Cave Creek

Cave Creek GC, Phoenix. Arthur Jack Snyder, 1984.

A municipal course built on an old landfill, this course has some of the wildest greens I’ve seen. My first few times around I wasn’t sure if the 17th and 18th had been designed that way or was the result of settling in the landfill below. Now that I’ve seen more of Snyder’s work (and that of his protégé Forrest Richardson) I am convinced it was deliberate.

The namesake Cave Creek wash plays through the course and though many holes play along it, only two really use it as a feature—those are probably the best holes here.

The 11th is a par 5 where you drive over the wash to a fairway running right to left. Drive through the fairway and you can find a small pond through the fairway on the right side, so the best drive is a draw that hugs the line of the wash. There’s a hill the makes the second shot blind. You can either lay up to the top of the hill and have a short wedge down to the green, or pick a tree in the distance and try to reach it in two. The green is sloped dramatically from back to front so whatever you choose the best bet is to stay short of the hole.

The tee shot on #11 (Credit: Golf Pass)

The finisher is another hole playing over the wash, this time in the opposite direction. This is a real bite off as much as you dare hole. The green is one of the craziest on a course full of greens that you have to see to believe so there’s some value in getting it as close as possible, though there are several hole locations here—especially in the front—that are all but impossible to get close to no matter where you’re approaching from.

According to drawings in Richardson’s book on golf course routing, there was once a lot more interest and creative design here—a triple green shared between the first, fifth, and 10th, and a double fairway for the fifth where the best route might be determined by where on that gigantic triple green the hole was located. But none of those features exist anymore, presumably the victim of municipal cost-cutting over the years.

There’s also just a general sense that this site could have led to a much more dramatic course, had some of the features been used differently. The fourth is a pretty bland short par 4 playing slightly back uphill with the wash off to the left but several yards off the fairway. It would be a different hole if either the fairway or the green were pushed close to the wash in a strategic way. The same can be said for any of the holes near the wash that fail to really interact with it, including the sixth, seventh, and ninth.

But it’s understandable that on a muni budget, Snyder chose to stay away from a feature that would probably require more maintenance.

It’s worth praising the interest he did build into the course where many others might not have. The sixth hole doesn’t look like much of a par 5 on the card, but Snyder’s fairway is a mogul run and anyone who has designs of reaching this par 5 in two will have to contend with an uneven lie.

#17 green is blind from the tee. The front acts as a punch bowl, with a small shelf back left and a wing running away back right.

The course has also made commendable strides over the past few years in tree and shrub maintenance. The several ponds on the back nine had become thick with reeds and bushes over the years but as of my last few visits, the ponds are clear again. Similarly, overgrown trees have been trimmed back and some trees removed entirely. It opens up the course and really improves the back nine especially where some holes were beginning to feel a bit claustrophobic.

This is typically the busiest of the Phoenix munis and therefore usually the slowest, but if you can get out on a weekday or early enough in the morning to beat the crowd, it’s not a bad place for a game. At minimum you’ll see some greens like you’ve never seen before.

Arizona 7th Decile [2021]