As the caravan approached the border, armed guards braced for its arrival. The disparate group of refugees was hopeful they could talk their way through the barrier. As Hans Birkholz dutifully scanned the wall for breaks in the concertina wire, David Harbour and Mike Forde rehearsed the plan. “If Jones pisses them off, we tell them he’s a hired driver and we had no idea that trying to cross the border with a loose-cannon violated Mexican laws against arms importation.” The last car in the caravan carried Dave and Lauri Allen poised to retreat at the first sign of discord on the frontera.
A group of a dozen golfers decided to give Scottsdale Silverado Golf Club a second chance. The first chance came nearly a year earlier; we weren’t favorably impressed. But, it seemed unfair to base our opinions on only one data point. Anyone can have a bad day. Perhaps we happened to be there for the only bad day they’d ever inflicted upon golfers. The second chance came Friday, April 21st.
Based upon our experience on the 21st, our first experience may have been one of their better days. The second chance was as close to disaster as one can come without seeing a mushroom cloud. Most of us feel fortunate to have escaped the property with our tattered, challenged and abused senses of humor intact.
A dozen Camelback golfers took a little road-trip on Friday, November 11th. For some, it had been years since they had played OrangeTree Golf Course. Others had never played it. When all was said and done and the last putt rolled into the eighteenth hole, the general consensus was … as munis go, it’s a nice course, an interesting layout and a good value. In fact, had we not been spoiled with the great layouts at Camelback, we might even play it again. On a scale of zero to one hundred, OrangeTree averaged a score of sixty-five from the golfers in the group with individual ratings running from fifty-five to seventy-five. To be fair, it is not a muni, but it definitely has a muni feel. That’s not necessarily bad, but don’t expect to come away feeling like you just played an exclusive private club.
The strengths included an interesting layout. It’s mature and many of the holes are quite scenic. They were varied and offered some good golf challenges, however, the course was not a “championship” layout. With a rating of 69.3 and a slope of 119 (from the middle “white” tees), it was more than manageable for most golf skill levels. Fairways tended to have wide landing areas, but greens tended to be small. Miss the green and odds are you’ll be short-sided. With one notable exception, the staff was cordial, friendly and helpful. The biggest positive at OrangeTree is its price. We got a $49 rate in the late morning – cheap by Valley standards. It included the cart, but did not include range balls.
OrangeTree’s weaknesses seemed to be budget related. Greens were a bit “spotty” and hadn’t been rolled since the late Pleistocene. A six foot putt could be a bit of an adventure. Predicting the ball’s roll was like trying to predict the path of a pinball during an earthquake. Tee boxes either hadn’t been moved enough or were too small to allow much movement. They had the appearance of a corn field shortly after harvest. Over all, the course was in “respectable” condition, but that’s about the best that can be said.
More evidence that the drive to reduce expenses may be a touch overly aggressive appeared when I went to wet my towel at the restroom by the sixth hole. As I approached the water fountain outside the little building, it became apparent the fountain hadn’t been functional for quite some time. I went into the bathroom to find water. As I opened the door, I got the impression it wasn’t the spiffiest restroom in the golf world, but as the door closed behind me, the darkness became the cleaning agent. The light didn’t work so I could no longer discern the lack of clean. As my eyes slowly adjusted and a hint of light crawled in through the small window on one wall, I could make out the outline of the bathroom’s features. There was water in the toilet bowl. My towel remained dry. In the dim light, I saw what appeared to be a clipboard with a piece of paper on it. I took it outside to see what I had discovered. It was a “Restroom Cleaning Log – Hole #6”. There was a series of dates beginning with “27-Oct” and running through “19-Apr”. Next to each date was a space for the initials of presumably the person doing the cleaning. There were no initials for any date beyond October 27th. That wouldn’t have been a problem were it not for the fact that it was November 11th. If the truth be known, it had probably been cleaned in the previous two weeks, but the person doing the work couldn’t find the clipboard. Remember … it was too dark without a working light in there.
There was one employee that made the day especially memorable. The “starter” seemed to have the personality of Ukrainian prison guard. As some of the members of our group began sharing their starter experiences with me, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I thought there’s no way someone could have a position so closely associated with the image of the golf club without having a personality that put a “happy face” on the customer’s golf experience. I suggested that the starter may just have a very dry sense of humor and that the casual onlooker would pick up on it after a brief wait. I decided to get a firsthand look and judge for myself. After a brief exchange with the starter, I stood back and watched as he interfaced with a number of other golfers. I came away concluding that his humor must indeed be bone-dry, so dry in fact, that he came across as a real horse’s ass. But that couldn’t be the case. After all, he was still employed.
Fortunately, other staff members were friendly and helpful. When golfers were “entertained” by three twelve or thirteen year old boys in a yard adjacent to the course, the staff dispatched someone to deal with the homeowner. Mom didn’t seem to grasp the concept of golfers being accosted by boys hurling unmentionable obscenities as not being great for public relations, but the club staff did send an emissary to the scene of the crime in short order when the problem was reported.
The course offered a good value for the money. Where else in the Valley can you get to drive the old style gasoline powered golf carts. The course was fun. It wasn’t in great shape, but it was in good enough shape. It wasn’t extremely challenging, but it was challenging enough. I recommend playing OrangeTree from time to time, particularly if you’re a golfer on a budget.
Everyone is back. Everyone survived, but not from a lack of effort. Great dining, super weather, outstanding golf and a party or two (or three or … ). Our trip to Puerto Peñasco was a wonderful event … actually a series of events.
We enjoyed golf at The Links at Las Palomas. The course was in good shape. The layout was interesting and fun. The views were awesome. Matt Flores brought his “A game” and carded a 66, but only because he missed a few putts that could have easily brought him a few strokes lower.
The following day, the group played the Jack Nicklaus designed course at La Vidanta. The course was in immaculate condition. It was an absolutely spectacular layout that offered some real tough golf. I must assume Jack was fighting with Mrs. Nicklaus when he was designing that course and redirected his anger toward us. Scores weren’t as low as they were the previous day, but the experience will not soon be forgotten.
The dining experiences were top notch with (obviously) some great Mexican food, super Italian, German breakfasts, and marvelous sea food. Rocky Point is a shrimping village and we made a serious dent in the fleet’s catch. How fresh were the oysters? We watched as the fisherman hauled them directly from the ocean and put them on our plates. That’s pretty fresh.
Here are a few images from the trip. Others will remain private unless the subjects miss a payment. (Click on any image to enlarge it.)
With more than 200 golf courses in the Phoenix area, we live in a golfer’s paradise. At its heart is Scottsdale. Some of the great and unquestionably some of the most scenic holes in golf are right here in our backyard. Of the courses that can be accessed without membership, the cream of the crop is the Ambiente course at Camelback Golf Club.
Ambiente is barely a year old, but is already in great shape. Greens are fast and true. Fairways are lush. The vistas are magnificent with backdrops of Camelback Mountain and Mummy Mountain. Every hole on this links style course is encased in flower laden wild areas that are beautiful to look at, but voracious in their hunger for errant shots.
The course design is brilliant. Unlike most “resort courses”, this is not one where you stand on every tee box and let it rip into a wide, hazard free fairway. This is a thinking golfer’s course. It’s real golf. You’ve got to manage your game to score well. There’s potential trouble off of every tee box, even the five pars. If you’re the macho type that reflexively grabs driver on every tee box, chances are this course is going bring you to your knees and take your balls. It’s a course for smart golfers. Even off the tee, club selection is an important consideration.
The course is playable at all levels, but if you’re not a low handicap golfer, don’t fool yourself into thinking you should be playing the back tees. At 7,225 yards, it will give the best golfers everything they can handle. The 245 yard par three fifteenth is one of Ambiente’s signature holes. From the tips, you’re hitting to a two tiered green with water on two sides, a cavernous bunker on the left and another one in front of the green. The seventh hole is a good par five over 600 yards long. The fourteenth is another par five, but it only plays at 580 yards. The greens are interesting and challenging, but fair. Stay below the hole.
Although there is a middle set of tees that bring the course down to 6,630 yards, most golfers will find the “Camel” tees give them all they can handle at 6,123 yards. If you play from this forward tee set and conquer the course, move back to the “Verde” tees the next time you play. But I’m betting you’ll beg for mercy before the course does. It’s still rated at 69.0 with a 124 slope from the forward tees. It’s at 73.9 and 138 from the tips.
Ambiente is one of two courses at Camelback Golf Club. Its sister course, Padre, is a fine course in its own right and a good test of golf, but its character is totally different from Ambiente’s. If you’re in Scottsdale for golf, consider playing both courses. Padre almost has the character of a Florida course while Ambiente is like a walk in Scotland. And you don’t even have to go through airport security to experience the differences.
Camelback’s practice facilities, pro-shop and clubhouse are up there with the best of them. The employees are friendly, well-trained and always ready to help.
If I were visiting Scottsdale and only had time to play one of its 200 courses, it would be Camelback Ambiente. But I live here and play three or four rounds per week. I still pick Ambiente. It just doesn’t get much better.
If the price of a round of golf were to correlate well with the quality of the golfing experience, Troon North would be one of golf’s great courses. The GolfNow.com rate is north of a hundred dollars with some tee times calling for a $235 fee. And GolfNow.com generally offers some pretty heavy discounts.
Unfortunately, Troon North is not a world class course. It is a fine course and I recommend playing it. The views are spectacular. The course is fair, at least as fair as a “desert course” can be. But it’s a public course. As a result, it gets a lot of play. It has been my experience that public courses with plenty of play host golfers that don’t seem to know the purpose of the little sand canisters mounted on the carts or the rakes that adorn the sand traps. To some of their customers, ball mark repair is a concept as foreign as a Tibetan poetry reading.
As so often happens, members of Gainey Ranch Golf Club couldn’t arrange to play a routine eighteen hole round at the club they had joined. Once again we were forced to go off-campus to play. In that “the season” was upon us, many courses had raised their rates. Being the bargain conscious group we were, we looked for a deal. What about Stone Creek Golf Club? Most of our guys had never played it; others hadn’t played it in years. I called.
“I’ve got a dozen guys from Gainey Ranch Golf Club that would like to give your course a try next Monday, September 22nd. What kind of a good rate can you give us?”
The man on the Stone Creek end of the phone paused, but finally said, “I can give you twenty-five dollars per player including range balls, cart and eighteen holes of golf.”