Even when they’ve designed multiple golf courses on a single property, architects can’t help but play favorites. Jack Nicklaus designed no less than six routes at the Desert Mountain Club complex north of Scottsdale, and he has not been shy about expressing his admiration for the Cochise course in particular, describing it as “one of the most picturesque golf courses in the world.”
The club itself is less keen on choosing favorites, probably why it lists all four of its par fives as “signature” holes due to their risk-reward nature. Two of these holes focus their risk on the approach, which can be made in two if a player is willing to carry a desert wash in front of the green.
This is somewhat standard desert golf fare, however. The most unique of the risky par fives comes at No. 15, when players can consider making the same daring carry to an island green. As a further show of nonconformity, this is a double green, shared with the par three No. 7.
For a number of years it was the Cochise Course that drew the eyeballs of people watching the annual Tradition Championship which was played there from 1989 to 2001. It helped matters that Jack Nicklaus was a four-time winner on the very layout he designed. Interestingly, I find a few of the other courses at Desert Mountain to be at a much higher level of design yet they receive scant attention.
Cochise doesn't play long but there's enough fairway movement to require a good bit of thinking before pulling the trigger.
Nicklaus has provided enough room in many of the fairways but there's always a preferred side when pins are placed very close to the edge of the greens. Having a solid iron game with one's approaches does pay dividends.
The layout sports five par-3 and par-5 holes respectively and generally such a combination often shortchanges the portfolio of par-4 holes. Cochise has a few good ones and if there was one less par-3 and par-5 hole I believe the hole diversity would have been enhanced. The combination of the 7th and 15th greens joined together is quite interesting.
From the times I have played the course the turf quality was always first rate. For some people the juxtaposition of the verdant grass and desert area will be a tough one to fathom. I frankly enjoy the contrast and to Jack's credit the Cochise had plenty of fun shots encountered.
The final stretch of holes to conclude the round is nicely done. I truly enjoyed the par-3 17th -- especially when the pin is cut in the deep right hand side.
The 18th is a fun closing hole because with the right drive and correct approach a closing eagle is certainly doable.
Cochise received plenty of exposure with The Tradition and no doubt provided the impetus for additional golf development throughout the immediate area.
The complex of courses at Desert Mountain is truly an amazing situation but I wonder if having Nicklaus do all of them was really helpful in elevating the overall "brand" of the facility. It's a lesson learned by others -- most notably Mike Keiser when Bandon Dunes took off.
M. James Ward