Course Review: Desert Mountain Club (Cochise)

Last week, I took a 3-day trip out to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. I always like any excuse to visit Arizona for golf, so I end up out that way a few times a year. This was more of a social trip centered around a few rounds with folks with fellow greenskeeper.org members, so it wasn’t quite my super hardcore kind of trip. Still, I managed to get in eight rounds, six of which were on courses I hadn’t played yet. Overall, it was productive enough for me!

Ultimately, the very first round of the trip was the marquee one. So, let’s start these reviews off with a big bang…

Desert Mountain Club is one of Scottsdale’s premier private clubs and it is not easily accessed unless you know a member. It is home to six different Jack Nicklaus championship courses, and they are already underway building the seventh. The new course is actually going to be an 18-hole par-3 layout that should be really cool. It’s name will simply be “Seven.” Just be careful when opening any mysterious boxes you find on the course. (Insert your Brad Pitt “What’s in the box?” impressions/jokes here.)

I was fortunate enough to be included in a foursome that was set up for 8:00 on the Cochise course. It seems like all six courses have plenty of awesomeness to offer, but Cochise and its sister course, Geronimo, are generally considered the top two. Renegade also gets a lot of attention because of it’s unique multi-flag/tee arrangement, but I won’t expand on that until I hopefully get to play it someday.

Cochise and Geronimo share the same clubhouse and it is quite spectacular. This place is really nice with a huge locker room and even a barber’s chair in case you want to set up a hair appointment while you are there. It offers all the high-end amenities you could ever want or need at such an exclusive club and the staff is super nice, as well. After our round, we enjoyed lunch in the member’s lounge and it was excellent.

We teed off on time (though they did have us start on the back nine for whatever reason) and it really wasn’t busy at all out there on a Thursday in late summer. We never saw the groups ahead of us. There were two twosomes that went off behind us, but they quickly joined together and didn’t really pushed us too much as we enjoyed a nice relaxed round of about 3 hours, 45 minutes.

Cochise is probably the most well-known of the courses at Desert Mountain because of it’s ties to the Champions Tour. It has hosted the Charles Schwab Cup Championship event and The Tradition major tournament, which Nicklaus won four times. There is a plaque on the par-5 12th fairway marking where Jack made his double eagle that lead to a win in one of the events.

Then, there is the amazing Gary Player story, which is also commemorated with a plaque. The par-3 7th and par-5 15th share a double island green. One year, Player aced the 7th and then proceeded to hole out for eagle on the 15th in the same round, earning him a nice score of -4 on this distinctive double green complex!

Even though Cochise has only been around for 30 years, it already holds a lot of history and lore. Because the summer season is so slow around here, Cochise and Geronimo are actually the only two courses open at the moment. Renegade normally stays open through summer, as well, but it is in the midst of a big renovation in conjunction with the new short course being build near it. I believe both are expected to be open in early 2019 and the other three courses (Chiricahua, Apache and Outlaw) will be open when the normal Scottsdale season starts after overseeding. I hope I’ll be lucky enough to come back and play any or all of them eventually, but I was very grateful for just the opportunity to play Cochise.

Being a Nicklaus championship design, you can pretty much expect that Cochise is going to be a demanding course. This is certainly true and apparently Geronimo is even tougher. Cochise is a layout that will put every part of your game to the test. The fairways are moderately generous, though there are some forced carries to deal with and anything too far left or right will likely find the native desert areas.

The approach shots are where Jack is going to make you work the most, which is pretty typical of his designs. These green complexes have Nicklaus all over them. Most are elevated and kind of diagonal in shape, leaving not much room to work with in the section where the pin is located on any given day. There is plenty of bunkering and other hazards to contend with in the form of desert washes that cut across the fairways. I believe the only water hazard on the course is the massive one that surrounds the signature island 7th/15th green complex

The routing includes five par-3s and five par-5s, so there are some scoring opportunities out here if you have patience and can execute shots when you need to. Some holes you just hope to survive without too much damage while others you can go at. Mistakes will compound quickly, though, so you want to do your best to stay out of trouble as much as possible. I guess that’s true anywhere, but this course puts a premium on it.

Two of the more unique holes on Cochise bring in some inspiration from the Renegade course. The short par-4 6th is actually the players’ choice as to which green you want to play to. You can play it as a dogleg right to the shorter green that will be drivable for most (only 293 yards from the longest set of tees and not too much trouble to get into around the green). Or, you can ramp up the challenge (which our group chose to do) and play to the longer, more elevated green up and to the left. This green plays about 50 yards longer (more like 70 because of the elevation difference), so not many people will be driving this one. It’s a safe lay-up and then a short semi-blind iron/wedge in to a much more demanding green complex.

Next, there’s the par-3 13th. The tee box sits on one of the most elevated points on the course, so it offers a spectacular view. This hole has two different green complexes that you can play to. However, this one is dealer’s choice. The club decides which green will be used and the other one won’t have a flag in it.

As you are dealing with a demanding layout, you are treated to some incredible surroundings. Desert Mountain Club is located way up in the far northeast corner of Scottsdale and Cochise/Geronimo are pretty deep into this massive golf community. It seems like you are driving forever as you make your way out here. There are great views in all directions and it’s a truly inspiring setting for golf. I played terribly, but I had a smile on my face the whole time. it reminded me a lot of Dove Mountain down near Tucson, which is another very dramatic championship-level Nicklaus design in a similarly secluded/rugged desert setting.

It also helped that the course was in wonderful condition. The tee boxes, fairways and rough were all lush with an ideal summer bermuda base. The rough along the fairways was cut down and easy to play from. However, the rough around the greens was very tricky. It was just deep enough for the ball to sit down (seemingly against the grain every time for me) and it was so thick and grabby. Short chips and pitches were rather difficult to hit with any touch. The bunkers were maybe a tad thin for my liking, but still well-maintained. The bentgrass greens were surprisingly soft early on, but they started to firm up quickly as the round went on. They were rolling pure at fairly quick speeds (11.7 on the stimp according to the sign by the starter shack).

Desert Mountain Club certainly lived up to the hype as one of Arizona’s premier private clubs, and Cochise is truly something special. If you ever have the opportunity to play any course at Desert Mountain, don’t think for a second. Most people won’t have many chances to get on out here, so it’s an experience worth having.

Some pictures from Desert Mountain Club (Cochise) (8/23/18):

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

 

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