Tip Your Cap to The Gallery

Monday March 19th, 2007

Giant puddles in the middle of fairways will likely be distant memory, given that the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship has moved to Arizona. Now that the La Costa era has come to a close, perhaps we'll find drier weather in the desert north of Tucson, where The Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain resides. Judging by the course layout, we should witness more heat as well, when it comes to exciting matches.

Aside from La Costa's weather-related woes, its composite layout failed to inspire as well, at least in terms of match-play magic. Comprised of nine holes from the North Course and nine holes from the South, La Costa's tournament set-up was a hardy, attractive challenge, to be sure, but it lacked great risk/reward holes that help make match play so appealing. That's where the Gallery's South course will shine. Gallery South may not have the inherent drama and forced carry thrills that characterize some of the very best desert courses, but what it does offer are handsome mountain vistas and options galore.

I asked Accenture Match Play defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, is there such thing as a good match play course—and if so, what elements go into making a good match play course? Ogilvy replied, "I guess there are probably good courses for match play. Four par 5s that people can get to is a good start. If there are holes that people have to make decisions, it's going to be a good match play course because there might be a guy who might want to lay it up on a par 5 and if his opponent has pulled a 3-wood and hits it on the green, then he has to go for the green. I mean that sort of stuff—it's interesting—whereas if it's just an obvious play, where everyone lays it up and where everyone hits the same shots all day, then it's not going to create the excitement and the decisions."

Clearly warming to the topic, Ogilvy continued. "The funnest part of golf is watching us struggle with the decision whether to go over the water or not go over the water—should I go for it or not go for it—then go for it. That's the funnest part of watching golf, isn't it? If you've got four par 5s that you can reach and two par 4s that you can drive it on, as you do here at The Gallery, then you've got decisions. It's nice to have few holes like that—and here, I'd suggest that you're going to have lots of holes like that. Whenever you have golfers making decisions they don't want to make, golf is a better game to watch. That's what's going to happen here. It's going to be a good tournament."

Architect John Fought created the South Course at The Gallery in 2004 to complement the club's North Course that he co-designed with Tom Lehman in 1998. That it does. Fought calls the South Course, "The Pinehurst of the Desert," because he crafted it to pay homage to the work of Donald Ross. Thus many of the greens are turtle-backed, with fall-offs to all sides, which create a variety of intriguing chipping possibilities. To be sure, Pinehurst's greens demand more precise approaches, but the effect is the similar—that sloppy shots will be punished by rolling away into an awkward recovery spot. For the Pinehurst effect to be in full force, these greens need to be firm and fast—otherwise, the pros will tear them up, whether at stroke play or match play. But if it rains hard and the greens lose their starch, look for the long hitters to prevail. If they stay hard and quick, shotmakers will rule.

While all four par 5s, the 1st, 5th (even at 616 yards...after all we're at 3,000 feet of elevation), the 10th and the 17th will be within reach, perhaps the most exciting holes will be the driveable par 4s, the 349-yard 7th and the 362-yard 12th. Best of all, if you want to experience these risk/reward tests yourself, you can. Although The Gallery at Dove Mountain is primarily a private club, they do allow limited outside play on each course every other day. Yes, it's true that anything can happen in match play—well, anything except maybe you beating Geoff Ogilvy.

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