Developer David Mehl acquired the 6,200-acre Dove Mountain site back in 1985 and over the following two decades, he set about transforming the rugged High Sonoran desert landscape in the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains into one of the very best residential golf communities in the country.
Within the Dove Mountain property, Ritz-Carlton has utilised 850 acres to establish a 250-bedroom resort hotel, 300 luxury homes and a 27-hole golf course complex. And as David Mehl had hired Jack Nicklaus more than 25 years ago to design the Westin La Paloma course in Tucson, he was more than happy to engage the Golden Bear again to work here.
The Saguaro and Tortolita nines are used when the WGC Match Play Championship comes to town early in the professional season – the event has been held at Dove Mountain since 2009 – but it’s said that Jack’s favourite loop is actually the Wild Burro nine.
The inaugural WGC-Match Play Championship was held at La Costa Resort and Spa at Carlsbad in California in 1999 and it was also played there the following year. The event then moved continent to the Metropolitan Golf Club in Australia for a solitary year in 2001. In 2002, the championship returned to La Costa and was staged there for five straight years before the event moved to Arizona, first to the Gallery Golf Club and then to Dove Mountain. In the 2009 WGC-Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain, Geoff Ogilvy beat Paul Casey 4 & 3. Consistent Casey was in the final again in 2010 but was edged out 4&2 by fellow countryman Ian Poulter who secured his first victory on American soil at the Ritz-Carlton property. The 2011 event saw England’s Luke Donald beat the newly crowned world number one Martin Kaymer 3&2 to win the title. Rory McIlroy missed the chance to become world number one when he lost to Hunter Mahan in the 2012 final of the WGC.
Laid out beside a spectacular Saguaro cactus forest, the fairways on the front nine of the championship course are generously wide but often require testing carries over desert waste areas. Pay particular attention to the 536-yard 5th – a monster par four.On the back nine, the par three 12th plays from the highest point on the course then holes 14 to 17 are cleverly routed through a canyon before reaching the home hole, set within a grassy hillside layout – ideal for spectators watching match play games that go all the way to the end!
This was the first real desert-based course I'd played in USA and it was just so different and amazing compared to any golf I'd played before. From the saguaro cacti growing all around the fairways, to the rocky hills as a backdrop and the natural gullies beside and through the course, it was a wonderful place. However, the round was a little spoilt by the soft and slow greens which showed every pitch mark and footfall and seemed completely unnecessary on a desert course. Course was a former home of the tour WGC Matchplay.
The staff paired me up with some friendly local gentlemen and that added to the round as we had great chats about golf and life. A fun day.