The Outlaw was the sixth and final course to open at Desert Mountain in 2003 and it’s a links-like layout from the burgeoning drawing board of Jack Nicklaus.
Set next to the Tonto National Forest, the Outlaw differs from the other layouts at Desert Mountain in that there is no real estate element here, and even the clubhouse looks the part, designed in the style of an old ranch house.
The course occupies a 176-acre site to the east of the main property, where the Golden Bear’s design philosophy of “take what nature gave and try to enhance it” underpinned bringing natural washes and dusty desert terrain into play.
The Outlaw extends to 7,107 yards from the back markers, with feature holes including short par fours at the 5th, 10th and 14th – and the Outlaw challenge continues right to the home green as the 18th is rated stroke index 2 on the scorecard.
The most enthralling dimension of the Outlaw layout at Desert Mountain is how it clearly differentiates itself from the other five courses at the complex.
Opened in 2003, the Jack Nicklaus design features no on-site housing cluttering up the experience. The connection with the desert is clearly present and the off-course views are enhanced several times over.
Outlaw plays just over 7,100 yards from the championship tees but it's the nature of how the course plays that makes it such a fun and challenging course to play. The turf conditions when I played were ideal -- the bounce of the ball a key element to consider prior to any shot execution. There's ample width but there's also continuous testing situations that need to be weighed carefully when arriving on any tee.
Nicklaus provided sufficient playability throughout the 176-acre site -- there's little to the "sink or swim" dimension that lies at the heart of a good number modern desert style courses.
The opening hole gives you a good understanding of what lies ahead. It's a mid-length par-4 and there's plenty of room in the fairway. On the approach you face a more testing situation. The green is protected by a sole bunker on the left side and the green angles diagonally behind it with falloff awaiting those who can't execute properly. The par-5 2nd changes gears quickly. Here the tee shot must be placed with total skill. A series of bunkers are in play and the longer the tee shot the greater the demand for accuracy as the fairways tapers down considerably with desert terrain lurking on the left side.
At the long par-4 3rd the intensity rises significantly. Those able to produce a right-to-left trajectory off the tee will gain a major advantage for the approach. Interestingly, the 3rd features one of two double-greens at the course. The usage here works well.
The inward half closes with a series of quality holes -- the back-to-back par-4's at the 7th and 8th are top tier in their differences. At the 7th it's essential to find the fairway because the approach must cross over native desert area to reach the green. The 8th proceeds in the opposite direction -- with a fairway that again tapers down considerably with the longer tee shot. The green is well defended but there's room for those who need to run the ball onto the target on this 470-yard hole. The par-5 9th provides an opportunity for golfers to get a stroke lost on the last two holes -- but it's not given away -- it must be earned.
When you reach the start of the back nine you encounter a short par-4 just under 340 yards but one that prove maddening to play. The tee shot si fairly straightforward with the hole bending slightly to the left. It's imperative to play as far down the right side as possible because a frontal left bunker is simply menacing and must be avoided. The more right you go the easier the angle into the green. The green is quite narrow and there are fall-offs. There's a clear reason why the hole is the 4 handicap one and those who are greedy will feel the wrath quickly and deeply.
The inward nine is well done -- mixing different looks and directions. The clutter-free nature of Outlaw allows a real connection to the experience. The ending hole -- a par-4 of 464-yards brings the golfers home in grand fashion. Generally playing back into the prevailing wind -- the golfer is confronted by a fairway moving slightly downhill and turning left. A series of bunkers dot the left side and going too far right can find a bunker on that side as well as desert terrain. The putting surface is set on a separated area of fairway and requires a well-executed approach to a sprawling green that can mandate several different club selections depending upon hole location and wind strength and direction.
All in all, Outlaw provides a clear distinction from the other courses at Desert Mountain the Golden Bear designed. There's more elasticity -- more of a connection to golf with both air and ground game elements integrated. Add in the mesmerizing views and the quality turf preparation and you have all the markings of a day well spent.
How many have overlooked the course leaves me baffled. Outlaw personifies its name. It is neither conventional in penal alignment with other modern desert courses nor is it predictable. The genius of the layout is the fun factor -- shots you relish and holes you wish to play again and again.
by M. James Ward