Augusta-like conditions at a public course

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In this Masters edition of Travel Punch Shots, travel editor Erik Peterson and TravelGolf.com senior writer Brandon Tucker recall the best Augusta-like conditions they’ve ever experienced at a public golf course.

By ERIK PETERSON

If you’ve never played the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain near Tucson, Ariz., you need to go.

Site of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, these 27 Jack Nicklaus-designed holes are set amidst the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains. With unobstructed panoramic views of cacti that are decades – and even centuries – old, the setting is about as naturally beautiful as a desert gets. But more important than the scenery, the course conditions at Dove Mountain are among the finest I’ve ever played.

Believe it or not, the conditions at Dove Mountain remind me of Augusta National.

There are two things that amaze me about the conditions at Augusta: First is the contrast of colors – the lush greens against the white bunkers, brown pine straw and blooming flowers. The other is how green the course is, without being soft. Dove Mountain is the only course I’ve played that is similar to Augusta in both regards.

It begins with the tee boxes, which epitomize the word “oasis” with their green, tightly clipped Bermuda grass surrounded by gnarly desert plants. The contrast of colors and conditions is marvelous.

The views from the tee down the wide fairway corridors are also stunning, with cross-cut fairway mow lines and dramatic bunkers. It’s a view that’s just as photogenic as it is intimidating.

The fairways are the same consistency as the tee box, with hardly any divots to be found (this is probably due in part to the course not getting a ton of play even during high season, and also because the fairways are so large that the divots are spread far apart).

As with the tee boxes, the dazzling fairways are contrasted by unfriendly desert.

Though the tee boxes and fairways are superbly maintained, it’s around the greens where Dove Mountain really stands out. The firm, fast bent grass surfaces usually are kept at around 11 on the Stimpmeter, which is lightning fast by resort golf standards.

These massive putting surfaces are works of art, characterized by deceptive run-off areas and severe undulation. In fact, Nicklaus gave the greens so much severity that they were flattened in 2010 so PGA Tour officials could get them up to Tour-caliber speed without making them unplayable.

Dove Mountain is no doubt one of the finest golf courses in Arizona. For the best chance of playing it in peak form, visit between October and May.

By BRANDON TUCKER

Nothing beats having a course all to your foursome in the morning sun, playing on bentgrass in prime condition. Northern Michigan has loads of opportunities, and a recent round at True North Golf Club in Harbor Springs had the best conditions I can recall in some time.

True North is one of two Jim Engh-designed golf courses in Michigan that are loads of fun to play. I favor his Tullymore Golf Club as a course design, but True North is a sleeper pick that doesn't get much ink, partially because so few people have played it and also because other surrounding resorts have more marketing pizazz.

During my visit in September of 2009, True North only had a handful of members and their public play allowance was by word of mouth. Technically, you were only allowed to play one preview round as a prospective member. The lack of traffic meant pure, fast greens, fairways with virtually no divots, and consistent sand traps with no foot marks. The green conditions were so good the shop told me they had never aerated the golf course since it opened a few years prior. That's unheard of Michigan. Most courses perform a spring and fall punching.

A golf club with such little play isn't sustainable, of course. Since my visit, True North has opened up their tee sheet policy a bit further ($165 peak season). Still, compared to many other more well known courses, like the nearby Boyne Highlands Resort and Bay Harbor, True North should remain relatively undiscovered for awhile. That should mean butter smooth greens and fairways, plus a fast pace of play, which only adds to the experience.

Want proof of the conditions? Here is my photo gallery from that morning.