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Publication: Golf Digest; Date: 02/23/2004

Course Critic

By Ron Whitten

It's not often a golf architect gets a mulligan on a course design, but Ken Kavanaugh did at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona. Not that it wasn't a good course to begin with. I gave Longbow a thumbs up back when I reviewed it in 2001. But it did have a glaring flaw. As I wrote back then ...

"The one mark against Longbow is that it's tight, built on just 140 acres. There are a couple of holes that are snug against each other, and there are boundaries on a couple of others, so when the wind sweeps across the valley, you don't throw your ball high in the air and always expect to find it."

Others obviously agreed, including the new owner of the course, Daedalus Real Estate LLC., which purchased a 160-acre parcel directly east of the course for both course expansion and development of an office park. Kavanaugh was brought back to reconfigure the course, using as much space as he needed to make it safe. A practice range was added and the clubhouse was also moved, from the south side of the property to the north.

The revamped Longbow Golf Club re-opened on November 7, 2003, almost six years to the day from the date it had originally been throw open for play. I played it two months later, with a threesome of regulars, who joked that they'd tossed away their hardhats once they tried out the new Longbow.

The 448-yard par-4 fifth hole at Longbow.
Photo: Ron Whitten

The course remains a core layout, with no homesites or road crossings, with long range views of several mountain ranges marred only by short range views of surrounding industrial development. It's now a downright sprawling layout in its scope. As before, holes are separated by xeroscaping -- areas of sand, rock and pebbles artistically landscaped with native desert plants and brush -- but now these waste areas cover a lot more acreage.

It's a longer and stronger course, measuring 7,003 yards par 71, up from its old yardage of 6,750, par 70. There are a lot more bunkers on it, too. Where previously Kavanaugh relied on a single bunker on four or five holes, now all holes twist and turn around clusters of nicely sculpted bunkers, some with gleaming white sand, others with a darker local variety.

The front nine is almost entirely new, only the 451-yard first (a stern par-4 opener) following the same path as an old hole. Highlights include the dogleg-right 407-yard third, with a dry wash across the front of the green, the 448-yard fifth, a dogleg-left where you must cut across the corner of a waste area, and the 224-yard seventh, to a green placed deliberately in a hollow, so that it's partially hidden from view off the tee. On the zig-zag 538-yard ninth, out of bounds definitely comes into play off the tee, while the second shot must flirt with another wash and scattered bunkers short of the green.

The old ninth, a go-for-broke 310-yard par 4, is long gone. On its corridor is the 416-yard 14th, playing in the opposite direction. But Kavanaugh preserved the concept of a drivable par 4 for an even more opportune moment near the end of the round. The new 17th measures 309 yards but looks shorter. It can be played just like the old ninth, as a pair of par 3s for the meek (like me) or as a let-out-the-shaft par-4 for gamblers (like my playing companions, one of whom drove it to the front edge). Reaching the green in one is no guarantee of a birdie though, as the green has a prominent ridge that confounds long putts. And wedge-shot approaches, I might add.

Five of the back nine holes are new. The standout is the 420-yard 15th, past a deep long waste bunker on the right and between hillsides of willows to a long green edged by water on the left and behind.

The make-or-break 309-yard par 4 17th hole.
Photo: Ron Whitten

As luck would have it, my least favorite hole from the original Longbow, the old 18th, survived unscathed. It's now the 429-yard 13th, and while the irrigation lake on the inside corner of this dogleg left is still more or less blind on this uphill tee shot, I didn't find it quite as sinister as I once did. The approach shot to a green, squeezed by water left and big bunkers on the right, is still the most testing shot on the course.

The new 18th is a prototypical finishing par 4, 474 yards from the tips, 443 from the regular tees, with a can't-miss fairway that measures nearly 80 yards wide on a diagonal, then narrows down to pose a thread-the-needle second shot to a painfully small green. A couple of deceptive bunkers well short of the green make this hole look even longer.

I've written before about the curious state of southern Arizona golf, where they seem to keep redesigning every course, old and new, in search of the perfect attraction. For the most part, the transformations have been for the best. None has been better than what's been done with Longbow. It was a good course before. It's now a very good course, long, strong, scenic yet still extremely affordable.

My only complaint is that Longbow still sits across the street from a small airport, the old plant where they first developed the Longbow helicopter. During my round, the roar of helicopters and small planes taking off and landing added a couple of flinches to my already-shaky putting routine.

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