Mesquite offers roller coaster golfing

Don’t overlook Mesquite, Nevada as a great golfing destination. Located 60 miles from Las Vegas on I-15 in the ruggedly beautiful Virgin River Valley, the city offers seven golf courses carved through desert arroyos that will test your golfing skills.

Joining a group of golfers from the Philadelphia area along with guests from New Hampshire and Florida, I found out myself that it provided a great golfing experience that felt like a roller coaster ride at times on some of the most scenic courses imaginable.

An added plus was Chamber of Commerce-like weather conditions– cool mornings and sunny afternoons with temperatures climbing into the 80s. I understand Mesquite gets 300 days of sunshine each year and so you always have chances for favorable weather to play golf.

Since the greens at nearby Falcon Ridge Golf Club were not up to par, we started the Freedom Trail Challenge on the Palmer Course at the Oasis Golf Club, which helped put Mesquite on the map as a golf destination when it opened in 1995 and later hosted Golf Channel’s Big Break Mesquite in 2007.

Hitting a 5-iron from the fairway bunker on the first hole, I started out with a 10-footer for birdie, but the numbers on the scorecard for myself and best-ball partner Jamie McWilliams got a lot higher for the most part as we continued. The next three holes were more like some of the residential-framed fairways I’ve played in the past, but then that all changed when we drove up the hill to No. 5.

Tee shot on Palmer No. 5

Tee shot on Palmer No. 5

We faced an intimidating tee shot to a fairway 100 feet below us that was in a canyon with tall bluffs on both sides. Due to the ecologically sensitive nature of the terrain, entry into these areas was prohibited and they were marked with red/green stakes. Thank goodness, a drop area was provided as three of the players in front of us and all but McWilliams needed to go there and take the one-stroke penalty.

Looking ahead, I wondered how the par 3 No. 7, playing 116 to 157 yards, could also be the No. 7 handicap hole. I found out why when we arrived at the tee as there was a huge ravine protecting the green with a pin cut on the left side. Playing to the right was the best option since the green also sloped in that direction, but I came up short, but over the ravine. Even with a stroke in our second match, McWilliams and I both failed to get over the ravine and lost to a birdie by James Braunsberg, a zero handicapper who has visions of trying his luck out on the pro circuit.

I felt the 18th may have been the best closing hole we played. From an another elevated tee, you had to place your drive between a water hazard on the right and out of bounds to the left. Playing from the white tees for our second round on our last day, I did leave Mesquite with the satisfaction of making par—my only one that day– thanks to a conceded four-footer. In the first round, I found the water.

Although the scorecard says the blues play only 6,022 yards, I still think higher handicappers, especially seniors who have lost a little distance like Andy Petruzelli, will enjoy it more from the whites at 5,564 yards. After he and Braunsberg finished an 8&7 rout of us, he had a smile on his face playing the whites on the final holes that day.

The sister Canyons Course at the Oasis Golf Club, featuring a front 9 designed by Scottsdale, Az-based architect Dave Druzisky and a back 9 by Arnold Palmer’s team, is definitely more player friendly, especially from the whites at 5,832 where we played. McWilliams played the front side in 36 with two natural birdies—both matched by our opponent Jim McCalmont.

One of the most unusual holes on the front was the par-4 No. 6. All you can see from the tee was a mountain straight ahead and a fairway to the right some 60 feet below you. After I hit a hybrid safely toward the 150-yard marker, McWilliams hit a towering drive over the mountain, but then we found that might not have been a good idea as the final 100 yards of a narrow fairway sloped to a water hazard that must have caught his ball. My par did win the hole.

We were five up after I made par on No. 10, but then we lost five straight holes as McCalmont continued his birdie-par barrage and we couldn’t even make pars. Some how McCalmont missed a five-footer for birdie on No. 16. When I saved par from 12 feet on the downhill par 3 17th, McCalmont matched it from eight feet. We eked out a halve when McWilliams made a four-footer for bogey while Bob Davis, getting a stroke, made double bogey after McCalmont drove OB.

Professional Randy Tickler indicated that most of the guests seem to favor the Palmer as their favorite because of the dramatic elevation changes, but if I could only play one of them, I’d go with the Canyons; it was a little more fun to play.

Actually, my favorite course on the trip took us across the tip of Arizona 15 minutes east of St. George, UT to the Sand Hollow Golf Course, a picturesque John Fought design that features dramatic elevation changes of its own, natural sandstone ledges and rock outcroppings plus vibrant red sand bunkers.

The front nine is fairly sedate as it winds through the desert, but golfers will be reminded of some of Bud Chapman’s “Infamous 18” paintings, especially on a four-hole stretch (Nos. 12-15), on the back nine. Hook a tee shot on Nos. 12 or 13 and the ball could end up 200 feet below in the Virgin River valley. From the black tees on No. 15 at over 200 yards, you are faced with a shot over a ravine to a green perched just above a cliff. It’s a little easier shot of 144 yards from the whites. The safe play is to favor the right side as shots that even miss slightly on that side will jump to the left as mine did in allowing me to make the only par.

En route to Mesquite, we made a detour north of I-15–really in the middle of nowhere-and played Canyon Springs, a Jack Nicklaus design that can be pushed to 7,471 yards. It’s more fun from the whites. Water comes into play on 11 holes, including the finishing holes on each side where looking back at the tee you see cascading waterfalls.

The only problem was that the bentgrass greens were a little spotty, just as they were a few days earlier when touring pros qualified for the Las Vegas event.

The original plans called for an ambitious residential project with additional courses and lots of home connected with the PGA of America, but now there’s just a good course worth the short detour to get there when the greens might be in better shape.

Both of these courses are part of the GolfMesquiteNevada co-op along with Falcon Ridge Golf Club and Conestoga in Mesquite plus Coral Canyon in Utah.

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