Like many, I had been scared off playing here since it reopened as it sounded like the new name "Sand Canyon" was an unintended piece of anti-marketing, not intended ironically or otherwise. So it was (literally) with some trepidation that I booked a Sunday am round at the rack rate of 90.
As a frequent player here back in the day when it was Robinson Ranch, I didn't know what to expect based on recent GK reviews and the local word on the street, but upon driving up the long wind to the clubhouse I was pleasantly surprised to see acres of mainly green on what was the old front nine of the Mountain course on the right. The back nine of Mountain to the left has been allowed to go totally to pasture and the native grass and fauna has invaded completely. In fact, you wouldn't know there was a golf course there until just a few years ago were it not for the cart paths still visible snaking through it.
All that said, my shorter review is this: the course is back! While not perfect or pristine, it is clear they have been working on it and some parts are actually better than they used to be when it was Robinson.
As alluded to, the back nine of Mountain was sacrificed no doubt as a cost-saving, water-saving move. That saddens me as I think it was the best nine out of the original four, containing the most unique holes, elevation changes and variety (I am thinking of 11, 13, 15-18 for those that remember the layout). It was also longer than mountain front 9 which is probably why it was calved away. In one sign of favorable maintenance, what they now call the 'Desert' 9 (the old back nine of 'Valley') was closed for over-seeding! A a result, I played 'Valley' (the original Valley Course front nine) followed by 'Mountain' (the old Mountain course front nine.)
At only around 6200 yards from the blues, I felt this combo was a bit under-powered than under the old routing - still, this is Robinson Ranch so it's still plenty challenging!
Valley was generally much greener and in better overall shape than Mountain. The Valley tees were a bit shaggy with a lot of gouges on par 4's and 5's so I am not sure who was skying their drives but the crown of someone's driver was suffering some abuse. Fairways were generally lush with most of the bermuda recovered and some in-growth from other grasses here and there. Greens looked very good, but they were nappy in spite of just being cut, very slow (7.5 - 8 optimistically on the stimp) and very bumpy. Putts did not track well. Didn't visit any sand but it looked reasonable and had been groomed for the most part. Only one or 2 bunkers had some weeds in them and looked a little thin and forlorn.
Mountain was less green overall but still favorable lies in the fairways; here they have cleared out more extensive areas to reduce watering. So it looks pretty rough at times, but none of these sandy areas are really in play. Gone is the water feature to the right of 12 too, replaced with agave and other desert plantings. Had it still been here I would have lost the only ball I played the round with. Otherwise, I could now hack it out back into play. Also, from 12 on (and especially 14 & 15) the mountain greens - which were faster and a bit smoother - had some pretty visible issues. A lot of plugging and some limited aeration was visible. 14 was the worst affected with about 40% of the surface bare or clearly under repair. Tee boxes on Mountain were also dry, shaggy and sometimes crowned. I wondered whether they were being killed off for an over-seed.
I would rate Valley at about a 7-7.5 overall and Mountain around 6-6.5. Highly playable and the most notable improvement over the old management regime was that the rough on both 9's is now well established at around 1-2 inches on average. Players who frequented the old course would know (and lament) that an integral part of the design were the mounds surrounding many fairways which were supposed to work in tandem with the rough to deflect balls back into play and to keep them out of the numerous native areas lining the course. A testament to this improvement - as noted above - is that I played 18 with the same ball. Unheard of, really, for this place.
Things that still represent deficits? The carts have no GPS which makes a course this tough hard to negotiate. Local knowledge helped me a lot. And, there appears to be no way to book other than through their web utility, so no discounts can be had. I would prefer to pay about 70 max here on a Sunday at prime time, rather than the $90 I did. Also, no marshal which you would expect on a higher end course. While not very busy, pace was still a sluggish 4 hours 20 minutes on what is now a shortish course.
But overall I am happy to report this place is back! If, like me, you were avoiding it due to recent reports, go back out and give it a whirl (and try to get on Valley/Desert combo (the old Valley 18) as it has more length and coherency to it than the 2 nines I played).» Close