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Wet and wild Ocotillo Golf Resort brings a south Florida feel to Chandler, Arizona

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- The first thing golfers notice as they drive toward the clubhouse at Ocotillo Golf Resort is water.

Not just a stream here or there, mind you, but the Pacific Ocean.

They might think they're in the wrong place. After all, this is the Arizona desert, where cacti and cholla are much more dangerous to a golf ball's health than a well placed water hazard.

But that's what makes Ocotillo so unique. There's no other golfing experience like it in the Valley.

With its waterfalls, palm trees and flower beds, Ocotillo is patterned after courses in south Florida. But its most notable feature, without question, is the blue stuff.

Water comes into play on 23 of the 27 holes at Ocotillo. It's imperative to hit the ball straight because anything left and right likely will be a stroke penalty. Thankfully, there are few forced carries over water off the tee, enabling the high handicapper to get around 18 holes without losing 18 balls.

Ocotillo has three nines: The Gold, Blue and White. The Blue-Gold combination is the most difficult, with a rating of 72.2 and slope of 133 from the back tees.

Ocotillo's Gold Course: At 3,519 yards, the Gold Course isn't extremely long. But its greens more than make up for whatever it lacks in length.

The putting surfaces are severely undulated and slower than golfers might think. It's difficult to get uphill putts to the hole; conversely, once players realize how slow the greens are, they tend to hit their downhill putts too fast, and the undulations can turn an 8-foot par putt into a 30-foot bogey putt.

The toughest hole on the Gold is No. 9, a 468-yard par 4 that requires one of the few forced carries from the tee and has water dissecting the fairway just short of the green.

Ocotillo's Blue Course: The Blue Course is unquestionably the most difficult of the three nines.

It checks in at only 3,497 yards, but water is problematic on eight of the nine holes. Any golfer who gets through the nine without losing at least one ball should buy drinks afterwards.

On most courses, the first hole is fairly straightforward and simple -- no use punishing the golfer right off the bat. But No. 1 on the Blue is a 590-yard par 5 where second and third shots go to die, thanks to a water hazard in front of the green, and a long bunker to the right of the green. The best play is to lay up and aim left with the third shot.

Ocotillo's White Course: The White Course is a bit of a contradiction.

For eight holes, it's the easiest of the three nines. There's just one par 5, water comes into play on just five of the holes, and the entire nine measures a puny 3,285 yards long.

But it also features the best and most challenging hole on the entire property. No. 9 is a 479-yard par 4 that requires the tee shot to clear a slight elevation in the fairway in order to have a view of the green. The approach shot, most often more than 200 yards, has to carry water in front and find the right level on a triple-tiered putting surface.

No. 9 used to be a par 5. For most golfers, it still is.

One last note about Ocotillo: It offers several Nine-and-Dine packages where golfers can play nine holes and then eat dinner at Bernard's Restaurant. On Wednesday, for example, $45 gets a golfer nine holes and a prime rib dinner.

It almost makes up for all the lost golf balls.

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