Rater's notebook: Conestoga Golf Club

No. 4 at Conestoga

No. 4 at Conestoga

MESQUITE, Nev. – Every once in a while you stumble onto a golf course and wonder why you haven’t heard more about it. That’s the case with Conestoga Golf Club.

The 2-year-old course is part of Sun City Mesquite, a 1,700-acre, master-planned community of 3,500 homesites that’s owned by Pulte/Del Webb and oriented toward active seniors.

It’s not just retirees who will want to play golf here. The course, designed by Arizona-based veteran architect Gary Panks, has an unusually appealing quality for a layout set in the harsh desert ground of eastern Nevada’s Virgin River Valley, 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Just up Route 15 near the Utah border, one of the country’s most scenic and forbidding stretches of highway cuts through the steep-walled, rough-and-tumble Virgin River Gorge.

Conestoga GC, No. 5 in Nevada in Golfweek’s Best state-by-state rankings, sits at an elevation of 1,800 feet, at the base of Flat Top Mesa. It makes use of landing areas hacked out of the corrugated land formed by the Abbott Wash. Of the 50 original course designs in his portfolio, says Panks, “this was the most rugged site I’ve been involved in.”

Details

• 1499 Falcon Ridge Parkway, Mesquite, NV 89034 • 702-346-4292; 877-489-0777 • www.conestogagolf... • Par 72, daily fee and residential course

• Black tees: 7,232 yards (74.9 rating / 147 slope) • Jade tees: 5,017 yards (69.4 rating / 115 slope)

• Green fees (optional cart included): $25-$59 (Sun City Mesquite residents); $50-$140 (public) • Annual pass: $2,750-$3,150 (Sun City Mesquite residents only) • Ranked No. 5 in Nevada, Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play

The back nine is so steep that Panks and his workers couldn’t get across the hills or gullies in four-wheelers – or even three-wheelers. Eventually, it took an army of bulldozers to peel back the sedimentary ground: 5 million cubic yards of earthmoving in all. Dry-stacked walls along teeing grounds and near greens stabilize the steep slopes that were created in the process. Continuous concrete cart paths considerably ease the trail.

The course comprises 90 acres of irrigated turf within a 190-acre envelope. The par-72 layout has five teeing markers and can play from 5,017 to 7,232 yards. The golf area includes a double-ended driving range that, at 388 yards in length, serves as the practice ground for the annual ReMax World Long Drive Championship. The homey, 14,000-square-foot clubhouse has a pioneer style that suits the area.

The developers surely wish that the pace of home sales picks up. But for golfers, this is an ideal time to see what the game looks like when cut into stark, arid ground. The course ambles across land with 220 feet of elevation change and makes good use of arroyos and canyons as strategic elements. Holes 2-6 run across washes and over stone-ledged rims, a stretch that engages at every swing and presents a variety of shotmaking risks and options.

Rater’s Notebook

1. Routing: 7

Two clockwise returning nines; the front winds through tighter, more compressed ground, and the back has a more released feel to it, though that will change as real estate plats fill out.

2. Quality of shaping: 6

Simple, deep-dish look to the bunkers befits the site, as do rolloffs surrounding slightly raised green platforms.

3. Overall land plan: 6

The setting four miles north of town and 300 feet higher creates a welcome sense of isolation. The site is eerily captivating, though that will evolve as development fills in some open spaces and undercuts long views.

4. Greens and surrounds: 7

Simple forms are all that are needed on complicated terrain. The Tifdwarf Bermudagrass greens average 6,400 square feet and offer interesting rollouts into surrounding low areas, requiring delicate recoveries. Most surfaces have a modest tier without sharp decks or quadrants.

5. Variety and memorability of par 3s: 7

Good range, including a parachuted iron over a wash at the 188-yard second; a demanding carry to a thin green over a steep arroyo at the 208-yard fifth; and a postage stamp of a green that feels like it’s sliding off the hill on the 148-yard 14th.

6. Variety and memorability of par 4s: 7

The longer par 4s are adequate, but all of the character at Conestoga is in a pack of shorter-playing par 4s where precision off the tee to canyon-like fairways leaves interesting second shots across arroyos or well-bunkered ground.

7. Variety and memorability of par 5s: 5

One memorable brain-twister: the 532-yard sixth, where you have to tack and hopscotch your way over arroyos to island-like landing areas for favorable angles into a green set at the toe of a huge slope.

8. Tree and landscape management: 6

Sustained revegetation is under way, including locust, cottonwood and mesquite trees, as well as creosote bush and native desert flora. Some areas of understory growth are extremely punitive, if not irrecoverable.

9. Conditioning: 8

Bermudagrass throughout, overseeded in winter, has matured nicely, with some collection areas on back nine worn a bit from pocketing of shots. Irrigation is drawn from the Virgin River, with an option for future city effluent.

10. “Walk in the park” test: 7

Some long connectors from green to tee and occasional switchbacks to traverse unfavorable slopes make this a taxing trek, especially in midsummer heat.

But the sense of the rugged West makes Conestoga a course that’s entertaining to play and fascinating to behold.

Overall (not cumulative): 6.6

Three miles west of the notoriously more demanding Wolf Creek Golf Club, Conestoga GC feels as though it has been nestled into a much more receptive environment for golf. Maybe it’s not as eye-popping, but it’s consistently more playable and engaging.

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