REVIEW: Usually, when a course opens with a par-five the better than average golfer tells himself that this is a great way to start out - with a birdie lurking down the fairway. It's possible, and nice to dream but beware. The first hole on the North Course requires pinpoint accuracy off the tee, not to mention a 200-yard carry over the desert. Thoughts at this point are starting to turn to making par. The first hole is indicative of what's in store as this is target golf at its best. There is no doubt that the green is reachable in two; however, your second shot must carry numerous bunkers en route to the putting surface. If you're going to miss, do so to the left, setting up an easy pitch to the narrow green.
The second is a nice par-three that can stretch from 120 yards to 195 from the tips. A swale in front of the green and a bunker in the back define the precision of this one-shot approach. The putting surface slopes back-to-front but, being a resort course, it's usually not that slick so go with your normal follow-through. The par-five third is a dogleg left of 548 yards and, realistically, not reachable for mere mortals. A tee shot down the center will set up a simple layup to the 100-yard mark. From there, attack as anyone with a sand wedge in their hands should be able stick this one close.
The fourth is right in front of you, a wide fairway leading straight up into the beautiful foothills that are worthy of a photo opp. Your approach will play slightly uphill to a two-tiered green. With a solid drive, the fourth can be had. At 425 yards and doglegging to the left, the fifth presents yet another interesting challenge. At the outset, your tee shot must be long and favor the right-center of the fairway. Second, your approach will be uphill to a very difficult green that slopes from back-to-front. Finally, bunkers right and back with a guarding tree left will make this your hardest challenge on the outward nine. A thing of beauty. That's what the sixth is. Just 142 yards from the back buttons, this par-three features three of the most difficult bunkers on the course...front, back and left. They are deep and menacing. Choose your club wisely or else bogey looms large, maybe even a double.
The seventh and eighth are definite birdie chances at just 347 and 356 yards, respectively, in length. Both holes dogleg to the left and require just a three-metal or long-iron off the tee. Don't make the mistake of hitting driver as that will cost you dearly. After your tee ball on the seventh, just a wedge will remain to a well-guarded green. A back-left pin could cause trouble but go for the gusto while you have the chance.
The teeth of the course are to be found at the opening holes on the back nine. At 451 yards, the 10th is a brute, playing as a dogleg left and uphill. A huge tee shot is needed to have a prayer at reaching the green in two. Miss left off the tee and you'll have to contend with desert brush and bunkers guarding the corner. A long-iron or fairway-metal will be needed to reach the putting surface. This is where you start thinking bogey and, with it, a sense of accomplishment. Miss right and you'll lose your ball, not to mention your mind. One bright spot - the green is not protected by sand, a small, but welcome consolation. Next up is the dogleg right 11th. This 445-yarder puts a premium on driving accuracy and length. The fairway is quite ample but try to cut off to much on the right and you'll make double-bogey. After a successful tee shot, a medium- to long-iron will be left to a putting surface guarded, both left and right, by sand. If someone told me that I could have par and move on before I played the hole, that certainly would have been my choice.
Although the 12th is a definite birdie chance, it is not without its difficulties. A big tee shot down the left side of another dogleg left will put you in the 'go-zone' for the green. What makes this par-five arduous is the green. Sloping severely from back-to-front, the two-tiered surface is protected by deep sand and right by a large mound, obstructing your view. You only live once so go for it.
Hard to believe that any hole could play harder than 13. When played from the tips, this hole is a challenge you will love and hate at one and the same time. Ample fairway will be your only saving grace. That leaves you with a difficult approach over a desert canal to a wide, but narrow, green. Be short and your ball will land in a collection area; long and a deep menacing bunker awaits. Making par is certainly one's goal here followed by moving on rapidly but the fact of the matter is that bogey is not so bad.
The 15th should be played as a par-four, since it's just 483 yards, but the scorecard says par-five so play it as a three-shotter since you will need every advantage you can muster. Bending slightly to the right, your tee shot should favor the right side leaving you with a reasonable chance to get home. The green is fairly open but sand does await the errant shot to the right. If all else fails, play to the left, chip close and make a four. Then get out of there. The 16th is a solid par-four, straightaway and stretching 424 yards. A good tee shot will leave a medium- to short-iron to a difficult green. What makes this hole tough is the desert gulch that must be cleared in order to reach the uphill green. The putting surface is very undulating and guarded left and long by sand. This is not the time to fool around with shots you thought you could make. Go for the ones you know you can since there are still two difficult holes left.
The longest par-three on the course, the 17th can stretch to 220 yards from the tips. Although it's long, the hole plays downhill to a fairly large green with a huge bunker, featuring a boulder in the center, guarding the right entrance to the surface. If the hole doesn't inspire you, then the sunset will. It's time to head home and the 18th is the sharpest dogleg on the course, snapping 90-degrees to the right. Cut the corner and you're left with a short- to medium-iron to a fairly small green. A perfect finish to a wonderful layout.
OVERALL: It comes as no surprise that The Boulders has been rated a Gold Medal resort by Golf Magazine and a five diamond facility by AAA. We'll get to the golf ratings in a moment. Let's start with beauty. If the millions of year old boulder formations that mark the landscape don't do it for you, then how about the spectacular sunsets, maybe the amazing vegetation or how about the stunning saguaros? There's also tennis and, of course, the world renowned Golden Door Spa. The amenities alone should keep you coming back for more. Onto the golf. First of all, you know you're in for an interesting round of golf when the scorecard reads; 'Coyote Rule - If there is reasonable evidence that your ball was taken by a coyote and isn't found, place a ball on the spot from which the ball was moved, no penalty.'
The practice facility is outstanding, not to mention the well qualified and experienced staff with a pro shop that is well stocked with an outstanding selection of merchandise. Thirty-six holes of golf, set up for all levels of play, featuring five sets of tees ranging from 4,900 to just under 7,000 yards. Although this is a resort layout with homes dotted throughout, the venue will challenge even the best of players. What makes this so special is the coupling of the courses with amenities that are second to none. When it comes to hospitality, you'll be hard pressed to find a more courteous and helpful staff. As the governor of California would say, 'I'll be back.'
Phil Sokol writes for the Sports Network, and periodically contributes to GolfChannel.com. Send your thoughts on this article to Phil Sokol at firstname.lastname@example.org.