correct position after the approach.
The par-5 9th is another example in how Engh has made par-5s so much more challenging as the risk/reward dynamic is always uppermost. In this case the tee shot must deal with a fairway that tapers considerably with the lengthier play from the tee. The green is neatly tucked and separated on its own land mass. Golfers going for the green in two blows have to marry pinpoint distance and uncanny accuracy. Yes, a putt for eagle is possible but so is one for double-bogey!
At the mid-length par-4 10th you encounter a series of pesky internally placed fairway bunkers. The long par-5 11th is another dandy par-5 -- this time with water being a clear threat on the tee shot.
The par-5 14th is another attention grabber. This time you have a dog-leg right that tempts the big play from the tee. Even if successful, Engh provides for a very narrow green that is quite deep. Once again, no sure-fire birdie but granted when earned.
At the par-3 15th -- Engh borrows another design element used at earlier creations. The par-3 15th is 228 yards and features a green that has a protruding finger of grass that is flanked by high mounds. Engh has done this at other courses such at Pradera and Four Mile Ranch. Golfers seeking a less stressful approach can do so but it will put considerable pressure to secure the par. Those looking for the bold play had best execute to secure the reward.
The finishing three holes are good but not by any means cutting new ground by Engh.
The main weakness at Blackstone is Engh's penchant for including five par-5 and five par-3 holes in the overall design. The issue with that is you have a smaller number of par-4s and the range of diversity of the two-shot holes could be better. On the par-3 side and even par-5 side -- there's not enough real differentiation for that combination to be included here at Blackstone.
Those visiting Blackstone will be in store for a fun layout. There are penalties for wayward play but not the point in which one feels overwhelmed. Engh has always believed golf should be "fun" and his effort at Blackstone does have its share of moments to relish.
M. James Ward