Those looking for gold outside of Phoenix might not have any luck but if they swing by the Gold Canyon community, they’ll hit the mother lode (in terms of golf). Jack Nicklaus, his sons, and associate Phil Smith designed two 18-hole courses for the Superstition Mountain club: Lost Gold and Prospector, as well as two nine-hole layouts. Both of the Nicklaus Design courses are held to similar acclaim.
Nicklaus designed the Lost Gold course with Jack Jr., while Prospector was designed alongside son Gary. The track differentiates itself from the other route by taking a more links-like approach to design...or at least as much as one can do in Arizona. The key is offering wide, forgiving fairways, but also offering smaller greens so that those looking to score can’t simply spray it from the tee.
One thing you won’t find much of at UK links that will be seen in spades at Lost Gold is a number of forced carries into the green; these desert washes won’t do much for your ground game! If the dried out creek beds make you thirsty, you’ll finally be rewarded at No. 18, where a full-on pond guards the final approach to the green.
The contribution by Jack Nicklaus to the Valley of the Sun area is clearly evident with such notable efforts at Desert Mountain with its multiple layouts and his superb effort at Desert Highlands which served as the springboard for all the key private clubs to follow.
Lost Gold is part of a main 36-hole complex in which the Golden Bear supplied his efforts.
Unlike the adjoining Prospector Course which is fairly rudimentary, the sum total of Lost Gold is quite good even though the terrain is not as engaging as Jack had with the layouts at Desert Mountain and Desert Highlands.
The theme of Lost Gold is an attempt to recreate a "links like" connection and although I abhor the application of the term from a purist perspective - the variety of holes and the manner by which the challenges are presented is very inventive.
Throughout the round you encounter fairway cut-off areas -- players have to decide how aggressive or conservative they wish to play via the desert washes that are clearly an issue to overcome when playing. Nicklaus smartly provided options and the playing angles of the hole must be adroitly analyzed when standing on the tee boxes. One cannot simply fire away with impunity because getting into the proper position for the approach is mandatory.
The Nicklaus effort also included some imaginative additions -- the double-green for the par-5 10th and par-3 17th holes is one such example.
One of my favorite holes is the par-4 13th. Just under 400 yards the hole swings to the right and players have to decide how much risk/reward they wish to encounter. Those who can hit a strong tee shot up the left side are left with a fairly straightforward pitch. Those who either layback off the tee or miss down the right side face a formidable frontal bunker that is eager to catch the hapless approach play.
The par-5 14th is also well-designed. Again, the fairway moves to the right and players have to decide if going for the green in two shots makes the most sense as another wash area must be carried to safely reach the green.
The ending trio is a quality mixture of 5, 3 and 4 par holes respectively to close out the round. The ending hole provides a menacing pond to avoid for the approach.
Lost Gold includes five par-5 and five par-3 holes -- a rather unique combination for a Nicklaus effort as Jack often aligns himself to your standard 72 par with four par-3 and four par-5 holes. Credit the design team for a good mixture of holes even though the total number of par-4s is reduced accordingly.
Lost Golf is often in tip-top conditioning and the layout is quite fair in providing sufficient landing areas and is not overly infested with native desert areas that make playing stray shots an impossibility save for the most errant of plays.
Those fortunate to play the course will enjoy what's provided. The main issue is getting players outside of the Pima Road / Scottsdale Road area where much of the higher-profile courses exist.
Lost Gold is certainly a layout worth playing if the opportunity presents itself.
M. James Ward