To suggest that Ak Chin Southern Dunes is anything but a first-class high-end golf facility would be a total untruth. Much like Poston Butte GC, another of the high-end Troon managed golf courses we recently played, it is basically located in an isolated section of the desert; this time near the town of Maricopa, AZ.
In our travels we have had the pleasure of playing a number of courses owned or developed with the cooperation and association of the native community. The presence of the native heritage is not only necessary but appreciated by Myra and I. Something as simple as each golf hole having a native Indian name and also the English translation is a learning process and adds to the history of the area. Long before golf was played here proud members of the Ak Chin tribe lived and thrived here. There is no sense of different levels of privilege here, all golfers are welcome, treated equally and smiling is prevalent on all golfers and staff members faces.
Ak-Chin Southern Dunes was the sixth collaboration between golf architect Brian Curley of Schmidt-Curley Golf Design and Fred Couples in a consultancy role and perhaps to suggest it’s a course designed for beginners or novices would also lean towards an untruth but the doesn’t mean all levels aren’t welcome. We have played numerous Schmidt-Curley designed courses and there design style of wide landing areas off the tee and a focus on precise approach play is very challenging and rewarding. Take advantage of the 6 sets of tees and aim for green grass as often as possible. What the course lacks in water hazards, it makes up for in bunkers with over 120 of them ranging from huge fairway bunkers to deep, deep green side bunkers. The course is outstanding in all aspects of course, design a true desert masterpiece in every way. The landing areas off the tees are very wide and generous, the beautiful fairway turf grass is tightly mowed and tee, greens and aprons are exquisite.
From our arrival and initial greeting by young Michael at the bag drop to a very warm welcome by Bryan Roarke manning the counter in the pro shop, we were completely at ease as we prepared for our day.
We were slated to tee off a little after lunch time and the threat of the smallest amount of rain had perhaps driven a few fair-weather golfers away. Therefore, we weren’t hurried or delayed and upon meeting another Michael, the starter, who encouraged us to warm up at our own pace and return to his position adjacent to the practice green when ready.
The range and practice green with its two deep faced bunkers was very well laid out. The beautiful practice green with the brightest red mini flags provided us with a very accurate depiction of what was to follow. Michael, a very pleasant and friendly former businessman from Colorado, sparred no details on playing the course, restroom locations and the most important aspect of scoring well, bunker avoidance 101.
In the summer of 2016, we ventured 4 hours from our home on Vancouver Island to the stunning Semiahmoo golf resort in, Blaine, WA. While there, we invested in a couple of lessons with one of the USA’s most accomplished teaching pros, Mr. Jeff Coston. One of sessions was a short game lesson which included proper bunker extrication or more simply put “how the heck to get out of the sand”. Where once I feared an approach shot going into the bunker after this lesson was now not a worry.
Within a month of that lesson, I holed out 3 bunker shots. To this day I am a very decent bunker player. I took the time to pass on and reinforce the tips Jeff gave me that day to Myra and she now regularly gets out of the sand first time, every time.
That lesson has never paid off more than our round at Ak Chin Southern Dunes. Often when we play we will, like most golfers, repeat the same expression numerous times. They typically are “Nice drive Bill” or “Great putt Myra” or even “Oh what a par”. On this day those were used in the usual fashion, but we added “Pass me my sand wedge” and “Oh, it rolled into the bunker” and “Nice out hon”.
The tag line of Ak Chin Southern Dunes is ” A Pure Golfing Experience” and that is obvious with the extensive over seeding as well as the fact its just you, your golfing companions and the course. There are no homes or construction projects anywhere near the course and serenity is experienced when out on this incredible landscape. The course also puts a premium on putting and the combination of the extensive bunkering and multi-tiered greens, which were in mint condition, challenges your mental and short game to the highest degree. Eucalyptus trees lined many of the fairways and their scent permeated out onto the course. There was very little external noise or distractions. And yes, they had a lot of rakes.
We joked that “the course may have been designed by Couples, but it sure wasn’t meant to be played by couples”. That sounds a little sexist perhaps, but was endorsed by Myra also and really is our way of saying if your golfing companion is a beginner male or female perhaps it’s not suitable course to play. Now playing to a 9 handicap, I lipped out a 5-footer on 18 to shoot bogey golf, a solid 90. A score that would typically have me heading to the range or perhaps dialling golf’s version of “911”.
It all started as predicted by our starter, Mike – look out for the bunkers. When I made a great sand save on the Par 4 first hole, I thought “piece of cake”. Not so fast bunker breath, I counted that I played 20 bunker shots in total. On one of the Par 5’s I hit my drive in the bunker off the tee, hit my hybrid next shot into the sand about 100 yards out then put my pitching wedge shot into the greenside bunker. After getting on in 4, I then proceeded to 3 putt and words that children should never repeat were spoken. Luckily only my very tolerant wife and a befuddled looking roadrunner were witness to my tirade.
It was not the disaster that perhaps I am painting. I managed 7 really good pars and Myra become so adept at bunker shots she actual emulated Babe Ruth in “calling her shot’ on one hole. “I’m going to hole out this one” she said and from an uphill side hill lie, she splashed one out and watched as it rolled right over the edge an inch from the hole.
The par 3’s were amazing and fearsome. One of them, the 6th, played 200 yards for me and resulted in a two-putt par from 60 feet. That paled in comparison to Myra’s 2 putt 6 on the first hole that I paced off at 80 feet. We both agreed that the 13th was most likely the most pleasing hole to the eye and the most enjoyable from a playability standpoint. The Par 3 17th which we both parred had a very fair bale out area left of the green and one singular bunker right.
We finished in an amazing 3 hours 45 minutes and while Myra loaded up the car I went into thank Bryan in the pro shop. He asked how I liked the course. I told him I had a responsibility to the readership and my integrity as a writer. In brief I described it as I did in the aforementioned text.
I told him that in my opinion this course, if in a populated area with all the necessary amenities close by, could host any level of PGA tour event. I said it’s the perfect course for 4 to 8 to 12 adept golfers on a golf holiday week to throw 20 bucks in the pot and play a skins game and KP’s. They won’t be disappointed in the least and one of them will come away with great bragging rights. It’s also a course you need to play a second and third time, as playing it the first time just gets you to understand the lay of the land or in this case – the lay of the sand.