Las Sendas Golf Club

February 4, 2008 2:25:21 PM PST
It's not often that playing a round of golf requires circumnavigating a small mountain. But, thanks to architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., at Las Sendas you'll have a grand time doing both. The "mountain" around which this course revolves is wild and rugged. According to local legend, it was named "Spook Hill" by Tom Mix, star of over 300 cowboy movies (mostly silent) prior to 1935. Apparently rattlesnakes regularly wandered off its rocky slopes into the screen cowboy's adjoining ranch, frightening his cattle. But ranches and livestock have since been supplanted by dense residential development and one very interesting golf course.

While offering many splendid views, this is primarily a "player's course". On paper, its high slope ratings would seem to be out of proportion with its total distance (5929 yards from the middle tees). Part of the reason is that there are five par-3's all under 150 yards. But mostly, the course's "spookiness" has to do with side hill lies, semi-blind shots, and brutal green complexes. Good scoring requires local knowledge and a zeal for handling the precariously steep shoulders and deep bunkers protecting the greens. Disappointingly, the "sand" contained in these bunkers is more like a mixture of small rocks. This will grind down the grooves of your wedge and your nerves at the same time. Once on the green, debris clearing often has to precede putting.

Elevation changes at Las Sendas can be initially baffling. Tee shots often disappear over a rise. Approach shots are often strikingly uphill and have a look that was not anticipated. To make the course more user-friendly, carts are fitted with the most trendy GPS devices. They illustrate hole routings, green profiles, pin locations, and, most importantly, yardages. Normally, I pay little attention to these persnickity gadgets, but at one point, when the device in our cart went off line, the feeling of disorientation was immediate.

Las Sendas saves its best surprise for last--the signature 18th?an intimidating 503-yard dogleg right par-5. The drive must be hammered directly at Camelback Mountain in the distance and find a safe, diagonal ribbon of fairway bisecting two lakes. A bold second shot requires strength and daring to reach terra firma beyond the second lake.

Las Sendas is definitely quirky, but as everyone in our group concurred, quirky in a good way. I cannot say enough about the efforts of the staff to meet our tee time requirements, maintain the speed of play, and interpret the course's topographic nuances. Major kudos all around.

Yardages range from 5100-6874, and slopes from 128-149.