Terravita is an apt name for a desert golf course, as “land life” is much more common than the aquatic variety. Nonetheless, many architects will create ponds to spruce up their designs. Billy Casper and Greg Nash kept that to a bare minimum at Terravita Golf Club in Scottsdale (the pond around the green at the No. 10 par four being the only drink).
They spent the rest of the round celebrating the land (and its life). Although cacti are the most popular plant life in the region, Casper and Nash take a liking to trees; centerline trees remain a hot button issue in golf course architecture discussions but the designers have pushed the issue here, including several along the route.
One notable example is at No. 12, a par five where one sits about 100 yards out from the green. This ensures a degree of risk for all players: Those who go for the green in two will need to carry a sandy wash ahead of the green, but those who prefer to stay back will still need to negotiate the tree in order to find the best angle for a final approach shot.
Some holes are more straightforward in their challenge: No. 3 is a long and winding double dogleg, measuring 610 yards.
Terravita is a mixed bag. At times the hole diversity is quite inventive -- while at other times several pedestrian holes are squeezed into slots framed by housing that brackets both side of a hole.
A few clubs in Scottsdale have wider playing corridors and when housing is included the setbacks are also pushed further away so as not to be so visible a presence. Terravita opted for as many houses as possible into the site and therefore the golf experience is somewhat lessened because of this clutter.
The opening two holes are fairly basic but matters rachet up considerably at the well-crafted long par-5 3rd. The movement of the land allows for a number of engaging strategies to be determined by the player(s).
After the formulaic par-3 4th you face a fine short par-4 at the 5th. The landing area tapers in considerably for those who attempt to take an aggressive line of attack. At the par-4 6th you encounter a well-crafted putting surface -- especially if the pin is placed to the deep left corner. The par-5 7th is ably defended in the drive zone with flanking bunkers and securing the best approach angle to the flag is anything but routine. The concluding two holes on the outward side are satisfactory but hardly architecture at the compelling level.
Matters clearly ramp up with the sensational par-4 10th. The key is determining from the tee which line of attack works best. Players have to be ever mindful as the fairway does cut-off. Being vigilant when on the tee is an absolute imperative given the beauty and strategic qualities of the hole. The green is also ably defended by a pond to the right and the green is assisted with a number of internal movements.
The 11th and 12th slide back into the ordinary category. Fortunately, the next three holes rise ably to the occasion. Positioning off the tee is crucial at each of them. The 13th is a good mid-length par-4 but it's the long par-5 14th which really stands apart. The tee shot and 2nd shot are crucial because being out of position with either is likely to result in bogey or even worse. The par-4 15th keeps the momentum going as the fairway is split with drives needing to be properly placed for the approach. Unfortunately, the following two holes at the 16th and 17th, simply do not sustain the momentum and are ordinary at best. The round does end in a good manner -- the home hole turns right around a well-placed fairway bunker. Players have to determine how bold or conservative they wish to play when assessing the line of attack from the teeing area.
One of the glaring weaknesses of Terravita is the lack of meaning for many of the bunkers. On a number of holes, the bunkers play nothing more than a cosmetic role. Often times circular discs with little real meaning in terms of influencing shotmaking differentiation. Yet, there are also other times when the bunkers do impact the proceedings and force players to gauge just how aggressive or conservative, they wish to engage their efforts.
The greater Scottsdale area is one of the most competitive golf environments in the USA. Terravita has its moments with a number of engaging holes but the flip side also includes several holes simply not of the same stature. The golf experience is a good one but architectural connoisseurs may feel a bit underwhelmed given the aforementioned disparity.
M. James Ward