Jack returns to the Arizona Desert

The Golden Bear pays visits to
Desert Highlands then Desert Mountain,
site of the 2012 Charles Schwab Cup

Jack Nicklaus has been credited with sparking the boom in golf course development in Arizona, raising the bar there on quality and sustainable course design. You might say he drew a line in the sand…well, desert…in what is best about desert golf. Last week, the Golden Bear returned to where he began to make his mark almost 30 years ago, when he visited Scottsdale and two of his jewels in Desert Highlands and Desert Mountain.

Outside of Florida and California—where the Golden Bear has designed a combined 45 courses—Arizona is home to more Jack Nicklaus-designed courses than any other state with 11. Of those, nine are in the Phoenix-Scottsdale market. Desert Highlands opened to much acclaim in 1983 and debuted four years later in Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Courses at No. 25.

Next year, Desert Mountain celebrates the 25th anniversary of when the club opened the first of its six Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses—all of which have been ranked or award-winners in such national publications as Golf Digest and Golfweek.

“Desert Highlands and Desert Mountain are an important part of my legacy in golf course design,” Nicklaus said. “But we also know the next 25 years are as important to that legacy as the last quarter-century, so that is why we return to make sure the golf courses are up to date, relevant in today’s game, and, most important, are meeting the needs and goals of their members.”

On Dec. 12, the Golden Bear stopped in at Desert Highlands, site of the first-ever Skins Game in 1983 and the Golden Bear’s victory in ’84—touring all 18 holes and providing the club ideas on minor tweaks as well as several significant changes they can consider as part of their long-range strategy. He then met with close to 200 members, a group that included original developer Lyle Anderson, to reminisce about his work at Desert Highlands and detail to the enthusiastic group his suggestions.

The following day—an unseasonably rainy and brisk day in Scottsdale that didn’t top the mid-40s—he met with the new Board of Directors for the Desert Mountain Club, which less than a year ago celebrated a complete transition to being owned by its almost 2,400 members. The group then toured the Cochise Course, which was home to The Tradition (a senior major championship) from 1989-2001 and will be the host site of the 2012 season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship. After Nicklaus suggested minor changes to ready the course for the Champions Tour’s season-ending championship, he gathered with several dozen media and about 250 members to discuss the Schwab Cup coming to Desert Mountain. The Golden Bear was joined on the stage by Champions Tour President Mike Stevens, Desert Mountain Board President Paul Wutz, and Desert Mountain Chief Operating Officer/General Manager Bob Jones.

"When we did Cochise (which opened in November 1988), it was not intended to be the tournament golf course," said Nicklaus, whose record four Tradition titles, including his last in 1996, contributed to his record eight senior majors. "Cochise was to be the fun golf course, the sporty golf course, the more country club golf course, you might call it."

Nicklaus added that the longer, more challenging Geronimo course, which opened a year after Cochise, originally was to be the site of The Tradition; however, Cochise was more practical from a clubhouse operations and gallery perspective.

"Are there tougher courses here? Yes, but that doesn’t make any difference,” Nicklaus said. “The Champions Tour (players) will shoot low scores at Cochise, we know that. But that’s not the important part. It’s a good test. It’s a fair test.”

Nicklaus has agreed to consult on preparing Cochise for the tournament, as well as work with the club and the Board in the coming years on any renovations or ideas for the other five courses at Desert Mountain.

The 2012 Charles Schwab Cup Championship is scheduled to be played Nov. 1-4 next year. The event pits the top 30 players in the Champions Tour’s season-long Schwab Cup points’ competition, with the points winner receiving $1 million and the tournament winner pocketing $440,000. Scottsdale’s Tom Lehman is the defending Schwab Cup champion.
The Cochise became a favorite of Champions Tour players, who annually voted it the best-conditioned course they played during the days of The Tradition, and the current senior stars polled are eager to return.

"I can’t tell you how excited our players are to come back to Desert Mountain and Cochise," Champions Tour President Mike Stevens said.

When Nicklaus was asked if he would hit a ceremonial first tee shot next years, he politely declined, but emphasized that he plans to be part of the event as well as the future of Desert Mountain.

"Believe me, you don’t want to see me hit a shot," Nicklaus joked. "People have always said they want to play like I do. Now they can.”

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