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The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, Tucson

2011 WGC Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain

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Photograph of Jack Nicklaus on the Tee

On the Tee, Jack Nicklaus at Dove Mtn.

Copyright © 2009 Blair Howard, Licensed to About.com

As we all know, the Accenture Match Play Championship is played each year in February at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain. The layout is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and a remarkable piece of agronomic engineering. That’s not to say, however, that it was always that way, at least as far as the pros were concerned. In 2009, most of them seemed to think the greens were too slow and too contoured. Tiger Woods, so it seems, was the first to complain and, as the God speaks, so shall all the high priests follow suit: players and commentators alike. So, Jack returned, worked his magic on the greens and here we go again.

I was lucky enough to attend the official dedication of The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain course on March 28th, 2009, after the pros had had their say. Jack Nicklaus was on hand for a press conference and then to join David Mehl, the owner and developer of The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain to drive the first ceremonial ball. Jack then went on to play a full five holes with his son, Jackie II (more about that later).

There’s no doubt that Nicklaus took all of the criticisms to heart. In fact, one might say that he was noticeably upset. “Coming back here to Dove Mountain,” he said, “and doing a golf course that not only is for your community but also for the tournament is something very special to me, at least it was until I heard the commentators on television…. I was here a lot, and I think it's turned out spectacular. I think it's got great visual excitement. I think it tells you what to do off the tee. It tells you how to approach a green visually. The greens have got a lot in them, and the reason they've got a lot in them is that as far as these guys hit the golf ball today… your only defense of a golf course anymore is its greens.”

There’s no doubt that Nicklaus is inordinately proud of his Dove Mountain design, and stands ready to defend it, and rightly so. Together he and Jackie started play at the Tortolita 5th (the 14th on the Accenture), a 449-yard par 4. Despite Jack’s assertion that he no longer could play from the tips, that’s exactly what he did. He made par and Jackie made birdie. They both went on to play 15 through 18 and were sinking puts from all over. True, they missed a few (I didn’t keep score), but the overall impression was that the tour players had little to complain about, at least as far as I could see. Even so, Nicklaus made concessions: he agreed to chop a little bit off the top here and there to soften a contour or two, and to a fairly major redo of the 17th green. Me? I’d have left them alone, but who the heck am I?

My overall impression of the course was more than favorable. Set in the High Sonoran Desert, the land of the majestic Saguaro, it’s both a visual delight and one of the most enjoyable/playable tracts I’ve come across in a long time. Yes, the first time out you’ll find it tough, especially if you opt to play from the tips, but those rolling, undulating greens are enormous fun, and you don’t have to baby the putter (they are kept at 10 on the Stimpmeter for us mere mortals). Play them a couple of times and you’ll soon get to know them, and you'll have a ball.

Finally, the highlight of the day was, for me at least, being able to watch the greatest golfer who ever lived (no concessions) play one more time. At 68 Jack is not the force he once was, but oh my.... True, the take-away is a little shorter, as is the follow through, and he doesn’t hit the ball quite as far, but the magic remains untouched. He even putts just the way he did way back when. Memories are made of this!

Where to Stay
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How to Get There:

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain is about 45 minutes from Tucson Airport at 6501 Boulder Ridge Pass, Marana, Arizona 85658. Telephone: 520-572-3500.

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