Annette Morris lines up an eight-footer on the third hole at the Arizona Acres golf course in east Mesa. "Just about the same one as that little guy had, Ian Woosnam," the sixtyish native of Canada says, referring to the new Masters champ's winning putt of a few days earlier.
Mrs. Morris pauses another moment and surveys the situation. "Wonder if he could sink it on dirt like this. Wonder if I can."
She can't. Mrs. Morris' orange golf ball nicks a pebble on its way home and careens to the left, like a bank shot in pool. It ends up a club's length or so past the hole.
Even Woosnam might have had trouble with the putt. Instead of greens, golfers at Arizona Acres putt on what could be called "browns." Instead of soft, luxurious dance floors of grass, they putt on rugged, unpredictable oil-sand greens. The course's list of rules state, "No putts shall be conceded." But Mrs. Morris' husband, Clem, deems it a "gimme," and taps the ball with his putter.
"There's one rule out here," he says, "and that's to play however you want."
Mrs. Morris adds up the shots on the hole as the couple walks to the next tee. She notes the triple-bogey six on her scorecard, then shrugs in the what-can-you-do attitude of duffers everywhere.
"Anybody who takes this game seriously has got to be a little goofy," she says.
She's content to play her goofy golf in the rough. "I don't quite understand it," she says. "They build all those big green courses, then they charge you an arm and a leg to play. They talk about `desert golf,' even if they knocked down the desert to put it in. This is real desert golf."
Mrs. Morris adds wryly, "I'll tell you, though, sometimes I don't know about the golf part."
When she says "desert," she doesn't mean surrounded by desert. The only greenery on this course is from the healthy overgrowth of weeds spawned by the area's spring rains. This quirky nine-hole is a throwback to another era, and a reminder of the long desert course constructed in 1912 at the San Marcos Hotel in Chandler.
In the old days, San Marcos and many other eighteen-hole resort courses like it around Arizona used oil-sand greens. The savings on water were considerable, and few out-of-towners complained. However, all but a handful of the state's oil-sand courses were converted to grass decades ago.
Like Annette and Clem Morris, most of the people who play Arizona Acres are retired folks happy to be as far from the Great White North as possible during the winter months. The golf course they play is owned by the 200-space Arizona Acres Mobile Home Resort, where the Morrises and others are snowbird residents. For them, golf is free.
At 1,858 yards, the private course is a bit more than half the length of average-size links. It takes about 75 minutes to complete a nine when there's no tournament on. Arizona Acres wouldn't interest anyone with Ping golf clubs or a low handicap. Tournament winners here are given pats on the back, not green sports jackets.
It's one of a dying breed of oddball little courses that dot the less-populated reaches of Maricopa County. You'll never see photos of these primitive links in a chamber of commerce brochure.
This golf course is a product of nature, not of designer Pete Dye. And it will never be listed in the state's golf guide, though it's been here since the late 1950s.
No one in charge of such things has bothered to give Arizona Acres a "slope rating" or any other rating. The land is flat as an airport runway, except for a bone-dry river bed that crosses holes two, three and nine. About that ravine, Annette Morris says, "It's all in the mind. If you think it's there, it'll get you. You just have to pretend it's not there and you'll get over it without much trouble."
Other than the not-to-be-feared wash, the main hazards on the course are the flowering mesquite, the sea of creosote bushes and the hardy clumps of multicolored desert flowers that brighten the scenery and boost the pollen count in early April. Now and then, a snake will slowly inch across a fairway, but the snakes mind their own business and so do the golfers.
There is no clubhouse, no pro, no ranger, no caddies, no young women riding around hawking ice-cold beverages. Very few golfers use battery-powered carts. The course takes a minimum of upkeep. Parttime groundskeeper Al Morzenti, a resident of the mobile home park, tries to keep the "fairways" as free of weeds as possible and to make sure the oil-sand greens are as smooth and true as dirt can be.
The nearest visible water appears in a snapshot someone hung up next to a Peanuts cartoon on a bulletin board at the first tee. It shows a gorgeous lake abutting a lush green course someplace far from here.
Still, Arizona Acres is an oasis of sorts. Small rabbits scamper from hole to hole. The most oft-heard sounds on the course are the sweet thwack of club on ball and the insistent cooing of fat and sassy quail.
Because of the terrain, players use short rubber tees for every shot but putts. It's easier on the clubs and the desert that way, but there are still plenty of lost golf balls. Most of the regulars here use battered old balls anyway, and it's par for the course to look around a bit for an AWOL ball, then drop a fresh one and have at it.
Golfers at Arizona Acres scribble their mobile-home space numbers on their balls with an indelible marker. If a group finds someone else's missing ball, they'll place it--space number visible--into one of several egg cartons that sit atop a concrete block at the course entrance.
Daryl and Beverly Steiner have been coming to the mobile home park for the past eleven winters from their permanent home in Minnesota. Mr. Steiner is a recently retired farmer to whom golf is a few laughs and some exercise. He carries just four clubs in his bag--a three-iron, seven-iron, three-wood and a putter.
"You don't have any control over where the ball is going out here," Mr. Steiner says. "Of course, I don't have any control over it anyway. We're just duffers. Most of us are all the same as golfers--kind of lousy. I don't even keep track of my score half the time. It's not like anyone out here is trying to be Ben Hogan."
Now and then, the Steiners play a round at "a regular course, you know, one with grass," Mr. Steiner says. "But most of the time, this is just fine, and it's cheap. We're not big-shot golfers. You know what pressure is? This is the opposite of that."
One of Mr. Steiner's foursome is wearing a beat-up cap that says, "After listening to all your theories on farmin', I'm convinced you need a laxative." Someone has crossed off "farmin'" and replaced it with "golfin'."
Mellow as these desert duffers are, few of them have lost the urge to spin a tale or two about strange happenings at Arizona Acres. Lore at the course has it that an 85-year-old man--now deceased--once had a hole in one, then missed another on the next hole by inches. Another octogenarian made a hole in one a few years ago, but it was the wrong hole, darn it. There is talk of miraculous chip shots from deep in the dry wash, and of a shot that is said to have killed a poor bunny.
It's the ninth hole, a 353-yard tester, and Betty Scott, a retiree from Ontario, Canada, is just three feet from her first par of the winter. She doesn't bother to mark her ball--few do at Arizona Acres--and her husband, Bill, putts around her. The extra putt doesn't seem to bother him at all.
"Your turn, hon," Mr. Scott says to his wife. "This is the big one. Got to sink it."
Mrs. Scott strides up to her putt in the confident manner of a Nancy Lopez. She studies the line for a second or two and lets it fly. The ball shoots past the hole and finally stops a few feet farther away from pay dirt than it started. She calmly knocks it in for the bogey and waves to an imaginary gallery.
"Oh, well," Mrs. Scott says. "At least I can say I almost got a par."
This quirky nine-hole is a throwback to another era, a reminder of the desert course constructed in 1912 at the San Marcos Hotel.
Instead of soft, luxurious dance floors of grass, they putt on rugged, unpredictable oil-sand greens. Arizona Acres wouldn't interest anyone with Ping golf clubs or a low handicap.
The most oft-heard sounds on the course are the sweet thwack of club on ball and the insistent cooing of fat and sassy quail.
Another octogenarian made a hole in one a few years ago, but it was the wrong hole, darn it.