Laughlin Ranch is just down the Nevada borderline from Las Vegas, where that state meets with Arizona and California at perhaps the warmest tri-state in the United States. David Druzinsky, who has done much of his work in the region, wanted to give the adventuresome something to write home about with the resort’s golf course.
Hole names such as “Hell’s Half Acre,” “Ghosts” and the less subtle “Deads” add to the concept. The most celebrated stretch on the course is on the eastern side of the property, playing up into the hills and then back down again (both “Hell’s” and “Ghosts” come as part of this stretch).
The hole most celebrated is No. 16 (“Separation Canyon”), which paints the risk/reward concept in rather black-and-white terms. Players can play from the elevated teebox to the fairway to the left, or the bold may consider attempting the 315-yard route directly at the green, almost all of it carry. The bridge that carries carts across the canyon that lies in-between the tee and the fairway gives emphasis to just how far your ball dropped if you didn’t make it.
I have been to Laughlin Ranch a few times over the years -- it helps that when traveling to/from Phoenix / Las Vegas that a stopover is quite convenient since it's roughly halfway between the two cities.
Architect David Druzinsky did a good job given the realities of what the site mandated -- both in terms of topography and the necessity for on-course housing.
Over the years the facility has had its ups and downs -- conditioning often being on the chopping block but it seems matters have stabilized.
The main issue with the course is that the two nines feature abrupt land movements. On the outward side you head downhill until you get to where the Bullhead Parkway is located. Then you make the trek back uphill towards the clubhouse. Given the nature of the terrain it's imperative to use a power cart and the rides between a few of the holes cause a bit of disruption to the overall flow of the round.
The opening hole is a grand par-5 -- plunging downhill and turning left in the drive zone. Big hitters will be tempted to let it rip and those who can marry distance and accuracy will gain plenty of yards and have an attempt in reaching the green in two shots. Be forewarned, a series of bunkers guards the preferred left side and the prevailing wind is often in one's face. The green is located on the other side of a dry wash with a few bunkers also added near the front entrance to the green. I have always believed a quality par-5 as the opened can provide a range of options and scoring opportunities -- both good and less than good.
The issue that comes after the 1st is how to keep the golf at a high level and, at the same time, get as many homesites as near as possible to the course as one can. This situation is not atypical in the southwest but the complication comes from the site as the holes generally play either up or down directions. The 2nd hole is a fine short par-4 in concept but the severe uphill location just undercuts how such a hole could be included as the perfect counterpoint to the opened. What follows is simply predictable housing golf type holes until you reach the bottom of the property and then you have to make your way back uphill to the clubhouse. The par-4 9th is a good two-shot hole but the nature of the terrain mandates players have a quality aerial game to succeed.
The inward half starts with two inexplicable holes -- the 10th and 11trh respectively just climb UP-hill in a strenuous manner. Heaven help the golfer who does not carry the ball sufficiently because it will truly be a slog. The good news is that when you do reach the 11th green -- after taking a few deep breaths from an oxygen tank -- you will look back and see a spectacular vista where Nevada and Arizona meet with the Colorado River separating them.
What's amazing is that once you do reach the 12th tee the qualities of the golf improve dramatically with a diverse range of holes. The view to the left of the 12th is just desert -- and it really does catch the eye to behold.
The par-3 13th is well done. The green separated into two halves in the shape of an horizontal hourglass with a solitary bunker cutting into the middle area. The par-4 14th plays downhill and tempts the big drive. The prudent play is securing the fairway because the approach must fly over a menacing pond that truly gobbles errant approaches that fall just a bit short of the planned target.
The par-4 15th keeps the momentum going in being well thought out. The tee shot must avoid desert down the entire left side and the green is placed on the far side requiring another carry over the desert. Players have to determine how far a tee shot is needed -- while also realizing that opting to be too aggressive can quickly backfire.
The uphill par-4 16th is a solid hole and gives the strong player an opportunity to show their bravado. The fairway splits into two sections -- the safer play is to the left but going that route increases the approach distance and a more challenging approach angle. Those looking to get near the green can go up the right side but the carry requires a powerful strike to carry the desert and bunkers. The green is elevated above it all and knowing where to land the approach is no easy matter.
The 17th -- a long par-3 plays the perfect counterpoint. Now, you head back downhill but often into the prevailing wind. There's space to land the ball but anything hit in a half-hearted manner will likely result in bogey or worse.
The concluding hole is a fine way to bring the round to an end. The par-5 works downhill and turns left. Here the player must decide -- just how aggressive is worth the risk. The payoff can be an opportunity to get to the green in two shots. The green is located in front of the clubhouse and a pond is present to catch those seeking glory but coming up empty-handed. When the pin is placed in the far rear area -- bunkers push in from both sides.
Overall, Laughlin Ranch has its moments. You will need to deal with the aforementioned issues I examined but there's enough present to make for some interesting shots where execution must be delivered. Fortunately, when you reach the 12th all the way to the 18th the architecture comes alive consistently to close out the day in fine fashion.
M. James Ward