Tri-State Trip, Day 2: On the Arizona Side of the River

Day two of my trip (Sunday) actually found me playing three rounds on the Arizona side of the state line, but I will cover two of them here.

The tricky part about life in Laughlin/Bullhead City right now is that Arizona is an hour ahead of Nevada and California. They don’t follow daylight savings, so during the spring and summer they are in the same time zone as the Pacific states. It can be confusing, for sure.

I planned accordingly and was ready early for my first round of the day…

Huukan Golf Club • Fort Mohave, AZ • 2/16/14

I learned something else about the difference between AZ and NV/CA. On this side of the river, it seems they spell Mohave with an “h.” On the west side, it’s generally spelled with a “j” throughout the desert. There’s your fun fact for the day.

Speaking of “fun,” I can’t say I had much of it at Huukan Golf Club. By the time I played here, I was already exhausted by the booking process. It was a nightmare.

The course’s online system wouldn’t work on any computer I tried and GolfNow would give me errors when I tried to book times for this course, too. I finally called Huukan and they put me down for a 7:45 time. However, booking by phone won’t get you any of the good prices you might get online with their “dynamic pricing” schedule. Originally the morning times were $55, but when I checked their site on Saturday, they were down to $37. I called and they told me the only way to get the lower price was to book online, even though I made it clear I couldn’t get it to work. I’m glad I did call because the time I booked over the phone was no longer on their tee sheet either!

I ended up calling GolfNow. It took awhile to sort out, but they ultimately called the course on my behalf and booked a 7:20 time for the $37 rate. Hooray! When I checked in at the course, though, I was again not in the system. The guy working Sunday morning was nice and empathetic. Apparently this system has been nothing but trouble for them. Still, he was unable to ring me up at the lower price because I wasn’t officially in the computer. Showing my GN confirmation was of no benefit either. He did give me the resident rate of $39. It was better than nothing, but it was a ridiculous experience that set a bad tone before I even teed off.

When I got out on the course, things didn’t get too much better. The most positive part of the experience was pretty much having the course myself as the first one out, so the pace was excellent!

Of course, when you look at their website, they have lots of pretty pictures and the descriptions make it sound great. What they neglect to tell you is that this course was once called Desert Lakes and it appears it was all but left for dead in recent years. The tribe who owns Avi Casino and the Mojave Resort Golf Club I played Saturday bought the property and have been “reviving” the course since last summer.

Let’s just say they have a ways to go.

The course definitely has an “under construction” feel right now and that took away some of my ability to enjoy it. The good news is you can see where they’ve made strides and it’s clear they are making plenty of effort to bring the course back to life. The fact that it’s now tribe-owned is good because they can use as much water as they want, but it will take time.

As it plays now, the “essential” components for playability are in pretty decent shape. By that, I mean the tee boxes, fairways and greens have mostly good grass coverage and the playing surfaces are coming around. The greens are slow and fairway cuts are a little inconsistent, but I won’t gripe too much there. Even around the greens, the rough is patchy but manageable.

Where the course is struggling is everything off the fairways from tee to green. In most places it’s just bare dirt with some patches and clumps of grass here and there. They will have to do a lot of work to get new seed to take or they may end up having to bring in new sod altogether. They were watering the areas a lot while I played, so they are certainly trying.

The bunkers are also a mess. Tufts of grass are growing through and what sand there is has clearly been there for awhile. Ultimately, they’ll probably need to redo these from the foundations up.

Overall, it’s not as bad as I’m making it sound, but it’s also not as good as some of the pictures below make it look. In other words, it looks better from afar than when you get up close and personal with the turf.

So on a positive note, the owners of Huukan appear to be investing the time, money and effort to revitalize this track and make it a worth “sister” course to the popular Mojave Resort. Unfortunately, though, if you ask me, Huukan will still be nothing more than an “average” layout even if they get it in great shape.

It’s a fine course, but nothing about it will “wow” you too much. It’s a pretty basic layout with only a few interesting holes. Even if I knew it was in pristine shape and all their service/booking issues are a thing of the past, I couldn’t imagine myself coming out to play here again.

Some pictures from Huukan Golf Club (2/16/14):

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After Huukan, I headed back north and any disappointment I was feeling about my morning round was quickly washed away…

Laughlin Ranch Golf Club • Bullhead City, AZ • 2/16/14

In my mind, this course was to be the “main event” for the trip. Of all the Laughlin area courses, this is the one I had heard most about and, from what I could tell through my research, looked like the one I would enjoy the most.

Sometimes it’s nice to be right.

I originally had a 1:00 tee time set up, but I finished so early in my first round that I called over to the course and they were able to move me up to an 11:12 time. Unlike the staffs at Huukan and Mojave Resort, I got nothing but good vibes from the folks at Laughlin Ranch. The facilities are great and they treated me well.

As I made my way out to the course, I knew this was going to be an interesting course. They really have done a great job with the decor here. It’s built near a lot of old mining property, so they clearly celebrate that “theme” with the overall presentation. There’s old mining equipment around the rustic-looking clubhouse. There are old-fashioned covered wooden bridges, rock walls and iron fences throughout the property that all provide nice aesthetic touches. All of the tee boxes on the course are named after different precious metals—gold, zinc, silver and copper—and rusty old rail cart wheels are used as the tee markers.

Sometimes when a place has so much of a “theme” or marketing gimmick, the course itself can get a little overshadowed. I don’t think that’s the case at Laughlin Ranch. The course is strong on all levels and those design touches only enhance the unique experience here.

Laughlin Ranch would best be described as a desert canyon course. It is very hilly and feels naturally carved out of the rugged landscape. There are a lot of native desert/canyon areas in play along with some nasty bunkers and a few water hazards, so the layout puts a premium on accuracy. Still, I would say it’s more forgiving than it looks off the tee.

The challenge comes more on your approach shots and around the greens. Though you can get away with a mediocre drive at times (as long as you clear any forced carries there might be), if you don’t have the ideal angle for your approach it can be tough to score.

Most greens are elevated and well protected by bunkers, canyon edges and mounds. Then the greens themselves feature some undulation and can be very tricky to read. At least I know I struggled to figure them out all day.

There are many memorable holes here and each one seems to offer something a little different. At some point, they switched the nines here, as well. One of the regulars I played with told me all about it and I’m not sure if it was a popular decision.

The main reason for the rerouting was what is now the 10th hole. It is a difficult par-5 with an uncomfortable tee shot. It’s not as tight as it looks from the tee, but there is plenty of trouble to get into. Between it being a par-5 and being a tough hole, it sounds like it was hurting the pace as the opening hole—compared to what is now the 1st hole (formerly #10), which is one of the more benign par-4s on the course and is a good “warm-up” hole to start on.

The unfortunate aspect of this is that the new front nine is probably the more dramatic half of the course. Particularly, there’s a couple holes overlooking the mountains and expansive Arizona desert landscape. Also, the current 9th hole was clearly designed to be a “signature” finishing hole compared to the old 9th (now 18th), which isn’t as strong a finish.

That’s a minor issue because the whole course is pretty fantastic with a lot of variety and natural beauty. There is a great mix of some longer, more wide open holes and some shorter “target golf” holes with risk/reward designs. There are uphill shots, downhill shots and side-hill shots to contend with.

Another fun aspect of Laughlin Ranch is the presence of many wild burros (donkeys) who have kind of made the course one of their stomping grounds. Legend has it when the old mines were abandoned, they just left many of the burros behind and they’ve thrived just fine over the years.

Though I saw plenty of evidence that the burros were around—which had been scooped off to the sides of several tee boxes—and I heard some braying in the distance, I unfortunately didn’t have any close encounters myself. I would have loved to snap a photo of a burro walking across a fairway or something. Oh well.

The course was in pretty good shape for winter. The tee boxes and fairways were nice and lush. I always had great lies in the fairways. The rough was dormant gold bermuda, which framed the edges well visually. The greens good and rolling smooth at medium speeds (slower than usual according to my playing partners). The weakest part of the course was the bunkers, which had a lot of pebbles and some looked really thin. There are some really nasty bunkers here, so softer sand would be beneficial. At the same time, wind is always a factor here, so it seems they have a tough time keeping any good sand from blowing away.

Overall, I would highly recommend Laughlin Ranch. If I was planning a trip for someone else, I would make sure they played here and Mojave Resort to get two quality golf experiences on two very different courses.

Some pictures from Laughlin Ranch Golf Club (2/16/14):

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