From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
When I first visited Tatum Ranch Golf Club in 1986, the Bob Cupp design was still called Continental Foothills Golf Club. Located in the flat desert portion of Cave Creek, Ariz., north of Scottsdale, it was intended to be a private club with membership tied to a planned residential development surrounding the 18. The course wouldn't open for another 10 months. In September 1987 it was unveiled with a new name, Tatum Ranch, and a new role as an upscale daily-fee. By the time I got back to play it in 1988, some reviews were already in.
One critic had written, "It offers a relatively subdued vision of golf in the desert," which is faint praise. But my friend Tom Doak, in his original Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, pulled no punches. On his scale of 1 to 10, he gave Tatum Ranch a 3, writing, "What happens when you build a low-profile golf course on flat desert scrub? In the Bob Cupp style, you wind up with Tatum Ranch, a flat, boring layout with low-profile but still artificial-looking green sites [especially the two stupid double greens] and nary an interesting golf shot."
I liked the course a bit more than Tom, probably because I played the course, and I suspect, Tom merely toured it in a golf cart. (He was breezing around a lot of courses in those days, compiling his Confidential Guide.) Courses can often look a lot blander from the seat of a cart.
What I liked was that it was a core layout, with no street crossings or homesites down both sides of any fairway. Granted, it was not an exciting piece of topography. All the good stuff is due east, at Desert Highlands or northeast at what was becoming the magnificent Desert Mountain complex. Cupp was given a bland basin in which to create a course, and I thought he did a decent job on unpromising land.
Yes, the shaping of greens and bunkers are very low profile at Tatum Ranch, but that was a deliberate choice on Cupp's part. As the first design associate for Jack Nicklaus, he had done plenty of exaggerated mounds—conehead mounds, I called them—at places like Grand Cypress and Loxahatchee in Florida and La Paloma in Tucson. When Bob went on his own, one of his first solo projects was TPC at Starpass (now Starr Pass Country Club) in Tucson, where greens had to be framed by massive shoulders of turf in order to support expected spectators. When it came to design Tatum Ranch, Bob wanted to go in a new direction. So his supporting mounds are far smaller and gentler, in dimensions that my friend, golf architect Rich Mandell, has always termed "the human scale." Knobs less than six feet high, bunkers less than four feet deep.
Unlike Doak, I found several interesting shots at Tatum Ranch. The dogleg par-4 seventh, wrapped around an irrigation pond, is a darned intimidating tee shot (and these days, I suspect big hitters aim directly over the water to reach the green.) The par-3 11th, over a dry desert wash to a diagonal green, is an exceptionally good hole. Okay, the ditch dividing the 13th fairway into left-and-right sections didn't work for me, as the left fairway seemed far too narrow for any sensible golfer to aim at. But the only true negative I found at Tatum was that the fairways seemed hemmed in by Palo Verde bushes (what pass for trees in Arizona).
I returned to Tatum Ranch a few years back, this time walking the course without clubs. It's a private club now (and has been since 2001), but Cupp's design is remarkably well-preserved. I was pleased to see the desert areas between holes now seemed cleaned out, and thus are more visual and playable. The perimeter of the course is now lined with well-established homes, most with swimming pools, but nothing is uncomfortably close.
As for those "stupid double greens" that bugged Doak, the long skinny one serving the second and fifth holes and the squatter one serving 16 and 18? The club apparently got rid of those years ago.