Course Review: The Short Course at Mountain Shadows

It’s rare that a centerpiece round of one of my road trips is a short course (especially a trip with peak season rounds at Troon North and We-Ko-Pa). However, a visit to Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley was the main reason for me hitting the road last week.

I’ve shared many unique golf experiences on this blog, and my visit to The Short Course at Mountain Shadows is another great one to add to my collection of special memories. That’s because it’s the first ever round where I got to play a course alongside the person who actually designed it.

Let’s backtrack a bit to tell the whole story.

Course architect, Forrest Richardson, reached out to me last fall after he came across my review of the recently renovated Baylands Golf Links up in the Bay Area. He led that great renovation and I guess he liked my article. He contacted me and was even nice enough to send me a signed copy of his wonderful book, Of Course, which features some personal stories and architectural insights from his many years in the world of golf course design.

He also invited me out to play his home course at Mountain Shadows, which is another course he renovated rather recently. His mentor, Jack Snyder, designed the original course here that opened in 1961, and Forrest was contracted to oversee a major renovation and redesign of the course as the resort was also being completely renovated. After meeting him and hearing him talk about this property, it’s clear it was a real passion project for him.

We met up last Friday morning for a 7:30 tee time (we teed off a few minutes late because we wanted to grab some breakfast first and the kitchen was a bit late to open up). We walked behind another twosome and enjoyed an ideal pace ahead of some bigger/slower groups on a very crowded day on the course. This is a great course to walk, especially in the mild weather. Mid-summer might be a bit more of a trudge! They do have power carts you can use, including several four-player carts that hold four passengers and four golf bags. I can’t say I’ve ever seen those anywhere!

You might say playing with the course architect is like having the best caddie ever, as he told me the story behind every hole and strategies involved on every unique green complex. And when it comes to unique greens, Mountain Shadows is a treasure trove of fun and sometimes quirky design techniques. There is a biarritz green, one with a little “dimple” depression, a double green with a bunker in the middle and a couple with big shelves in the middle.

The green complexes are really what stand out about the design of Mountain Shadows. They are fun, entertaining and unique, which are all qualities that really take this way beyond a run-of-the-mill “pitch and putt” design. The mounding, false edges, shelves and bunkers are all thought out to provide enough challenge and make sure nothing ever feels remotely boring.

Some people can never truly take a short course seriously, and that’s their loss if overlooking courses like Mountain Shadows. It features 18 enjoyable par-3s that range from little pitch wedge shots up to full hybrids and long irons (maybe even a driver or 3-wood for some of us short hitters). There are three sets of tees to suit anyone’s game, making it accessible for good players who may want to work on the short game or challenge golf buddies to a skins game. Or, it’s very well suited for beginners, kids, seniors and those who don’t have the length or patience for a full regulation course. As part of the resort, it’s a great amenity for guests to enjoy and it also won’t take as long to play as a full course.

Apparently, the original course did have a couple short par-4s, but Forrest explained why he reworked those holes and made some other routing changes to make this all par-3s. Technically, there is a bonus hole (hole 17.5, if you will) that is actually a rare (maybe the only?) par-2. He made use of one of the original green areas next to what is now the 17th green and turned it into a crazy fun little putting hole. The resort nicknamed it “The Forrest Wager” and it can be used as a tiebreaker or an extra challenge where three points are available for closest to the pin, first in the hole and lowest score.

The course superintendent rode/walked alongside us for several holes, as well. It was interesting to overhear their conversations about turf issues that were being worked on and other preparations for a big upcoming event. It was also interesting to hear from Forrest about all the other stuff that goes into designing—in this case, totally redesigning—a course. From drainage and irrigation issues to battling/negotiating with existing homeowners along the course during construction, there are so many details that that have to be covered to make a project like this come together just right.

I use the term “turf issues” very lightly because there were few flaws around this course. From tee to green, this place was pretty much immaculate. Everything was lush, green and perfectly cut. The bunkers had excellent sand. A few of the greens apparently had a tough timing taking the overseed this winter because it was unusually cold and wet in Arizona the last few months. However, I thought they were generally in very good shape. The only minor issue was that they were still a little bit slow and that took some of the fun out of being able to play the severe slopes and undulations on a few of them.

I haven’t even mentioned the scenery yet, as that’s another big positive about Mountain Shadows. It sits in the shadows (as the name would suggest) of Camelback Mountain, and the views are beautiful throughout the course, especially on a perfect late March morning like we had.

Whether I had played with Mr. Richardson or not (a fantastic and affable host, I might add), I would still love everything about the layout and conditioning of Mountain Shadows. This is easily one of the best par-3 courses I’ve ever played. For a short course, the prices can run a little high in season, but nothing is really cheap in Arizona this time of year. Decent deals can be found in the afternoons based on what I saw online. Whatever you do, don’t overlook Mountain Shadows just because it’s a par-3 course. You’ll be missing out on something fun.

Some pictures from The Short Course at Mountain Shadows (3/29/19):

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


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