Course Review: The Duke at Rancho El Dorado

Yesterday, I took another quick day trip out to Arizona. It was kind of a last-minute plan. I knew my power company had a scheduled outage in my neighborhood that was lasting most of the day. Rather than sit at home in the dark and not getting any real work done, I figured I’d use the excuse to get out and play some golf.

When considering a trip to Arizona (especially this time of year when prices are high), I have to find just the right combination of tee times and reasonable rates. Usually, I’m looking for a good afternoon “deal” time paired with a reasonable morning rate at another nearby course. It also helps when there is a third (or fourth) course option to consider for a full day of golf. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily an easy task and there are so many courses in the greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area to consider. It really is overwhelming when looking at tee times out there!

Fortunately, the right combo did come up late on Monday afternoon. I was able to arrange a really good Tuesday afternoon deal at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, which is a course I’ve been dying to play for years. On top of that, the only other course close to it (The Duke at Rancho El Dorado) had some early morning “hot deal” times that would make it worthwhile. It would be hard to drive all the way out to Maricopa (about 20-30 minutes south of Phoenix and rather isolated) and not play both of these courses.

This review will focus solely on The Duke at Rancho El Dorado because Ak-Chin Southern Dunes deserves its own review.

I had a 7:08 tee time booked at The Duke. This course is located within a rather large residential community, though based on some recognizable smells I discovered there may be an actual ranch somewhere close by. Every time I caught a whiff of horse goodness (or was it cattle?), I was amusing myself by imagining the spelling of the course name being changed to “The Dook.” I was paired with a twosome and another single, who were all fairly quick players. We played through one slower foursome on the front nine and otherwise had the course to ourselves for a nice 3:20 pace.

The Duke at Rancho El Dorado was designed by David Druzisky and opened in 2002. The landscape here is very flat, but the course is not without some character as it works its way through the community.

The front nine is rather benign except for the par-3 5th that plays to a large almost-island green complex. Beyond that, this side of the course is quite forgiving from tee to green. The greens themselves do have some humps and bumps to make putting tricky at times. There are definitely some subtle breaks here that are very difficult to see without prior course knowledge.

The back nine perks up with a more interesting layout overall. More bunkers and native waste areas are brought into play to require more thought and shot placement. Still, it’s fairly forgiving as long as you avoid any sandy substances. The course culminates with its true signature hole. The 18th is a great finisher with some definite risk/reward potential. It is a short-ish par-5 that doglegs left around a big water hazard. Long drivers have to worry about the water on their tee shots and then the green is wrapped around the other side of the lake to require a precise long approach shot if going for it in two. Us shorter hitters don’t have it any easier as the water really cuts in at the natural layup area, so you have to be careful with a three-shot strategy on this hole.

The 18th leads right up to the rustic clubhouse with all sorts of western decor (including plenty of John “The Duke” Wayne inspired artwork).

The course was in okay condition, but a little disappointing for March in Arizona. The tee boxes were good overall. The fairways were rock hard and the extra roll-out was nice. There were plenty of thin spots and tight lies, though. The rough was semi-dormant and shaved down to almost nothing. The greens were also on the firm side, yet receptive enough on well-struck shots. The practice green was really nice. Unfortunately, the greens on the course were much less consistent. There were lots of thin and sandy spots, which led to some bumpy putts. The speeds were also a little inconsistent depending on how filled in the turf was in any given spot. The bunkers were adequate with just enough sand to work with.

The Duke at Rancho El Dorado isn’t anything too special, but it is a decent value option if you happen to be down in Maricopa. It worked well for me as a cheap warm-up before Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, and it is important for someone like me to knock both of them out together since this area is fairly out of the way.

Some pictures from The Duke at Rancho El Dorado (3/27/18):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)


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