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In Scottsdale, Arizona, McCormick Ranch Golf Club's charming, old-fashioned courses deliver plenty of bang for the buck

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Playing McCormick Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale is a little like stepping back in time.

The Palm Course and Pine Course -- aptly named for the palm trees on one course and the pine trees on the other -- were built in 1972, and little has been done to change their look since then.

The result: Two old-fashioned courses that don't try too hard yet still deliver plenty of bang for the buck. The irony? They were designed by English-born architect Desmond Muirhead, who was known for his flamboyant layouts.

"These two aren't as eccentric as his others," McCormick Ranch General Manager Stuart Kirk said.

McCormick Ranch is in the middle of the desert, but the Palm and Pine are anything but desert courses. Instead, they're both an oasis -- literally. The Palm Course, which is 7,044 yards from the tips, features water on 10 holes, including seven on the front side. The longer Pine Course, which stretches to 7,187 yards, has water on five holes, including the monstrous 470-yard, par-4 15th (more on that later).

"If you're not afraid of the water, I think the Palm is a little easier," Kirk said. "It's more open, where the Pine is more narrow and longer."

The Palm course is all about accuracy. Even from the back tees, the longest par-4 is 446 yards. Three of the four par 5s are less than 540 yards. But several of the fairways have water running down the length of the hole on one side, so it's imperative to hit it straight.

The best hole -- and undoubtedly the most challenging -- is the 408-yard ninth hole, which features an island fairway and water short, left and right of the green. A par there feels like a birdie.

The Pine Course is more about distance. Simply put, players have to grip it and rip it. From the back tees, the shortest par 3 is 185 yards -- the longest, No. 13, checks in at 218 -- two of the four par 5s are at least 579 yards, and the back nine is 3,627 yards.

Those 3,627 yards, by the way, includes the short, 517-yard, par-5 18th, which says something about the length of the other holes.

"If people really want a challenge, they should play from the (back) tees," Kirk said. "But it's hard from back there. If they want more of a fun round, they should move up a tee."

The aforementioned 15th hole best illustrates the length needed to conquer the Pine layout. It's not only 470 yards; it features an island green. Golfers have to decide whether they can fly the lake with their second shot -- without going over the green or off-line -- or lay up short and then face a short chip-and-putt for par.

Fortunately, both courses are fairly easy to navigate in that everything is in front of the golfer. It's not a question of knowing where to hit the shot; it's a question of just getting it there.

The Pine and Palm Courses do share one characteristic that -- other than the water -- is probably the most difficult feature. Nearly all the greens slope from back to front. It's imperative to keep the ball below the hole if possible, particularly when the pins are placed near the front edge.

The greens are so sloped that five-foot side hill putts can be almost impossible. Hit them too hard, and they'll easily run eight feet past the hole. Hit them too soft, and the severe break takes hold.

Over the years, McCormick Ranch has had its greens and sand traps replaced. A new irrigation system was put in. Bridges were rebuilt. But the courses themselves are still much like they were in 1972.

It's straightforward golf -- on ice.

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