The nine-hole Apache Junction, Ariz., golf course is set in the desert with no water hazards, sand traps, or grass, and the “greens” are made of sand mixed with vegetable oil to keep it flat around the cups. The club is required by the state to maintain native plants, limiting the landscaping opportunities, which have proven to be some of golfers’ biggest obstacles.
Amid concerns in the state over drought conditions and depleted water supplies, Snake Hole Golf Club in Apache Junction, Ariz., is working with bare dirt in the middle of the desert, the Phoenix-based Arizona Republic reported.
On this particular layout, there are no water hazards, sand traps, or grass, though there are greens that are made of dirt, some of which is mixed with vegetable oil to keep it flat and smooth around the cups, the Republic reported.
Dust clouds plume when a duffer hits too low and scoops up a chunk of hard-packed earth with his club. The golfers don’t use their best clubs on this course, knowing they take a beating, the Republic reported.
“This is just a fun thing,” said Bob Henrickson, 70, preparing to play a scramble. “You don’t get too excited. It doesn’t matter how good you are (when) you get out here.”
Though the history of the golf course is up for debate, Earl Davidson, the current president of the club, was told there was a couple from Canada who spent winters in Apache Junction who stayed at the Countryside RV Resort and they wanted to golf, but the husband didn’t want to pay country club fees. So sometime in the mid-1980s he headed to the open desert across the street from the RV park and created two holes, the Republic reported.
“It just expanded from there,” Davidson said.
The state found out about the course and informed the golfers they were trespassing on state land. The property is among 9.28 million acres of land granted by the federal government to Arizona at statehood. It is land that is supposed to be held in trust to benefit public education, the Republic reported.
In 1988, the state’s land department created a land-use agreement with the operators of Snake Hole. The agreement, in effect until 2021, requires the club to pay $1,800 a year to use 15.7 acres of land. Among the 11 articles in the agreement are requirements that the club maintain its own insurance policy and provisions for protecting native plants, the Republic reported.
“We’re not supposed to do a whole lot of landscaping,” Davidson said.
The club pays the lease by charging membership dues of $20. The course also sells other passes for one-time or part-time guests. Those help make up the cost of the $600 insurance policy. Davidson said the club used to hold a chili cook-off to cover the cost of the premium. But, in recent years, recycling aluminum cans has covered it, the Republic reported.
About four times a year, Snake Hole members will treat the greens. They pour sand mixed with used vegetable oil. It makes the ground a little more firm and stable, mimicking a grass green, the Republic reported.
“In the earlier days they used motor oil,” Davidson said. “But that’s a no-no.”
The course is nine holes, with the longest at 221 yards and the shortest at 86 yards. “You get more distance here because the ground is so hard,” said Laverne Muehleip, 90.
Muehleip said the vegetation provides the biggest obstacles. “You have to get some altitude to get it over the bushes,” he said.
The official Snake Hole rules state that if a ball goes under a tree, it can be removed and replaced with no penalty. Pieces of industrial low-pile carpet are used for the initial tee shots. But tees are allowed on all shots except those on the green. Because the ground is too hard to poke a tee into, golfers have made their own plastic or rubber tees to elevate the balls, the Republic reported.
They tether the makeshift tees down with key rings and string so they don’t fly off too far into the desert. Holes are marked with flags affixed to a section of PVC pipe wired to a fence post. Those markers are there to differentiate the golf holes from the other holes—ant and gopher—that dot the course, the Republic reported.
“You can hit the best-looking shot, and it hits a rock and ends up in a bush,” Muehleip said. “You can hit the worst-looking shot, and it hits a rock and ends up on the green.”
Most courses hire groundskeepers to keep the course from affecting the game. Here, it is an added random element, the Republic reported.
“It’s not how you play, it’s what kind of luck you have,” said LaVonne Beckfield, 85.
Snake Hole is open only to people who live in the Countryside RV Resort. Guests are allowed, but they must come in with a member. There are 90 members this year, Davidson said, down from 150 in years past, the Republic reported.
Some of the newer residents of the RV park don’t quite see the novelty in the course, Davidson said. “The people that are coming in now, they just want to play on grass,” he said. “They think this course destroys their grass game.”
However, the members are protective of their course. A few years back, members of Bonita Vista, the desert course a few miles away, wanted to have tournaments on each other’s courses. That suggestion didn’t fly, the Republic reported.
“I just got about run out of town when I suggested it,” Davidson said. “Nobody else is going to play on it.”