Desert Forest Golf Club
Arizona, United States of America

Eighth hole, 200 yards & Twelfth hole, 180 yards; Compare these two one shotters and appreciate Lawrence’s talent for creating variety within the same environment. The eighth plays downhill to the smallest green (3,700 square feet) on the course. Everything is visible from the tee, including that the front portion of the green which slopes toward the tee while the back falls away. Conversely, the twelfth plays uphill more than one suspects to a putting surface that is obscured behind two large right bunkers.

Everything is in plain view from the elevated eighth tee whereas ...

Everything is in plain view from the elevated eighth tee whereas …

... the twelfth plays at least a half club longer than its yardage as it climbs uphill. When the flag is right, it looks like it is floating above the two right greenside bunkers. The green's back right to front left slope is in fine contrast to the one at the eighth.

… the twelfth plays at least a half club longer than its yardage as it climbs uphill. When the flag is right, it looks like it is floating above the two right greenside bunkers. The green’s back right to front left slope is in fine contrast to the one at the eighth.


Eleventh hole, 560 yards;
Flynn was a strong advocate of the true three shot golf hole and clearly Lawrence put stock in his mentor’s conviction. The alternate fairway, reachable par five seventh is perfectly offset by this uphill, nearly 600 yard beast. An architect today might become undone here as he wouldn’t enjoy the same advantage that Lawrence did in the early 1960s. Given that a dry wash fronting the green on a hole of this length would be too penal, Lawrence saw fit to turf over the dry wash that today would be protected by environmental/water laws that went into effect around 1980. Back in 1961, Lawrence was free to do just about anything that he wanted, as long as he stayed inside the budget of $300,000. These same water laws introduced the ‘blue lining’ that prevents washes from now being grassed, and set limits on acreage under irrigation for a course. At 65 acres of turf, Desert Forest is well below the limit of approximately 90 acres.

This photograph does not depict it well but in 1961 Lawrence had the opportunity/luxury to pull grass down and across a six foot deep wash that crossed in front of the eleventh green. What this photograph does highlight is the palo verde right and the mesquite left that the golfer needs to be mindful of when advancing his second shot up the fairway.

This photograph does not depict it well but in 1961 Lawrence had the opportunity/luxury to pull grass down and across a six foot deep wash that crossed in front of the eleventh green. What this photograph does highlight is the palo verde right and the mesquite left that the golfer needs to be mindful of when advancing his second shot up the fairway.


Thirteenth hole, 435 yards;
As a broad generalization, the property at Desert Forest extends away from the clubhouse to the east on a slight incline in a self contained rectangle. Three of the four biggest two shotters (the second, fifth and thirteenth) play in an easterly direction, which is to say that they play up the incline. Thus, they play even longer than the scorecard suggests. At its choke point 130 yards from the green, the thirteenth fairway narrows to a scant twenty yards (!). Though the fairway landing zone and the 6,800 square foot green are ample in size, the thirteenth was voted the narrowest par 4 in Phoenix by a regional golf magazine several years ago.

Though dauntingly long and narrow at one area, note how the fairway extends through the green (the bunker in the far distance is a right greenside one). Thus, even a 75 year old who hits it straight can feel good about the manner in which he is able to play the hole. Many other desert courses suffer from forced carries on holes of this length and thus tire a large percentage of golfers. Not here.

Though dauntingly long and narrow at one area, note how the fairway extends through the green (the bunker in the far distance is a right greenside one). Thus, even a 75 year old who hits it straight can feel good about the manner in which he is able to play the hole. Many other desert courses suffer from forced carries on holes of this length and thus tire a large percentage of golfers. Not here.


Fourteenth hole, 360 yards;
Desert Forest is a beautifully proportioned course with the full gamut of holes. The long holes invariably feature bigger greens that are open in front while the shorter ones have more tightly defended targets. The pacing of the course is excellent too. The long, hard fifth is followed by the shortish sixth and again here the brute thirteenth is followed by a charmer. Despite its modest length, the left to right canted fairway and a green that slopes from front to back are features that turn this ‘breather’ into a surprisingly confounding sub-400 yard hole. The savy member tries to coax his approach just behind any right hole location as it gives him an uphill first putt.

The fourteenth heads toward Black Mountain and step one is to gear back to whatever club will most likely find the fairway.

The fourteenth heads toward Black Mountain and step one is to gear back to whatever club will most likely find the fairway.

The left to right fairway slope does little to help the golfer put a good clean strike on his pitch. Spin is welcome as the green ....

The left to right fairway slope does little to help the golfer put a good clean strike on his pitch. Spin is welcome as the green ….

 

... slopes away from the golfer, giving way to a tightly mown bank that wisks balls away to numerous undesirable locations.

… slopes away from the golfer, giving way to a tightly mown bank that wisks balls away to numerous undesirable locations.

 

Fifteenth hole, 370 yards; One reason that the author is such a fan of Desert Forest is that it plays mind games with the player via different ‘looks’ that the architect presents. Invariably, Lawrence provided plenty of room/short grass yet that might not be the impression for the golfer standing on the tee. Take the fifteenth where the fairway can look narrow at first glance.  Truth be told, the landing area is almost twice as wide as the golfer’s eye tells him as Lawrence artfully tucked the left portion of the landing area beyond and below a covered hillock. This hole is but one more reason to favor the member in any match as he or she knows to swing away while the first timer might falter into steering mode. During the 2007 Women’s Mid-Amateur, many a golfer came undone on this straightaway hole.

The view from the fifteenth tee is worrisome but the hillock on the left hides plenty of additional landing area.

The view from the fifteenth tee is worrisome but the hillock on the left hides plenty of additional landing area.

 

Once in the landing area, the hole feels spacious and unconfined. Indeed, discerning that the approach actually plays downhill isn't easy.

Once in the landing area, the hole feels spacious and unconfined. Indeed, discerning that the approach actually plays downhill isn’t easy.

As seen from behind, the fifteenth fairway possesses plenty of width. It's just that the area of the fairway anywhere near the flag stick above is largely unseen from the tee. Only upon leaving the green and looking back does the golfer gain a true appreciation of its downhill nature.

As seen from behind, the fifteenth fairway possesses plenty of width. It’s just that the area of the fairway anywhere near the flag stick above is largely unseen from the tee. Only upon leaving the green and looking back does the golfer gain a true appreciation of its downhill nature.


Sixteenth hole, 515 yards;
All’s well that ends well and the switch of the two nines in 1963 worked well for the club. A host of world class courses (e.g. Pinehurst No.2, Shinnecock Hills, St. Enodoc, The Ocean Course at Kiawah) dramatize the sterling merit of a 5-3-4 finish. Pete Dye certainly was the adocate as he moved a lot of dirt to create such finishes at his most recognized courses including TPC at Sawgrass, PGA West, Whistling Straits, and the aforementioned Kiawah whereby an ‘eagle-able’ sixteenth gives way to two stern finishing holes. Lawrence would be pleased by how the open nature of the hole and long views to Black Mountain were restored when tall pines and other non-indigenous trees were removed along the right and behind the green.

What a risk reward driving hole! A perfectly played draw gets a turbo boost off the back of the far hill and brings the green within reach in two. Miss it straight though and the golfer is apt to find misery in the desert.

What a risk reward driving hole! A perfectly played draw gets a turbo boost off the back of the far hill and brings the green within reach in two. Miss it straight though and the golfer is apt to find misery in the desert.

A dream scenario finds one's tee ball in this vicinity, leaving 230 yards to the green. The sixteenth epitomizes why Lawrence found no need for fairway bunkers. In this case, the landforms and mesquite tree captured within the fairway provide plenty of strategy. In fact, the mesquite tree is more effective than any central bunker as it effects play farther back than any bunker could.

A dream scenario finds one’s tee ball in this vicinity, leaving 230 yards to the green. The sixteenth epitomizes why Lawrence found no need for fairway bunkers. In this case, the landforms and mesquite tree captured within the fairway provide plenty of strategy. In fact, the mesquite tree is more effective than any central bunker as it effects play farther back than any bunker could.

Here is an example of another wash that Lawrence was allowed to grass over in 1961. If he hadn't, the landing area for a lay-up shot at the sixteenth would have been compromised and perhaps the hole might have been aborted. What a pity that would have been! Friendly legislation of the time helps Desert Forest retain its lofty status in desert golf as it enjoys built-in advantages that no longer exist.

Here is an example of another wash that Lawrence was allowed to grass over in 1961. If he hadn’t, the landing area for a lay-up shot at the sixteenth would have been compromised and perhaps the hole might have been aborted. What a pity that would have been! Friendly legislation of the time helps Desert Forest retain its lofty status in desert golf as it enjoys built-in advantages that no longer exist.


Seventeenth hole, 160 yards;
How does a 40 year old course stay relevant to the low marker? Given its prestigious position as the first and most famous desert course, Desert Forest desires to challenge the best while providing pleasure for its core membership of 50 plus year old golfers. How to balance both without violating the natural features and beauty of the desert? One way sure way to avoid the mess that 460cc drivers have created for 40 year old courses is to focus on the one shot holes. Sad but true: The iron that got the job done when the course opened still gets it done today for the elite player, thanks to a new tee built by Tom Weiskopf in 2000 that lengthened the hole by 50 (!) yards to 210 yards for those few good enough to play from the back. The other way a course remains relevant is by the merit of its greens, which are the ultimate target. Lawrence uses broad slopes as opposed to wild interior contours to lend many holes their enduring challenge. In this manner, his greens share similar playing characteristics to those of his mentor William Flynn. Note the photograph below. There is a back right plane that is relatively flat, the front third of the green slopes steeply toward the tee while the left third of the green features a broad slope to the left. Getting one’s ball into the correct position on these broad slopes lies at the heart of the matter. Do so properly throughout one’s round and the golfer leaves with a warm glow derived from a well executed, intelligent game plan.

Not without humor, the members at Desert Forest have dubbed some of the yuccas around the course Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra as they catch anything that goes near them. The ones above are unnamed as they are just off the tee but what this photograph illustrates are the left and right wings to this 31 yard deep green. Totally different shaped shots are required depending on the day's hole location which is one of the reasons that better golfers are devotees of the course.

Not without humor, the members at Desert Forest have dubbed some of the yuccas around the course Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra as they catch anything that goes near them. The ones above are unnamed as they are just off the tee but what this photograph illustrates are the left and right wings to this 31 yard deep green. Totally different shaped shots are required depending on the day’s hole location which is one of the reasons that better golfers are devotees of the course.


Eighteenth hole, 420 yards;
Routed cross drainage, Lawrence’s undulating fairway makes for a perfect conclusion. Thinking back, the itinerant golfer might be surprised at least two fold by Lawrence’s design. First, while the desert is an integral part of the golf course there are few ‘death or glory” shots forced over large swaths of desert. Apart from the wash at the seventh hole (and even that one is set on a diagonal), the golfer never crosses the desert floor unless his ball is on a tee. Every fairway flows without interruption to the green, meaning that all golfers can grow old comfortably enjoying Lawrence’s shrewd design. Second, the golfer may be shocked to realize that he didn’t confront a single fairway bunker throughout his round. Lawrence either bent the fairway corridors using the natural desert landscape to preserve the integrity of the inside of the doglegs or he captured the undulations of the desert floor within his fairway corridors (such as here at the eighteenth) to lend the holes strategic purpose. Either way, he saw no need to create artificial hazards by man (i.e. bunkers!) in the fairways.

One can only admire the pristine view afforded from the eighteenth tee. No heinous 50,000 square foot clubhouse exists to spoil the connection with the beautiful high desert.

One can only admire the pristine view afforded from the eighteenth tee. No heinous 50,000 square foot clubhouse exists to spoil the connection with the beautiful high desert.

Note how the cozy single story clubhouse snuggles low into the surrounds, reflecting the low key, understated attitude that prevades the club.

Note how the cozy single story clubhouse snuggles low into the surrounds, reflecting the low key, understated attitude that prevades the club.

As a premier retirement area boasting plenty of sunshine and a climate conducive to  healthy living, the greater Phoenix area naturally draws people from around the world. Golf – at least traditional golf – certainly can play an important role in a well balanced, healthy life. While much of the northern hemisphere is frigid from October to April, members here can take a five mile stroll under bright blue skies and enjoy long sweeping views in every direction.

Golf has changed quite a bit since Red Lawrence passed away in 1978. In America it has morphed so that many equate golf with a ride in a cart. Others fancy water hazards (in the desert of all places!), flashy bunkers, or a big clubhouse to affirm one’s self-importance. Not so at Desert Forest which remains a bastion for traditional golf in a region of the country not known for embracing that form. Literally, the southwest is as far removed from the United Kingdom and the home of golf as any part of the United States. Fortuitously, the trail blazer Red Lawrence bridged that gulf when he brought Northeast golf sensibilities to the great Southwest.

The club continues to foster and nurture those virtues to this day, making it a beacon for those who appreciate the qualities of traditional golf.

The End