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.
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