Course Review(s): Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club

After my warm-up round at The Duke at Rancho El Dorado, I headed a few miles down the road to Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club. Whereas The Duke is pretty much right in the small town of Maricopa, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is much more isolated with no homes or signs of civilization around the course. That is easily part of the overall appeal here.

I had a 12:20 tee time and was paired with a threesome of PGA club pros. It really adds some pressure to your game when you are playing with such skilled players. They played the gold tees (6,902 yards) while I played the blues (6,493). Not even they wanted to play the black tees (7,330) or the even-further-back tips (7,546), which didn’t even have markers out on Tuesday.

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes was opened in 2002. I believe it was originally just called Southern Dunes and then was renamed Royal Dunes for a brief period under a different owner. Then the Ak-Chin Reservation took over the course and hence the current name. The course was designed by Schmidt-Curley with the assistance of Fred Couples. Their goal was to have more of a Scottish links-inspired layout rather than a typical “desert” course.

It’s hard to not feel like a desert course when you are smack dab in the middle of the desert, but you can definitely sense the links concept here with rolling terrain and ample bunkering.

Really the story of Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is the abundance of sand. You can’t escape it. Every shot is affected by the threat of menacing bunkers and desert waste areas. There is only one water hazard on the course that comes into play on holes 10 and 18. Otherwise, it’s all about the bunkering. There are so many bunkers. Some are massive. Some are small. All are best avoided if you want to post a decent score. The bunkers cut across fairways and shape the doglegs. They effectively guard the greens and provide visual intimidation on each approach shot. They also create optical illusions at times, meaning what looks like a greenside bunker from the fairway may actually be 50 yards short of the green surface.

I truly can’t think of another course I’ve played where the bunkers have this much impact on strategy. Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is a course that demands careful thinking and proper execution.

I should note there is always ample bail-out room on your tee shots. The bunkers usually just help you determine how aggressive you want to be with your lines. As you get closer to any given green, however, the sand traps will come more and more into play.

If you are able to avoid the bunkers, you will still have some rather tricky greens to deal with. The green complexes at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes come in some funky shapes and don’t always offer a lot of room to work with on approach shots. Add in some false edges and undulations, and you get another major element of challenge on this course.

And, I haven’t even mentioned the wind yet. The wind was very inconsistent during our round. Sometimes it was blowing hard and other times it was dead calm. However, given the location and the isolation of this course, I can imagine it gets really, really windy here on certain days.

One thing I liked about Ak-Chin Southern Dunes on a personal level is that this course definitely favors a left-to-right ball flight as most doglegs turn to the right. However, with no big trees in play, you can effectively work your way around this course with any type of shot shape.

I’m not sure what is considered the signature hole here. A lot of the course does blend together a bit. The 18th definitely sticks out as unique because of the water hazard guarding the green.

I do wish there was more of a signature par-3 on this course. All the par-3s are nice and demanding in their own ways, but I wasn’t particularly blown away by any one of them. I’d probably pick the 4th as my favorite of the bunch with the most intricate bunkering guarding the front of the green.

The conditions here were excellent overall. The tee boxes were nice. The fairways were great. The ground underneath was firm, so that offered nice roll-out. However, the grass on top was always fluffy enough to provide good lies. The overseeded rough was also nice throughout, though there are quite a few burrowing animal holes that are unfortunate to see. The bunkers generally had good sand. I think they could use some reappropriation of the sand, though. In general, they seemed to be on the firm/thin side at the bottom and super soft around the edges (I had one ball plug under the lip), which is the opposite of how it should be if you ask me. The greens were super firm and pretty quick. Not even the PGA pros could get balls to stop on some of these greens with wedges in hand!

The greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area is obviously loaded with exceptional golf and Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is another to put in the upper tier of public-accessible courses. It’s definitely a must-play if you are looking south of the city.

Some pictures from Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club (3/27/18):

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

My day wasn’t officially done yet, though. Not everybody realizes that Ak-Chin Southern Dunes has a short course, too. It’s called #miniDunes (yes, the hashtag is actually part of the name) and it is a simple 6-hole pitch and putt course.

How many times have you seen a nice driving range built with green complexes and bunkers and thought to yourself that it would make a fun little short course? Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done with #miniDunes.

In the afternoons (every day except Monday), they shut down the driving range and open it up as #miniDunes. There are designated tee boxes and six greens to play to as you work your way out and back from the normal driving range tees. The holes range from 61 yards up to 114.

There is nothing too fancy about #miniDunes and the conditions aren’t on the level of the main course, but it is a fun practice option or side game to play before or after your round on the championship track. The cost is $12 for unlimited play. I went around twice in about 40 minutes because I was the only one out there and wanted to kind of get my money’s worth.

The tee boxes were pretty well kept. The greens were much softer and slower than the regular course, and unfortunately the ones closest to the normal driving range teeing area were very loaded with ball marks. After all, those are the greens that people are hitting wedges into for practice. The bunkers were also a bit unkempt, but the sand was decent enough for a short course of this caliber.

#miniDunes certainly isn’t a must-play like its big brother, but it is another experience to check off the list and I’m glad I got to play it while there.

Some pictures from #miniDunes (3/27/18):

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