The Chase at the PGA Golf Club Coyote Springs: A Jack Nicklaus design in the middle of a city on hold

Coyote Springs, Arizona
Lonna Tucker
No. 6 at Coyote Springs.

COYOTE SPRINGS, Nev. — Ignore this dateline. There is no Coyote Springs, Nev. Not yet, anyway.

Oh, there's a nice cluster of planted palm trees and an entrance wall emblazoned with the Coyote Springs name. There's a golf course, a sprawling Jack Nicklaus design that is every bit as difficult as it is spectacular. There is a stark, empty desert valley flanked by majestic mountains — the Sheep Mountain Range in one direction and the tilted gray limestone bands of the Arrow Canyon Range in another.

But there is no Coyote Springs. At this point, it is simply a grandiose dream. If all goes according to the master plan over the next half-century, Coyote Springs could have almost 160,000 homes, six golf courses (it is zoned for as many as 16) and a population in excess of a quarter-million. All this in a remote, uninhabited wilderness 50 miles north of Las Vegas. (I'm told that it's not that far from Area 51, the suspected home of captured alien spacecraft and little green whatnots.)

Coyote Springs is a real-world SimCity, a metropolis made from scratch. But the Great Recession has this city of the future on hold. Harvey Whittemore, a former lobbyist from Reno and a friend of Sen. Harry Reid, is the developer behind this massive project, and he still intends to make it happen. At the moment, though, Coyote Springs consists of a few temporary golf course structures, a sewage treatment plant, some graded lots and the frame of the town recreation center. (That should be a lot more fun when there's a town to go with it.)

How remote is this place? Everything at the golf course is powered by diesel generators.

It doesn't matter whether Coyote Springs is a visionary idea on the order of the original Vegas or a giant mistake in the desert. What matters is the golf course, christened The Chase, the first track at the PGA Golf Club Coyote Springs. (A second course, a collaboration between Nicklaus and Pete Dye, has been routed but not begun.) A marketing expert would say the name should have been more descriptive and less corporate. Maybe End of the World Golf Club or The Links at the Middle of Nowhere. Better yet, Area 51 Country Club.

Then the name would match the uniqueness of the course. No words arranged by me can paint the epic sweep and isolation of The Chase. Beneath big sky, the course is barren, breathtaking and beautiful. During my first round there, I watched mottled gray clouds pour over edges of the Sheep Mountains like angry, buzzing bees. What resembled sheer, gray lace curtains shimmering across the peaks were waves of rain showers, but we were across the valley floor and only a few scattered droplets dared reach our foursome. There's a reason this place is a desert, after all.

When I returned the next morning for an encore round before I flew back to Pittsburgh — ahh, Gray Sky Country — I was met by bright sunshine, postcard views and assorted bouncing (meep-meep) roadrunners.

A golf course should be judged on its merit, and The Chase has plenty. But the panorama here is so big and the desert so hauntingly quiet that the setting is hypnotic. This is more than just a golf course; it's a golf experience. When the homes start going up, whether that's 18 months or five years from now, they'll go up en masse and the Jeremiah Johnson-like wilderness feeling you get now will be lost. The remoteness helps makes The Chase special. It's a daily-fee course that feels like your own private desert.

It's a feeling that builds on the drive from Vegas. It's only 50 minutes from downtown (a little applause, please, for the 75 mph speed limit), and by the time you exit onto Hwy. 93, you've passed the last signs of civilization — a quarry operation and a huge power station. Then you're on a lightly trafficked two-lane road that stepped out of a romanticized car commercial, a piece of unswerving pavement that goes straight to the horizon and beyond.

You pass scrubby, disheveled desert flanked by mesmerizing mountains on the left. They appear to have been sculpted with Indian designs but no, that's just the handiwork of nature, the wear and tear of thousands of years of wind and occasional rain. Beautiful.

The distant hills get closer only very, very slowly. This is big country. Westerners are used to it. Us flatlanders can't help but marvel.

Warming up on the practice range with my designated foursome, which included club pro Michael Sizemore, a big guy who was a big hitter even with a couple of herniated back discs, I suggested the new-city idea be junked. Leave this place just as it is, I said, it's perfect. He understood but judged me guilty of felonious wishful thinking.

The remote location and the modest stream of visiting golfers give the feeling of playing at an exclusive private club. The secluded setting is so appealing that some of your favorite poker stars tee it up here on a regular basis — Erick Lindgren and Daniel Negreanu, among others. Lindgren booked the course for a whole day last August for a birthday party. Not surprisingly, golfaholic Michael Jordan has played here, a sentence that has become the 21st century equivalent of "George Washington slept here."

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