Mar 17

The Deadly Beauty of Desert Golf

Desert Golf Has Hidden Monsters

There was a time when I had no use for arid country whatsoever. I grew up in the rain, and loved it. I even loved playing golf in it and on it.  Of course, I lived in a region where bursts of sunlight resulted in UFO reports.

It wasn’t until about the age of thirty that I was struck by the beauty of golf in the desert, down around Phoenix and Tucson, and I was particularly smitten with the fact for the first time in my life, I hit a three hundred yard drive, somewhere around Casa Grande.

The Deadly Beauty of Desert GolfGranted, it was the middle of summer, and the ground was so dry and hard-packed that the grass was only grass in the most distant, technical sense. It was like hitting a drive off of an airport runway, or on a moon mission, but I didn’t care. It would have been a good drive anywhere, but here, it was absolutely awesome, and a lot of important people were there to witness it.

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I always thought of the desert as unfriendly. The birds run instead of flying, the vegetation, if you want to call it that, almost screams “Don’t touch me,” or “Go ahead. I dare you!” Down in the Tucson area, just above the Mexican border, the air is so clean that it almost hurts your lungs. The mornings are so gorgeous, and the evenings so pensive and restive that you don’t ever want to leave the course – except in the afternoon. Then, you get punished for all the rest of it.

There’s another feature of desert courses, beautiful and deadly as they are, that must be remembered. There are very few ways to get into “a little trouble.” You’re either looking good or you’re in Dante’s seventh circle, very often with no club in the bag that has a prayer of getting you out. There’s nothing like a brushy, rocky cliff on your left, a drainage ditch and canyon on your right, and a winding fairway you could cross in four paces to inspire confidence.
TGW.com - The Golf Warehousedesert 2The one club in the bag I finally learned to be careful about was the driver. By my third round, I almost never used it – of course, that was back in my one-iron days, and I fancied that I looked very cool even having one.

There’s no such thing as a lost ball in many cases. I am convinced that you’re fine if there’s one inch of that exquisite green under the ball, but one inch over the ominous brown line, and something supernatural snatches it away, probably eats it, then invites you out to look for it with a delightful sneer. That’s when you get to meet the natural wildlife of the Southwest, and unless you work for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, that’s not usually a good idea.

Yes, desert courses have water, like they do everywhere else, but not usually off to the far side somewhere, with a gentle incline leading toward it. Here’s the water, here’s the fairway, nothing in between. Hit a five and an eighth iron, you might just make it. Hit a normal five, you’re in – forever.
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And downhill lies? Even on some tees, you’re only choice is a totally straight drive (forget fades or draws), a mountain goat trek, or the bottom of of a miniature Grand Canyon.

desert 3I notice that the LPGA is going to play in the desert on the 20th for the JBC Founders Cup. I don’t blame them – Oregon, Washington and British Columbia will be better-behaved in a month or two. The ladies are going to play at (or with) Wildfire, lest one think the name is just a catchy advertising gimmick. Wildfire is possible – so is flash-flooding, or heat stroke. There are seas of sand that will make them wish they’d brought a camel. The saguaros, I’m convinced, aren’t  just decorative. They’ll reach right out and grab you during your back swing – not to mention the pterodactyls and volcanoes.

desert 5As we get older, cold and generally petulant weather wears out its welcome. We’re just not as excited as we used to be about day after day of rain. We begin to gravitate toward southern climes, including, perhaps, even the desert. But, as you approach the game of golf in those new surroundings, make a careful study of the terrain, climate and wildlife, and think twice about charging recklessly into the brush –  there be monsters.
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