SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Desert Mountain Club, the private 8,000-acre golf, recreation and real estate community in Scottsdale, Ariz., embarks on a new era of golf this spring.
Later in April, the private club will debut a new course – appropriately named No. 7 as it's the seventh course in the community – and will reopen Renegade, its ground-breaking first course built by Jack Nicklaus in the 1980s. This is a special time for a special place that is not resting on its reputation among the top golf clubs/communities in the world. No. 7 will be the community’s first par-3 course, following a modern trend that golf needs to be faster and more fun. The renovation of Renegade, one of six Nicklaus Signature Courses within Desert Mountain, will also create a more player-friendly experience.
The exclusive private club added 131 members from 26 states and four nations in 2018, a substantial increase of nearly 15 percent from the prior year.
“The future is so bright, you’ve got to wear shades. I think somebody wrote that in a song once,” said PGA Director of Golf John Lyberger. “That’s how I sum up Desert Mountain. It is in the sunbelt. If you look at demographics, baby boomers are going south and west. They want sun. They want to be outdoors and healthy, hiking, playing golf, tennis and pickleball and having other world-class amenities to enjoy their golden years. We offer that and more.”
Both courses will be covered in bentgrass, a cool-season strain that can thrive at 4,500 feet in elevation where Desert Mountain resides. Neither course will need to be overseeded, meaning members will play green and lush courses in good shape year round. When the Bermuda grass courses at Desert Mountain are closed for overseeding in the spring and fall, the bentgrass courses will be in prime shape. Conversely, during the summer’s sweltering heat, Renegade will shut down for several months with the others ready to host rounds.
“It gives us opportunities and versatility to have courses always ready for members to play,” Lyberger said. “It will be a huge plus.”
Short and sweet at No. 7
No. 7 is an important project for Desert Mountain on several levels, the most obvious being that it’s something completely different than what’s already offered. This 3,118-yard course is one of only two private, par-54 layouts in America. Desert Mountain Club members Bill Brownlee of M3 Companies and Wendell Pickett of Greey|Pickett – the men behind the critically-acclaimed Li’l Wick nine-hole short game course at Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club in nearby Wickenburg – have created a versatile playground where beginners and good players can co-exist. One hole from the tips stretches to 250 yards. A man-made stream wanders through five holes. There's even “bunker tees” on certain holes, where players can practice fairway bunker shots of 30 to 100 yards into greens. A lighted putting course connects to the 18th green.
A sleek, modern clubhouse will serve as a gathering space with a gastropub named "Seven", a state-of-the-art sound system, 24 TVs, collapsible glass walls to bring the outside in, heated patio floors and five fire pits and two fireplaces. The menu unique to "Seven" will include 12 beers on tap and wines you can only get at Desert Mountain. Two bocce ball courts offer more entertainment.
“Seven is gonna be great,” Lyberger said. “It’s that place where people want to go. It’s made so you can play a quick nine in 45 minutes in the evening. Just grab a couple clubs or a lightweight bag. It will have happy hour. The westward facing view toward sunset will be spectacular over the mountains.”
No. 7 will have its own "Seven" community, a 90-acre enclave with up to 190 custom homes designed by Arizona’s leading custom home builders Cullum Homes, Camelot Homes and Family Development. All but three of the homes will sit directly on the golf course. The homes, ranging in size from 2,300 square feet to 6,500 square feet, will be priced from $1 million to $3-plus million. Homeowners at Seven will become members of Desert Mountain Club as part of their property purchase. It could be an attractive option for families.
“There’s no doubt that the direction in the initiative is we want to get younger,” Lyberger said.
Evolution at Renegade
When Renegade opened in 1987, it was considered a revolutionary design. Each hole offered two pin placements – a white pin usually set forward on the green for easier access and a gold pin in a more difficult spot on the same double green or a different green altogether.
Lyberger said Renegade has been “blown up from the ground up” by Nicklaus. Much of the fairway mounding, a common trait of 1980s designs, has been removed. Lyberger said multiple tees have been added, softening long carries, and 10 of the large double greens have been separated and turned into friendlier standalone greens. The three greens on the unique par-3 14th hole remain. Seven other double greens were rebuilt large enough for the separate white and gold flag locations. Despite the emphasis on playability, the course grew in length, up from 7,524 yards, and includes slightly more bunkers, some as aiming points and others to challenge and reward better players who will attempt to carry them to find the speed slot.
With six sets of tees, Renegade can play from 4,300 yards to more than 8,000 yards. Lyberger said the course plays like “15 to 18” different courses in one with so many flexible tee and pin combinations. A new irrigation system promotes more efficient water use and many of the new, more subtle design features require less maintenance costs.
“If this isn’t a Top 100 Course (by critics), I will be surprised,” Lyberger said.
Desert Mountain’s master plan includes wrapping up in 2019 a two-year conversion to bentgrass on Apache. The greens and bunkers on Chiricahua will be redone this summer. The clubhouse and course at Cochise is on the books for a 2022 renovation. A few holes could eventually be redesigned on Outlaw down the road. Excellence never rests, it seems.
I played Geronimo for the first time in January and came away awestruck by its beauty. When you aren't enjoying the views of the Sonoran desert, you find yourself staring at the luxurious homes set high upon the boulders. Elevated greens and desert ravines are the course's hallmarks. The round ends, though, with a downhill twist - a daunting 197-yard par 3.
“For what you get here, the dollar value for golf, it is off the charts,” Lyberger said, noting the seven courses, five clubhouses and four practice facilities. “If I didn’t work here, this is where I would want to be a member.”