Tonto Verde’s Ranch Golf Course
Tonto Verde is where many Midwesterners, New Englanders and any golf centric, desert mountain vista lovers might retire. While it is member owned, 20% of the current tee times are available for visitors, generally in the afternoon. This public play is like a faucet. As membership increases, the outside spigot may be turned off to give additional preference to members with many little sub clubs within. Jeff Ostland, Director of Golf happily manages the tee sheets with his staff while his wife fills the pro shop with just the right merchandise.
Tonto Verde has much to offer members in the way of activities but make no mistake; it is primarily a golf community, a very inclusive community welcoming new members. With two full courses plus an 18-hole putting course, there is plenty of space for all to play. Members own their golf cart and pay no trail fee. The personal golf carts are the means of transportation throughout the entire community. When you need to go to town, Fountain Hills is ten minutes away. Take the car. What about Phoenix Sky Harbor airport? Jim Uffelman, Tonto Verde Association board member, transplanted from the Bay area with his wife, assures us that while Tonto Verde is out there under a big blanket of stars, the airport is just 45 minutes away.
The Tonto Verde membership enjoys strong financials, basically debt free with a nice capital reserve. They decided to use some of it to renovate the Ranch Course bunkers and with a 95% approval vote, they brought in Mike Gogel to tackle the task because he’s very engaging, creative and “always finishes his projects on time and under budget.” That is because Mike worked with John Foe after extensive course construction experience and understands all the aspects of such an undertaking.
He believes that golf community course design used to be all about making a pretty picture to sell a house. Now it must be playable and sustainable. He converted 107,000 feet of bunkering on 15 holes down to 35,000 feet, drastically reducing the ongoing maintenance costs while improving aesthetics. Mike worked with the members daily and during the design process considered what his parents would do on each hole. Mom plays around 50 times a year shooting 90-105 and Dad’s best score is 78 even though Mike is a scratch golfer as is his brother Matt, a tour player who reports and announces on the Golf Channel.
We had the honor of playing with Mike and Jim this week to see first hand the old and new of the Ranch Course, clubhouse and Tonto Verde Association that we fell in love with back in 2011. The new bunker depth on the second fairway is Alice approved. When explaining the task on #7, Mike says of the bunkers, “They were so big and in your face it detracted from the surroundings. Now it flows and is visually more attractive.” As for the putting greens, the general guidance based on the Rio Verde is “as the river flows, so the ball goes.” We wish that were more intuitive than it sounds. Perhaps you need to be a member for a while and study the river and course from your balcony.
Number 14 might reflect the most significant changes to the course design. Formerly a wall of bunkers lined the length of the fairway beneath the mountain scape. Much of that bunkering was removed but four smaller ones are in play for strategic thinking. The tee boxes were also repositioned to the right incorporating the lake below to the side. This hole is a beauty. Rounding out the course, Mike shared, “The idea here on 17 is to make a decision about the bunker we moved from right to more center of the fairway. But if you want to get home, aim left.” Number 18 he made a little tougher than it was before. This way you will want to come back daily to tackle it again. For all the keen creativity on the part of Mike, he offers frequent kudos to the Superintendent, Travis Blameirs and his maintenance crew. Indeed, the course was in excellent shape. In the Mesquite Grill, overlooking the lake and putting course, we give kudos to all for caring service and excellent cuisine. What a great day and great life can be had at Tonto Verde.