Fifth hole, 465 yards; Unlike the fourth, the fifth is straightaway and again allows plenty of room once a bunker some 200 yards out on the left has been cleared. The approach is to the most severe and controversial green on the course, with its front shelf some 15 yards deep before dropping off to the remaining rolling 25 yards of putting surface. The most difficult two-shotter on the course, and by a good margin.
Sixth hole, 310 yards; A fine ‘half-par’ hole and Doak’s first reachable two-shotter. Even though the authors wonder if this hole has become slightly overrated relative to the merits of other holes on the course, it is notable because it is a drivable two-shotter that, well, is drivable. This element adds much more excitement than other short two-shotters (e.g., the 15th at World Woods (Pine Barrens)) where your Sunday best still leaves a 20-40 yard pitch. The prospect of an eagle putt offers more temptation than a pitch or chip. Also, this hole occupies the authors’ favorite part of the property, one that offers no hint whatsoever of anything else in the world.
Seventh hole, 435 yards;The downhill tee shot is both thrilling and strategic as the player wants to hug the wash running the right side as the hole continues to bend that way. The approach is a sheer delight, as the player emerges from what feels like a canyon to have the entire panorama unfold before him. The shot, however, is a real sleeper as the ball continues to run from the front-right of the green to the back-left. The grand scale of the backdrop of the mountains makes the approach look flatter than it actually is.
Thirteenth hole, 450 yards; A sharp dog-leg right that does so well what few other similar-shaped holes do. Similar in concept to the 6th at Royal Melbourne (West) (but with a markedly different appearance) the player is expected to drive over the bunkers at the corner. Most importantly, though, is that the hole was designed for this play as there is ample fairway over the bunkers to contain such a drive. One of the authors’ pet peeves is the dog-leg hole whose fairway narrows to such a degree just past the corner that a tee shot that carries the trouble at the corner has little chance of remaining in the fairway (e.g., the 15th at Bay Hill). The approach to the 13th is first class, through a valley to a sloping green. Standing in the 13th fairway, the player will be forgiven if he momentarily forgets where he is and expects to find the Irish Sea over the ridge behind the green.
Fourteenth hole, 185 yards; The 14th is set on the most dramatic piece of the property as it runs along the top of a ridge. Doak put the site to good use, building a very good Redan. With a bit more right-to-left and front-to-back slope, the hole could be the second-best Redan in the country. (It should be noted also what an effective foil the 15th green with its left-to-right diagonal and sunken rear portion to this one.)
One fascinating aspect of Apache Stronghold is its incorporation of favorite design elements: the Redan (the 14th), the Principal’s Nose (the 18th), alternate fairways/routes from the tee (the 2nd and 10th) and a bunker in the middle of the fairway at just the right distance short of the green on a three-shotter (the 16th). This use of traditional strategic design in a non-traditional setting (the desert) is refreshing.
A further distinction between Apache Stronghold and other desert courses is Apache’s modest amount of formal bunkering. There are approximately 45 bunkers on the course, and they hardly dominate play. After 45 holes there, one author played only three bunker shots. However, the player is not struck by this fact as, being in the desert, he is surrounded by sand. Bunkers are by necessity artificial creations, yet again there are few man-made impositions on the course.
One minor quibble with Apache Stronghold is that the player feels he is asked to play the same shot on several occasions (e.g., a high fade from the tee on holes 7,13 and 15). Still, the authors consider Apache Stronghold to be Renaissance Golf Design’s most satisfying project since High Pointe and only hope that indifferent conditioning will not mask this terrific design too.
Renaissance was able to start fresh (unlike Stonewall), without difficult routing obstacles (Lost Dunes) and without housing concerns (Riverfront). They were given a terrific site and made the most of it, the highest compliment we know.