By David R. Holland
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Back when cowboys rode hard and a day’s wage was a pittance, there existed a spot near today’s 17th fairway landing spot at Legend Trail Golf Club where an ocotillo corral sat on the Donohoe Ranch.
The horses or cattle held here, no doubt, felt the pain on many a moonless night when bumping into the thorny sides.
Today, it’s the average hacks who mumble “ouch” upon missing the lush fairways of this 6,845-yard, par-72 golf course, instead finding a rocky palo verde, ocotillo and saguaro-filled desert arroyo.
“This was the first golf course in Scottsdale that endured a new environmental ordinance (in the 1990s) requiring strict preservation of desert ravines,” designer Forrest Richardson said.
Richardson and the late Arthur Jack Snyder — designer of Ka’anapali Kai on Maui — played a role at least as large in the crafting of Legend Trail Golf Club as Rees Jones, though Jones gets most of the credit. According to Richardson, Jones arrived mid-construction. And to add further confusion, Randy Heckenkemper sketched the original layout. That’s four architects involved in the project.
This is nothing new, though, in the building of a golf course. In the end, it includes a little of each designer – and the Jones name was most marketable.
The facility was first known as Desert Ranch, a 600-acre vision created by John Olive, the original owner and a famous Arizona amateur, and Al Mengert, a former assistant pro at Winged Foot.
Legend Trail Golf Club: The building of a golf course
Legend Trail sits way out in northern Scottsdale, close to Whisper Rock, Cave Creek and Carefree, home of The Boulders. It is north of even the famous Troon North and Grayhawk courses near North Pima Road and East Dynamite Blvd. Talk about an outstanding address.
“Jack Snyder and I tried very hard to get the course to fit the land,” Richardson said, “but at the same time have some interesting holes that make the golf a steeplechase.
In other words, we avoided all lame holes that just lay there and slept. One of Jack’s great contributions was to keep after me to make sure the slopes blended seamlessly.
“In comparison to most desert courses, it is graceful and, I hope, timeless.”
Mengert wanted a golf course with each hole designed by a legendary player.
“Oh boy,” Richardson said in recalling that impossible dream.
Mengert settled for a practice green of “famous putts,” but the implementation fell short.
“While many courses in the desert are nothing but endless target-golf experiences,” Richardson said, “Legend Trail is different. Strategy and options abound. To me, the golf course feels different than most desert courses.”
More debate on the layout
Many golfers like No. 5, a 185-yard par 3, where the wind factors and views beckon of Pinnacle Peak to the south and the Tonto Mountains to the north. Lone Mountain can also be seen from the course.
“Among our greatest arguments were the salvage of No. 11, a 435-yard, par-4, dogleg left, as a split fairway,” Richardson said, “and Rees’ conviction that No. 13, a 435-yarder, should be a par 4 and 17 a par 5. We had them opposite.”
At No. 17, the debate produced a par 5 at 510 yards. “I can see the thinking behind the par 5,” admits Richardson, “But I am still convinced that a par 4 would be just as good — if not better.”
The Snyder/Richardson hole at No. 17 played about 460 yards with a desert arroyo crossing the fairway diagonally at the 260-yard mark from the back tees. “The wash affected the score,” notes Richardson. “As it is now, you can lay-up and still make a par.”
Andy Rioux, General Manager at Legend Trail, says: “I hear some golfers say they never knew about us, but we are very busy so enough call us their home course, and we welcome many travel golfers. This is a public golf course and a pretty place up in this corner of Scottsdale, surrounded by a lot of upscale private courses.”
Rioux thinks it is a fair layout even though there are plenty of forced desert wash carries. “There are a couple of long tee shot carries on the back side that are a challenge to hit grass, but that is the main thought in desert golf – hit grass and you should be fine. Many just enjoy the desert scenery.”
He says the subtle breaks on the greens can be tricky. “Visitors don’t know that greens break toward the center of town, so just look a little bit right of Pinnacle Peak. When you don’t see a break in your putts, know that they will head downhill toward Phoenix.”
Legend Trail Golf Club: The verdict
Golf Digest rates Legend Trail with 4-1/2 out of 5 stars for “Best Places to Play.” Additionally, it is one of the Top 100 Woman-Friendly Facilities as rated by Golf For Women magazine.
The conditioning and strategic options are paramount here. This was one of the best conditioned golf courses I encountered on a two-week golf road trip to Arizona.
All considered, the layout conglomeration of four architects pleased Richardson.
“It is a quintessential desert design,” he said. “Seldom do you see classic style brought to the desert. Nearly all the courses here are target, forced and completely unnatural when you look at them objectively. At Legend Trail, the final result is both beautiful and enjoyable. I love playing there, and so does almost any golfer you ever meet who is familiar with desert courses.”
Improving your game at Legend Trail Golf Club
With more than 38 years of experience teaching people to play better golf, Jacobs’ Golf instructors are experienced, well trained, and motivated to help you improve your golf game. They offer a wide variety of programs and golf instruction that is tailored to your individual needs. When you participate in one of their schools or academies, you will leave a better player and with the knowledge to continue improving.
For more information, please contact:
Brent Smith, Director of Instruction at Legend Trail.