5 Things I Learned Playing Desert Golf
I waited to sit down and write this blog post until the snow fell here in NY. The reason being was so I could go back through my notes/photos/videos and relive my Arizona golf experience. Turns out, this didn’t help my feelings of golf deprivation and it’s only been a few weeks without teeing it up. This could be a LONG Winter as we already got pummeled with ~12 inches of snow. Any who, if you’re planning a trip out West this winter to get some much needed Sun and golf in, here are my recommendations to help make your on course experience the best it can be (and feel free to call me or invite me on your trip if you need a travel/playing partner). As always, enjoy and please feel free to critique/rip/chirp me all you want, these are just my recommendations and opinions.
- 1. You don’t NEED Driver on every hole. “But dude, we didn’t come all the way to the desert to lay up” as most of you are already saying in your head or have a buddy that is saying that as well. I guess it depends on the style of player you are, but for me personally, I’ll take an EASY approach from the middle of the fairway in at 150-160 yds over a risk of hitting a wayward tee shot and having to punch out (which when you read below, you won’t want to do…) any day of the week. Now, if you’re a “shorter” hitter, by all means pull the driver all you want because having 200+ in on a par 4 is no way to make par either. But, if you can hit a 3/4 iron/hybrid 200+, you’re set. The ground in the desert is so firm you get something you don’t get in Upstate NY unless it hasn’t rained in 3 months and an official drought warning has been released, ROLL! Another note to add on firmness is the mountainous geography. If you’re down mountain (meaning teeing off slightly down hill), you’re going to get ~30-50 extra yds of roll. Take on the shorter par 4’s with an iron and have a look at 150 yds in and make some birdies. Or pull your driver, miss the fairway and go play in the sand. Up to you.
- 2. Playing out of the never ending “waste/wash” is HARD. The photo above is a dramatic over emphasis on this point… Building off of my point in number 1, if you can’t hit the driver straight, you’re not going to want to use it. Since we’re here playing in the desert, as you can imagine, grass and water are sparse. Since you need water to make grass, there is very little of it on the course. Desert golf is a challenge as it’s mostly “target golf” as just off of the fairway and/or green space is what the locals call “wash or wasteland” or to us northerners, the desert. This wasteland is like a larger grain sand/small pebbles. It’s firm in most areas but can occasionally give a fried egg lie in softer areas, not ideal. On top of delivering a bad lie, you likely won’t want to ruin a club trying to hit off or small rocks or pebbles which leaves you taking a drop and adding to your score. Is that iron off the tee sounding better yet?
- 3. Don’t look in the bushes or off the fairways for balls. If points 1 and 2 weren’t enough to leave your Bomb and Gouge style of golf back home in the North East, maybe this one will. The desert is home to many critters that slither, scratch, bite and can cause harm to you. So, I wouldn’t recommend venturing too far off of the fairway to search for your ball unless you can clearly see it in an opening. DO NOT blindly reach into a bush as there are plenty of venomous snakes around and you’re treading on their ground. I came across some hilarious videos of guys putting a toy snake next to there buddies and I couldn’t fathom what I would do to someone if this happened to me. (see video below). Along with the critters that can ruin your day in an instant, butting up against a cactus is not the same as trying to hit from under a pine tree… Yes, pine trees have needles on the branches but the branches at least move. As for the branches on a cactus, they don’t move so well (or at all) and I wouldn’t recommend trying to swing if any part of your body can come in contact with them on the takeaway or follow through.
- Play the Texas wedge or low approach shots. Enough nonsense about getting off of the tee, let’s talk about what to do when you get up to the green and in striking distance. Coming from the North East where the greens are soft and receptive, I wanted to play a high flying shot that flew to the hole, checked up and leave a manageable putt. Naturally thinking I was a higher caliber player than I am (plus a FRESHLY opened 58 degree Titleist SM7 wedge) and able to spin the ball at will, I had no shot at executing it with how firm the greens were. Shot after shot, I landed the ball next to the hole and watched (in disbelief) as the ball rolled 15-20 feet passed. With my ego coming crashing down to earth, I took notice of my playing partner as he pulled his putter out from 30 yards on several occasions and got himself within 5 feet. I’ll admit it, I let my pride get the best of me as I didn’t want to make the smarter play and use the putter from well off of the green. But when I finally did and had a simple tap in par, my playing partner looked over and said, “I told you so” with a wink without even acknowledging my approach struggles until then. Don’t want to use the Texas wedge? Pull out a low lofted wedge and play more of a bump and run style shot to get it close, you’ll be happier you did. This is all of course a recommendation and if you can spin the ball above average, fly it to the hole and stop it on a dime. If you can’t, pull the Texas wedge and roll in some better scores.
- Invest in a pair of polarized sunglasses, apply sunscreen REGULARLY and STAY hydrated. I’ll start off by saying I’m a value guy and generally use sunglasses for fashion rather than eye protection, so you already know I’m skipping out on the $100 upgrade to polarized lenses. You can get away without them in the North East with all of the cloud cover and I was never a fan of playing in sunglasses as I felt it messed with my views of putting lines. Typically pulling them on and off so frequently, it felt like more of a hassle to wear them than not. Switch us over to the desert in AZ, I’m not joking when I tell you I didn’t see a cloud for 10 days straight! With nothing but pure sun and ZERO clouds, I’m glad I invested in a pair of Oakley shades WITH prizm polarized lenses. I went with the Flak 2.0 model which is more of a sporty look and they worked out great. Half way through my first round, I wasn’t even taking them off to putt as the prizm lenses made the colors POP! Highly recommend them if you’re in the market for a new pair. Next, Apply sunscreen, REGULARLY. I’m horrible at this and I’m sure you are to, so don’t judge. It’s less of a habit at home in the North East as we need the likes of Hawain Tropic Accelerator Oil (we’re not sponsored by them and give no free ads btw) just to get a little color… But when you’re in AZ and don’t see a cloud for 10 days, SPF 50 (or more) is your best friend. Apply and reapply as you’re going to get a tan regardless of how much you put on and people at home will still know you did in fact go away for a few days. You can be lobster face boy at dinner as you suck down margaritas and bathe in aloe to dull the pain or be the guy laughing at your buddy who was too dumb not to toss a little sunscreen on. You pick! Lastly, STAY hydrated (with water, not beers…). The easiest thing to do when you’re on a golf trip is over indulge on alcoholic beverages as the excitement of playing sick courses and being away with the boys gets the best of you. We’ve all been the guy who shows up to the first round of golf a little green from one too many cocktails the night before. Now let’s put this setting in the desert heat and toss the hangover on top of it. You’re already behind the 8 ball and starting off dehydrated. Lucky for you, we have Pedialyte to help get you back to normal. All courses in AZ have water stations at least every three holes so you can fill up a bottle. I recommend filling up at every station because once you’re behind, you can’t catch up and you’re going to want to have some bevs again that night and the next.
Thanks for taking the time to read my recommendations on desert golf from my experience playing a few rounds in the Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona area. Be sure to stay tuned for more blog posts. Stay warm, hit the simulators, travel to play golf, relax and pray for a short winter in the coming months.
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