RITZ-CARLTON GOLF CLUB, DOVE MOUNTAIN
Course Architect: Jack Nicklaus (2009), Nicklaus Design Team/PGA Tour and
Course staff (renovations, spring/summer of 2009)
Year Opened: January, 2009
Location: Marana, Arizona
Slope: 147. Rating: 77.1
Hole-by-Hole: 1 - Par 4 460 Yds 10 - Par 4 493 Yds
2 - Par 5 574 Yds 11 - Par 5 659 Yds
3 - Par 3 208 Yds 12 - Par 3 219 Yds
4 - Par 4 393 Yds 13 - Par 5 583 Yds
5 - Par 4 536 Yds 14 - Par 4 449 Yds
6 - Par 3 185 Yds 15 - Par 4 343 Yds
7 - Par 4 486 Yds 16 - Par 3 247 Yds
8 - Par 5 576 Yds 17 - Par 4 482 Yds
9 - Par 4 476 Yds 18 - Par 4 480 Yds
Par 36 3,894 Yds Par 36 3,955 Yds
Awards Won: Best New Courses by Golfweek (2009),
Best New Public Courses by Golf Magazine (2009),
Best For Resort Lifestyle by LINKS Magazine (2009),
Best Resort Golf Courses by Golfweek (2010),
#2 by Golfweek - Best Public Access Course in Arizona (2010),
Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary (2009).
Key Events Held: WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship (2009-13).
Websites: www.ritzcarlton.com, www.ritzcarlton.com/dovemountain
HISTORY: Although the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain has been open only
a short period of time, the saga of the property dates back thousands of
years, according to archaeologists.
The Hohokam Indians are generally believed to have been the first inhabitants
of the land back in 300 B.C., however, it wasn't until 1775 that the Presidio
of Tucson was established and several forts were built to ward off the threat
Many settlers continued to farm the land over the years, and in 1926, Eugene
"Cush" Cayton moved west from Missouri and purchased a section of property in
Ruelas Canyon in the Torotlita Mountains, which would become Dove Mountain.
After ranching the land for nearly 60 years, the Cayton family sold the land
in 1985 to developer David Mehl, a graduate of the University of Arizona. Just
three years after graduating, Mehl and his late brother George founded
Cottonwood Properties, a company that develops quality real estate in the
greater Tucson area.
Over 20 years later, Mehl's plan of making Dove Mountain one of the
Southwest's premiere master-planned communities is coming to fruition.
The golf course is just a small part of the 850 acres of the Ritz-Carlton,
Dove Mountain experience, which includes a 250-room resort hotel, a world-
spa and 400 residential homes.
When seeking to build a golf course to fit the vision and foresight of this
resort, only one architect came to mind for Mehl, and that was Jack Nicklaus.
Not only have Mehl and Nicklaus known each other for over 25 years, the duo
developed the Westin La Paloma golf course in nearby Tucson. "Along with Tim
and Casey Bollinger, we wanted to create the finest golf community in the
desert," mentioned Mehl. "It was natural for me to turn back to Jack and ask
him to be involved."
Nicklaus, who has designed many of America's greatest golf courses including
Muirfield Village (with Desmond Muirhead), Castle Pines Golf Club, Shoal Creek
and Harbour Town Golf Links (with Pete Dye), has a distinct style in his
designs. "I've been able to witness now twice, the artistry with which he
approaches everything on the golf course and the strategy and the significance
and the importance of everything he lays out on any given golf hole," added
Crafting a design through the cacti and desert was not an easy task, nor was
traipsing around the property. "I said I'd walk carefully," Nicklaus commented
about his first look at the area. "This is a beautiful piece of property."
Nicklaus was excited about the opportunity to create a venue that would have
multiple capabilities. "Doing a golf course that not only is for the
community, but also for the tournament is something very special to me, at
least it was until I heard the commentators on television. I don't know how
many times I was here, but I was here a lot, and I think it's turned out
When the PGA Tour brought the World Golf Championships, Match Play event to
Dove Mountain, many of the announcers on the broadcast and some of the players
commented about the severity of the putting surfaces.
Although Nicklaus and his team made many subtle changes to 17 of the putting
surfaces following the first championship, 2009 winner Geoff Ogilvy had no
issues prior to the adjustments. "I really enjoy the golf course. They have
such perfect lies around here. I don't mind big slopes." I guess so. Ogilvy
tore up the field when he won. In fact, during his championship match against
Paul Casey, Ogilvy was 12 under par through 33 holes, en route to his 4 & 3
win. "You can see what Nicklaus is trying to do," he added. "The place will
mature quite well."
The changes to the greens and to a few select fairway areas were completed in
just 10 weeks. "I think it will probably improve the golf course," continued
When the world of golf returned to Dove Mountain in 2010, Englishman Ian
Poulter slayed the field and the course for his first career win in the United
States. Among some of the players that Poulter knocked off en route to the
championship match were Justin Leonard, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia. In fact,
he crushed Garcia, 7 & 6, never trailing in the match, as he ran off six
birdies over an eight-hole stretch. During the 36-hole final against fellow
Brit Casey, Poulter only trailed for one hole, as he recorded a 4 and 2
victory. Poulter certainly picked his spots on the course. "It's kind of like
a game of chess. You just need to put yourself in position, and when you do
put yourself in position, then take your opportunities when you can."
In addition to all of the recent accolades, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove
Mountain became only the second golf course in the Tucson region to be
designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. It is one of only 11
courses in Arizona to receive the honor, and among the 794 courses now listed
by Audubon International.
HOLE-BY-HOLE ANALYSIS: The opening hole on the Saguaro (pronounced swarro)
nine is one of eight lengthy par fours on the Tournament Course at Dove
Mountain surpassing the 445-yard mark. This time it's 460 yards from the tips,
playing slightly downhill towards a very expansive fairway. The big hitters
will need just a three-metal off the tee, thus leaving a short iron to the
green. Be aware, your approach is slightly uphill over a crossing wash to an
elevated surface. Any shot coming up short of the large green, will most
certainly spin back into a collection area. As you will find with all of the
greens at Dove Mountain, learning the undulations will go a long way.
At 574 yards, the second is the shortest of the three par fives on the
course. Remember, it's downhill and the ball travels further in the Arizona
air. It certainly didn't help me. Anyway, this dogleg left requires a sweeping
draw, avoiding the trio of bunkers on the corner. Accomplish this task and
you'll have a shot at getting on in two. Once again, the fairway is very
accessible, so you shouldn't have any issues off the tee. The question will be
with your second shot. To lay up, you must avoid the bunker down the right
side of the landing area, although it stares right at you from the middle of
the fairway. It wrecks havoc at the 65-yard mark, so stay clear for an easy
third. The green features several twists and turns, not to mention a pair of
deep bunkers on either side. Birdies for the professionals are the norm, but
for us mortals, par works.
One of the many signature holes at Dove Mountain is the third, a beautiful,
yet deadly par three, with water down the right and the topography as a
backdrop. What makes this hole so difficult, is not just the length, but the
long and narrow putting surface and the enormous bunkers on either side. The
green, which features a ridge down the center from front to back, slopes from
left to right and when the wind is up and the pin is back-right, forget-about-
At 393 yards, the fourth is one of just two par fours under 400 yards. It's a
pretty simple hole, which necessitates a fairway metal off the tee, avoiding
the bunkers, left, right and dead center. Your approach will be slightly
uphill to one of the smallest greens on the course, not to mention, one of the
quickest. If you're attacking with just a short iron, be wary of the bunker
left and rear, as well as the collection area to the right of the putting
surface. A back-left flag is a bear!
I remember parring the first four holes and thinking, could today be
the day? Then I reached the fifth and it was over as quickly as it started.
Although 536 yards, the fifth is a par four, not a five. Just another reason
to choose the correct tees at Dove Mountain. This double dogleg features a
wide landing area off the tee, but favors a draw around the nasty fairway
bunker. A fairway metal or long iron is needed to get home, but with an
elevated putting surface and a series of diabolical bunkers on the right, your
chances of par are quite diminished.
If there ever was a so-so hole on the course, it would be the sixth, a
relatively sublime par three of just 185 yards, that boasts a long, shallow
green with a bunker on the right. The putting surface is fairly simple,
although it falls sharply on the left towards a difficult chipping area. So
difficult, in fact, that putting with a fairway metal or the flat stick might
be the right play.
Back to business. The seventh is one of the more difficult holes, as it
doglegs hard to the right and plays uphill towards the green. Cut the corner,
where a 60-yard bunkers lays waiting with the driver and you'll still have a
medium to long iron to reach the green. The putting surface sits well above
the fairway, adding at least a club to your approach. A very deep bunker
guards the entrance to the roller-coaster green that slopes from back to front
and all points in between. Miss the green and you're staring bogey or worse in
The second par five on the course is the eighth, a 576-yard, dogleg right gem.
The fairway is generous to a point, as it runs out at the 228-yard mark. Clear
the bunker down the right side and you have an outside shot at getting home,
otherwise, it's a routine three-shotter. A wash splits the two sections of the
hole, as you turn east towards the green. Just a long iron or fairway metal to
an enormous fairway will be a perfect lay up, short of the myriad of bunkers
60 yards before the green. The putting surface, which is slightly elevated, is
the largest on the front nine, some 40 paces in length and at times very
difficult to navigate.
The ninth is a rock-solid, dogleg right par four reaching 476 yards in
length. From the tips, your view of the landing area is slightly skewed, due
to plenty of saguaro (tree-sized cactus, by the way). The fairway is inviting,
however a pint-sized trap lays waiting some 255 yards from the tee in the
center of the landing area. Option one is to play out towards the left and
leave a longer second, or cut the corner and attack the green. Either way,
your approach will be to an elevated, undulating and long putting surface.
The Tortolita nine starts with a monster par four, stretching 493 yards from
an offset left tee box. A right-to-left tee ball will adjust quite nicely to
the fairway, thus avoiding the bunkers on either side of the landing area. A
medium iron will remain to a tilted, geometrical-shaped putting surface that
runs hard from back to front and right to left. A shaved chipping area covers
the front and left side of the green right down to the desert wash which your
approach must clear.
Just like the opening nine, the back side starts with two of the hardest holes
on the course and No. 11 (2 Tortolita) is no exception. With Dove Mountain
pressed alongside to the right, this par five is the longest hole at the Ritz,
a whopping 659 yards. Generally a three-shotter for most players, the
professionals were able to reach this monster in two. During his victorious
run at the WGC Match Play Championship in 2010, Ian Poulter birdied it five
times in six matches. Favor the right side off the tee and you'll leave
yourself a reasonable lay up over a desert wash area. Three fairway bunkers
disrupt the landing area, angling from right to left, so be aware. The putting
surface is raised with deep bunkers on both sides. At 36 paces, the kidney-
shaped green is slick, quick and every other adjective in the book. Just ask
Ernie Els, who three-putted for par against Retief Goosen in the second round,
en route to losing his match.
Tortolita's third is a beautiful par three of 219 yards. From an elevated tee
and the highest point on the course, this gem offers wonderful views of the
desert, native grasses and the saguaro's. Back to work, you'll need a medium
to long iron to reach the short grass, a wide, but very narrow green, just 29
paces in depth. This roller coaster putting surface slopes towards the front
and when the wind is up, look out. A pot bunker short is no fun, nor is the
lengthy 100-yard trap on the right.
The final par five on the course is the fourth (13th on tournament course).
Bending to the right, you'll need to cover 100 yards of desert to reach the
fairway. Play down the wide-open left side and you'll open up the hole as you
meander down the 583 yards. A pot bunker in the middle of the fairway around
the 75-yard mark is really the only trouble you should encounter. Your
approach with a little wedge should set up a quality birdie attempt. If I can
make it, so can you.
Next up is the 449-yard par-four fifth. Your tee ball must be positioned to
the left of the bunker triad that looms large on the right. The fairway is
large, but sand lurks to the left if you're careless. Across another sandy
wash, your approach with a mid-iron must clear a pair of bunkers to a long,
but narrow green. With the mountains perched right behind the green and a
back-left flag, you'll have a tough time staying focused. At least I did.
Hence the double-bogey on the scorecard.
One of the most talk-about holes at Dove Mountain is the Tortolita sixth, a
reachable, slightly uphill par four of just 343 yards. Well...reachable for
the big boys. For me, just a 4-iron and a wedge. The desert surrounds the
first part of the double-fairway, making this a wonderful target hole. "We've
given you some options," commented Nicklaus. "I like variety within the golf
course." He's certainly created that here. During the opening round of the
2010 WGC Match Play Championship, four players reached the green with their
tee shots, including Rory McIlroy who converted his 13 feet, six-inch putt for
Although the 16th on the tournament course is 247 yards, it does play
downhill. Little consolation for the short hitter, who will need to hit at
least hybrid to get home. Toss in the fact that a desert wash stares you in
the face, the boomerang-shaped green is very long and undulating and the two
bunkers that front the left section of the putting surface are next to
impossible to get out of, other than that, no problem. Ha!
The second-to-last hole features a very wide landing area off the tee, however
the massive, 77-yard bunker down the right gets plenty of action. Even with a
successful tee ball, a mid-iron will remain to cover the desert wash to reach
the very undulating and difficult green. The putting surface features a large
three- to four-foot ridge in the center with a pot bunker short and deep, just
to make matters worse. No surprise that this is one of the hardest holes on
The closer is another risk-reward type of hole at Dove Mountain. At 480 yards
it certainly doesn't take a backseat to any of the outstanding holes here. A
sharp dogleg right, the player can take a chance and try and cut the corner,
which would leave just a short iron to the green. To do this, you must carry
the bunker down the right, which is not an easy task, since the desert covers
the entire side. Although it will leave a longer approach, the sensible play
is down the center of the wide fairway. A trap in the center of the landing
area is 311 yards out, but who are we kidding. Your second shot is played
uphill towards the green, which features many difficult pin positions within
the confines of the three surrounding bunkers.
FINAL WORD: All it took was one year, and the Dove Mountain venue was already
making everyone's "best" lists. High praise, but not surprising. After the
course debut in 2009, the players were blown away. "I find the golf course
very interesting and fun," commented Phil Mickelson during the 2009 Match Play
Championship. "I like it." Davis Love III was equally impressed. "I think that
the routing is great. I like the course off the tee."
What I like best about the course is three-fold.
First of all, the range of tee boxes is perfect. A player with limited skills
can tee it up at around the 5,300 yard mark, a mid-ranged player can battle
the Copper markers at 6,800, while the more experienced golfer can stretch it
out to over 7,800 yards. With a total of five different yardages, this course
is for all levels.
Although the golf course is long, the conditions of the course are played firm
and fast, negating some of the length. In addition, the altitude takes a
little off that number. "You're at 3,000 feet and you lose about 6 percent off
of that, that's almost 450 yards basically," said Nicklaus. "That's pretty
normal for today, 7,300 yards is not long for these guys."
Next is the challenge of the course. All you need, in order to determine
whether the course is worthy, is to look at the rating of 77.1 and the slope
147. Two-time British Open champion Padraig Harrington said it best, "The
course will always put doubt in your mind in the approach shots, because you
just can't hit it in the middle of the green every time."
Finally, the look and feel of the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain is
sensational. The landscape of the course and the topography of the region is
quite unique. Playing golf in the Arizona desert can be quite breathtaking.
For example, standing on the third tee of the Saguaro nine with the mountains
in the distance, or the elevated second on Torolita with the desert
the green, or better yet, the stillness and clarity of the sky as the sun
begins to set.
Nicklaus was given an incredible piece of property and he certainly didn't
disappoint. He created a masterpiece that will only improve with age. "I think
it's turned out spectacular." When the greatest golfer of all-time makes that
statement, well, that's good enough for me. I just hope they invite me back.