The Desert Mountain Club is located in the high Sonoran Desert to the north of Scottsdale, nestled in the foothills of the Apache and Lone Mountains and it’s one of the most successful residential golf developments in the United States.
The Renegade was the first 18-hole layout to be unveiled at Desert Mountain in 1987, with the Cochise and Geronimo courses following a couple of years later. Since then, a further three Nicklaus-designed tracks have been set out within a massive 8,000-acre property.
The Geronimo has been described as “the most visually intimidating of the six courses at Desert Mountain” and its fairways occupy rather vertiginous terrain to the west of the Cochice course, with holes routed through a number of dramatic gullies and gorges.
The outward half is the easier of the two nines - even though it might not appear that way when playing the two very strong par fours at holes 2 and 3. To fit the landscape, the round concludes with a par three at the 197-yard 18th, where the two-tiered home green is benched into a spectacular rocky hillside.
The Geronimo course at Desert Mountain, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is the only course I have played at Desert Mountain. I expect that all of the courses are fun to play and hope to play several of them.
I played Geronimo on April 24, 2019 from the 6470 Copper tees which presents a reasonably straightforward golf course. The back tees are 7293 yards and present a very different golf course due to where the defenses are positioned on the course as well as the length. This is a course built more for longer/better players in terms of challenge, yet is still enjoyable for the average length/index player. Mr. M. James Ward is correct is his review as to choosing the correct tees. I could have played one set of tees (Blue) farther back at 6843 yards but I was with a player who preferred the tees we played. The difference in the Blue and Copper tees would have been noticeable on only seven of the eighteen holes as several of the tees are shared or insignificant in difference. Our member host typically plays either the back tees at 7293 or the 6843 tees. He is a good, long player.
It is a striking course, much like most of the better desert courses such as Desert Highlands or Estancia. It perhaps has slightly more change in elevation than those two courses. Some of the homes one sees from the course are truly outstanding. The course is well routed around desert washes, canyons, hills and ridge lines. There are definite preferred sides of the fairways from which to play into the green from both the championship tees and the next set due to many angled greens.
More of the significant elevation changes come on the back nine. The finishing hole is an absolute blast as a par 3 to a “target” green with basically no place to miss it unless fortune plays a hand in your favor. #18 is the most fun finishing par 3 I have played topping Pasatiempo and Garden City. There are no other “great” holes but there are numerous good holes such as #2, #5, #6, #10, #12, #13, #14, and #16. The back nine is much more interesting than the front nine both in terms of terrain change and quality of the holes.
It is a relatively friendly course in terms of width of the fairways while the greens are sloped more than undulating. There is a very good use of angling the greens to create more difficult pin positions thereby creating doubt in one’s mind.
There is good bunker placement and an appropriate use of bunkers. The conditioning is quite good.
The Nicklaus tees are 7293, par 72 rated 73.5/147. The Blue tees are 6843 yards rated 72.0/142 while the Copper tees are 6470 rated 70.0/135. There are three tees of lesser length.
1. Par 5 – 582/572/572. From an elevated tee one merely has to avoid the center-line tree at the beginning of the fairway which is wide. I did not and had a long second shot to try to get around the dogleg left. The green rises above you and has two bunkers right, a bunker short of the green on the left and a deeper one on the left front. Finally, there is a bunker at the back left for those taking too much club in order to ensure they make it onto the green. It is a nice starting hole.
2. Par 4 – 489/465/427. The second hole is a good one with higher ground holding some scattered trees to the left of the fairway with a single large tree on the right. The second shot has to carry a wash well short of a somewhat narrow green with a single bunker on the front right. The green tilts to the right and back to front. There is a hill on the left side of the green providing an opportunity to bring a ball back onto the green. It is a visually pleasing hole where length is an obvious advantage.
3. Par 4 – 414/404/402. This hole plays uphill and one must avoid the large bunker on the left side of the fairway. The green is angled off to the left with fronting bunkers set below the surface and one on its right. It is sort of a peninsula green set on a plateau. The green has a bowl in its middle and short grass behind. If you miss to the left going after a back left pin location you will fall down into dirt. It is another nice hole.
4. Par 3 – 244/204/204. This is a somewhat uninteresting hole with bunkers to either side but one does have the opportunity to land short and roll onto the green as the hole is slightly downhill.
5. Par 4 – 483/434/361. I like the fifth hole which is a dogleg left with no bunkers. However, there is a pond on the left that begins about 40 yards short of the green continuing up the left side. As the green angles to the left the pond is very much in play. The safe play is to the right side of the green. From my tee I feel the hole is a bit too easy but from the two other tees it is a much better hole.
6. Par 4 – 445/430/386. Another sizeable difference in the tees with the back tees improving the play of this hole. This is another slight dogleg left with waste area down the entire left side then bisecting the fairway well short of the green. Between the waste area is a large bunker so the play is down the right side. However, as the green is angled to the right the right side of the fairway brings more into play a front right bunker. There is also a back bunker due to the green being angled left to right. It is one of the better shaped greens on the course. The play into the green is to aim for the front left.
7. Par 3 – 193/170/170. This hole plays slightly uphill and has a large, long, deep bunker fronting the middle of the green with a smaller one behind the middle. A pin placement to the left side or middle of the green requires a precise shot, therefore the safer play is to the right side of the green. There are options for recovery if one is short right as one can use the back to front slope to their advantage.
8. Par 4 – 355/348/331. This hole plays uphill. There is a tree in the middle of the fairway that should be easily cleared but off to the right of it are more trees. This green is relatively thin and angled to the left. There is a left bunker that needs to be cleared. The green slopes sharply back to front. This hole is average.
9. Par 5 - 534/511/506. This hole plays up, then downhill, before rising again to the green. It is also a dogleg left. Bigger hitters can cut the dogleg but must avoid three inner bunkers. There is a single bunker on the outer corner. At the green there is a center bunker about 15 yards short of the green and a long bunker set below the green on the left front and side. The miss to this hole must be to the right of the green but there is a sizeable rise awaiting you leading to a downhill chip.
10. Par 4 – 424/389/377. This is my fourth favorite hole on the course playing relatively straight with a single bunker on the right. You have a short forced carry adding beauty to the hole. The green sits immediately behind a wash followed by three deep bunkers. There is room provided behind the green for a chance at recovery.
11. Par 3 – 190/175/152. You cannot be short of this green which is angled to the left with a single center bunker behind it. If you are short you will tumble down the chasm seemingly 50 feet or so into brush and cactus. The left side of the green will retain balls hit there.
12. Par 5 – 564/539/539. Starting from an elevated tee, this hole plays downhill over a forced carry with a single bunker on the right. You then play over a wash that diagonally bisects the fairway. Bigger hitters will try for the green will shorter hitters will play out to the left. The green is long and thin with two bunkers set on the left about twenty yards short and three bunkers set off to the right about ten yards short and then level to the green. The green has ample room around it to have a chance at recovery. The green is slightly elevated and has raised edges to bring balls back onto the green. This is a visually pleasing hole providing options.
13. Par 4 – 410/379/368. This is a fun hole as the fairway goes out to the right to a wash. Longer hitters will try to carry the wash. There is a rock pile near the center of the fairway just on the other side of the wash that is a good aiming point for those longer players. Down the left side of the fairway after the wash are four large bunkers, with the final one ending at the left center of the green. The green is located uphill has two tiers but ample room to miss to the right into a short grass area.
14. Par 4 – 357/357/326. This hole has a two-tiered fairway and is a dogleg left. A bit of wash/brush pinches the fairway on the left although longer hitters can carry this but have to worry more about the two bunkers on the right. The green sits uphill and is angled left to right with a single front right bunker and a slope back to front towards that bunker.
15. Par 5 – 510/484/470. A lengthy cart ride takes you to the uphill fifth hole with three bunkers right and a large single bunker on the left. A ravine goes down much of the left side of the fairway. Longer hitters will definitely go for this green in two. There is a center bunker about 100 yards short of the green that shorter hitters need to avoid. The green sits on the side of a hill with two bunkers off to the left and scattered bunkers on the hill fronting the green on the right. The green is relatively shallow with a fall-off on the left.
16. Par 4 – 497/429/389. This dramatic hole offers the chance to drive over the significant chasm down to the second fairway although a safe play is to hit out to the fairway to the right. If going to the right, the hole then plays back to the left. There are three bunkers near the thin but long green including one behind. It is another fun hole.
17. Par 4 – 405/381/343. This hole plays much longer as it is uphill with bunkers down the right. The hole is a slight dogleg right with the green has a fronting bunker on the front left and one at the right corner as the green is angled left to right. The green is steeply sloped back to front.
18. Par 3 – 197/172/172. As mentioned, I think this is the finest par 3 finishing hole I have played. You simply must hit the green although there is a little room to the left and right side where two bunkers will provide a chance at recovery. There is no recovery if you are short as this is all forced carry to the green. Somehow I hit a rock on the left side near the cart path and ended up on the green with a good birdie chance. The Golf gods sometimes are against you and sometimes they are with you. This is my favorite hole on the golf course and a great ending.
I like the Geronimo course for its beauty and the back nine where there are many good golf holes due to the change in terrain. Mr. Nicklaus seemed to angle more greens here which creates added drama. One does not get the feeling they are playing the same hole twice. It is not the most dramatic course in the world, and at times feels like a very good resort golf course due to the width of some of the fairways. It is certainly enjoyable and a strong reason why so many golfers choose Desert Mountain as their home given the quality of so many courses. On the downside, it is a long way from downtown Scottsdale and there is anything truly unique to the course other than the eighteenth par 3.
Unfortunately, so much of the early reputation of the Geronimo layout at the multi-course complex Desert Mountain, centered originally on the overall toughness of the layout.
No doubt architect Jack Nicklaus wanted to up the ante after his earlier efforts at Desert Mountain with designs at the Renegade and Cochise courses.
The Geronimo course is a strong test from the teeing area. Anyone playing the course needs to have a clear understanding of their abilities -- or lack thereof. Playing the wrong tees can greatly diminish the overall experience and likely have such players moaning about how unreceptive the course is.
I've played Geronimo a few times over the years and the original design was extremely challenging. Things have been softened to a degree but the root qualities are still present.
The 1st hole is visually striking -- a long par-5 commencing from an elevated tee with gorgeous views of the nearby Tonto National Forest.
Nicklaus provides sufficient width off the tee but there's always a preferred side to play from. The 1st allows strong players to attempt a shot at the green but the golf shot must be nothing less than stellar to reach a target that is well defended by the native desert vegetation.
The opening stretch of holes through the 5th puts players on notice that quality shotmaking is absolutely essential. The tee shot is a central dynamic of Geronimo and Nicklaus provides aggressive lines of attack as well as those that are less so. Keep in mind, those able to link sufficient distance and accuracy will reap far easier approach shots.
The beauty of the course is a constant feature. Over the course of time more houses have been built but the intrinsic aspect of Geronimo has not been compromised with undue clutter.
The long par-4 5th is one of the best holes not only at Geronimo but among the several different courses that comprise the mega-golf complex at Desert Mountain. The tee shot must challenge the desert that protects the entire left side. The close you play to that side the far easier the approach becomes. Water protects the green on the entire left side and heaven help the golfer who misses off the tee too far right because the length of the approach with the water staring you in the face can be a chilling situation of the highest order.
Credit Nicklaus in using the terrain so well. Geronimo provides for a varying pace of different hole types. No question -- the long par-4's are challenging but the Golden Bear has also included shorter holes where imagination, not just simply brute strength, is what's really called upon.
I am a big fan of the par-3 11th. The 190-yard hole uses the desert superbly. Golfers can bailout to the right but the likelihood in securing par becomes more unlikely. Those able to fly the approach over the protecting desert had best land one's shot softly in order to have a reasonable birdie effort.
The ending trio of holes at Geronimo is especially well done. The long par-4 16th is outstanding. The tee shot crosses a desert wash and the further right one can negotiate the better the angle becomes for one's approach. The key is not finding the desert because it lurks so close to preferred line of play.
The uphill par-4 17th mandates careful club selection as the elevation likely will mean 1-2 extra clubs. The green is well protected and sufficiently contoured.
Geronimo concludes with a par-3 hole. There are a few American courses that have done this with the likes of Garden City and The Cascades at The Homestead leading the way.
The nearly 200-yard hole is a solid closer. When the pin is placed in the immediate front or in the right rear corner it will take pinpoint precision to get near the hole. Missing the green likely means no less than a bogey.
Just behind the green is a metal sculpture of the famed warrior Geronimo. There are people who have labeled the course as being "too demanding" but I don't buy that assertion. The key when playing the course is realizing your capabilities and playing accordingly. Nicklaus tempts players to go beyond those boundaries and Geronimo is always quick to penalize the haphazard effort. Nicklaus gets justified credit for this efforts at Desert Highlands but his work at Desert Mountain is no less significant with Geronimo clearly in a starring role.
by M. James Ward