Tiny but tough: Don't be fooled by the scorecard at Rancho Manana Golf Club in Cave Creek

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CAVE CREEK, Ariz. -- Any self-respecting golfer -- in other words, those who don't play in blue jeans -- will take one look at the scorecard for Rancho Manana Golf Club and dismiss it immediately.

After all, the par-70 layout in Cave Creek is just 6,016 yards from the tips. There's a 465-yard par 5, a 126-yard par 3 and a 272-yard par 4 -- hardly the stuff to challenge the average golfer, much less a low handicapper.

But the numbers on the scorecard are a flat-out lie. Simply put, Rancho Manana is the toughest 6,000 yards you'll ever encounter.

'Some better players will look at it and say it's too short,' said General Manager Dale Samar. 'But when you play it, it doesn't feel like anything out of the ordinary in terms of distance.'

There are a couple of reasons for that. First, Rancho Manana has six par 3s instead of the normal four. That alone knocks a couple of hundred yards off the scorecard. Second, the course has so much elevation change -- Samar said the course rises at least 100 yards from the lowest point to the highest point -- the length becomes secondary.

It's all about club selection and accuracy. In fact, Rancho Manana is one of those golf courses where it might be better to leave the driver in the bag on some holes. 'You can hit driver, but it's not necessarily needed or the best club selection,' Samar said.

Rancho Manana Golf Club: The course

Although Rancho Manana is located in the ritzy north Scottsdale/Cave Creek area, it doesn't have a lot in common with neighbors Troon North Golf Club and Grayhawk Golf Club. It has more of a relaxed feel, as evidenced by the price -- $99 in peak months compared to more than $200 at Troon North -- the fact golfers have to buy range balls and the clientele.

This is bring-your-buddies-and-have-a-beer golf.

'We try not to be too stuffy,' Samar said. 'We're pretty laid back.'

That doesn't mean low-handicappers should shun Rancho Manana. It's a stern test, even at 6,000 yards. Course designer Bill Johnston compensated with two key design features: Narrow fairways and tiny greens.

Also, many of the greens have false fronts and little room behind them before the desert comes into play. Thus, even with short irons in their hands, it's a challenge to hit the green, much less land the ball on the same tier as the pin.

A perfect example of that is No. 11, the seemingly harmless, 126-yard par 3. The green slopes severely from back to front, and two sand traps are located directly behind the green. If the pin is tucked on the back edge, golfers have about a 10-yard landing strip in which they can get close to the pin.

Go long, and the ball is in the bunkers. Go short, and the ball will roll all the way back to the front of the green, leaving a long, uphill birdie putt.

The entire course is an elevator ride -- there's not a flat hole in sight -- and some of the holes are extreme in their elevation change. Take No. 4, a 379-yard par 4 in which the green rises some 60 feet from the 150-yard pole.

Conversely, the 207-yard, par-3 seventh and 192-yard, par-3 ninth each drop about 75 feet.

One tip: Carefully read the Helpful Hints portion of the scorecard. It lets players know where to aim on each hole, where not to go and how club selection should be impacted by the elevation change.

Rancho Manana Golf Club: The verdict

Rancho Manana G.C. never will rank among the best courses in north Scottsdale. But it is one of the funkier and more enjoyable tracks to play, because it's so different.

The scenery is beautiful, the price is right, the bunkers don't require a step-ladder to get out of and the atmosphere is low-key and enjoyable.

It's the perfect antidote for golfers who are tired of getting beat up by the 7,300-yard desert monsters that make up so much of Arizona's golf scene.