Ancala Country Club (pronounced on-CALL-uh) is a private club tucked back into the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale. The course, which opened in 1991, is a Dye Design. Not Pete Dye, but his son Perry, who works with his famous father and is a pretty well-established golf course architect of his own.
Unlike a lot of the golf courses that have been built in this country over the last decade or so, Ancala Country Club is not affiliated with the surrounding master-planned Ancala Community or the 542 high-end, custom-designed homes that frame just about every hole. The community’s web site cautions homeowners to avoid using the course for jogging, walking, and other outdoor activities and points out that only members are allowed to play golf there.
Ancala also has a certification in environmental planning from the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for Golf Courses as a result of its conservation and wildlife enhancement programs. But don’t let the dramatic views of the Sonoran Desert fool you. This is a shotmaker’s track pure and simple – target golf, desert-style. It plays 6,829 yards from the Professional (Gold) Tees to a Par of 72, a course rating of 73.0, and a slope of 139. It may not play long, but it doesn’t have to be because it’s tight. Anytime the slope climbs above 135, you’ve got a real beast on your hands.
Holes Worth Writing Home About
We started on the back nine because of the two-man scramble format we were playing. My favorite hole was easily the 453-yard Par 4 18th. Railroad ties, a Dye staple, frame the waste bunker and the lake running along the entire right side of the fairway. In case you decide to steer your tee shot away from the water, there’s a bunker on the left side of the fairway too. You learn pretty quickly that you have to hit your landing areas out here. If you don’t hit the grass, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to hit the ball again (if you can even find it). That’s desert golf for you.
Getting to the green on the finishing hole is another story. The green is guarded by a bunker on the left and the lake and another bunker short and right. So, if you don’t hit your approach shot far enough coming in to the right side of the putting surface, you’re either wet or hitting it from the beach for a difficult up-and-down. Even though this green is one of the largest on the property, it’s also one of the most undulating, and it’s the 2nd-hardest hole on the course for a reason.
Bunkers frame most of the landing areas at Ancala while arroyos or desert washes crisscross several of the fairways. The Par 5 2nd hole is perfect example. It’s just 499 yards, so you might be thinking of going for the green in two, and maybe you can. But you have to keep your tee shot short of the wash at the end of the fairway, and you have to keep your second shot out of the moat-like bunker bordering the green on the left. Come up short and right, and you’ll find yourself in the kind of bermudagrass mounding Dye is famous for. The grass is really fluffy in these areas, and it’s easy to chunk your chip shot. Still, this is one of the prettiest holes on the golf course. The greens out here are really good. They’re fast, firm and undulating – probably the 2nd-fastest bermuda greens we’ve played only to Encanterra.
The Golf Academy has been playing out at Ancala for several years now. PGA Professional and Golf Academy instructor Ed Ekis used to live out there, and I think we have him to thank for the privilege. A few years ago, a Golf Academy student was looking for his ball along the 14th hole when he fell backwards into some jumping cholla cactus.
The worst thing about jumping or teddy-bear cholla is that the cactus pads easily separate from the main stem and the spines sheath off when you go to pull them out. The student had to be transported to the hospital standing up, and when he got there, he was in surgery for four hours. This now-famous picture made its way across the internet and even onto Golf Channel, and the student earned this guy the nickname “Cactus Kid” until he graduated.
Cactus is a real issue out on desert golf courses. In fact, you may remember the fan who fell into some cactus trying to avoid Rory McIlroy’s shot from the desert at the Accenture Match Play Championship in February of last year. That event was played in Marana, just outside of Tucson.
The best shot of they day was hit by my playing partner, Zac Carlson. We were just off the green in two at the Par 5 16th, and Zac hit a beautiful chip shot to within just a couple of feet for an easy birdie. Like I said, the grass around many of these green complexes is really fluffy, and it’s easy to chuck it or come up short. Zac hit the shot with confidence, and it showed.
While We’re Young
We got around in about 4:05 because of the format we were playing, but you can see how a round of golf at Ancala could take a while if you weren’t hitting it in the fairway. Bring plenty of extra golf balls.
That said, pace of play is important at Ancala, and according to the club’s web site, “many of our golf members signing the USGA pledge to play ready golf. The Club is committed to the importance of ready golf by providing players with a 4 hour and 15 minute golf round.” Good for them! It’s a great commitment I wish other players at other courses would take too.
This Morning… I Woke Up In New York City
I promise, I’m not making this up. I turned to the wife after Roger Federer beat Stan Wawrinka in the US Open Seminfinals and asked her, “Should we go to the US Open?” We both love tennis and Federer and thought this might be Fed’s last major final. After all, it’s been three years since he last won a Grand Slam and six years since he’s been to a US Open final. Federer is 34 year’s old, which in tennis years, is ancient. Perhaps I should have chosen my words more carefully. This conversation happened at 11:00 o’clock on Friday night, and we were on a plane to New York 12 hours later.
Even though Federer lost, it’s one of the coolest and most spontaneous things I’ve ever done. I think we got nine hours of sleep in three days, but it was worth it! We got back into Phoenix at 9:00a with plenty of time to spare before my 1:00 tee time at Ancala. When I got to the course, one of my classmates remarked that it didn’t look like I had shaved. This is a Golf Academy no-no since we’re always required to be clean-shaven. I told him that I had shaved – at four o’clock in the morning in the Eastern Time Zone.