Maybe Forrest Richardson was just ahead of his time.
When the Valley-based golf architect collaborated with former senior golf pro Bill Johnston on the layout of Lookout Mountain Golf Club at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs in the mid-1980s, he envisioned a course that embraced the Arizona desert as it wound through the North Mountain Preserve.
However, right before the course was to be completed for a 1987 opening, the developers decided the course should feel more like a desert oasis - with a lot more water.
"It was a decision made more about aesthetics than function or strategy," Richardson said.
Trouble was, the nearest source of treated waste water was miles away, and bringing it to the course near 7th Street and Thunderbird was cost prohibitive.
Instead, the course simply tapped into the Phoenix drinking-water system to water the turf and supply three water hazards, two of which were not part of the original design.
It was the kind of thinking that was common at the time, but ultimately created an image problem for the golf industry when water conservation became a priority.
Now, 23 years after Lookout Mountain opened, Richardson is back to give the course sort of an environmental makeover designed to save water and celebrate the desert setting.
"At the time, there wasn't nearly as much concern about the use of water or the cost of water," Richardson said. "Now, we're in a reality where things have changed."
Lookout Mountain is one of nine courses within the city of Phoenix that do not use reclaimed water. The others are Club West, Dove Mountain, Foothills (which uses part domestic water), Moon Valley Country Club, Phoenician, Raven (part domestic water), Tatum Ranch and Wildfire at Desert Ridge.
The course is open as renovations are underway, but it will close for over-seeding Sept. 26. The project is expected to be complete when the course re-opens Oct. 15th.
The project will reduce the amount of turf and affect three water hazards, which come into play on four holes:
• A double pond down the left side of the par-five 15th hole will be reduced. This hazard was part of the original design and is a two-tiered pond with a waterfall from the first spilling into the lower pond closest to the green. The upper pond will be reduced in size but the waterfall and lower pond, which defines the hole, will be retained. Linings in both ponds will be replaced using materials designed to last 50 years.
Golfers still will have to make risk-reward decisions on their approach shot to the green with the water in play. The water will be out of play off the tee for most golfers, and those who find the desert waste area will have a chance to recover.
• The lake that extended nearly from tee to green on the 182-yard par-3 16th hole will be removed and replaced with a desert waste area along with new bunkering short of the green.
• And a boomerang-shaped pond (below, right) that surrounded the par-five 18th hole (and also came into play on a really disastrous tee shot on the first hole) will be replaced with a desert waste area behind and to the right of the 18th green. Four new bunkers protecting the green, which has been enlarged, are under construction.
"We're replacing what was a blind water hazard from the approach and tee shot," Richardson said. "Not only was it hard to see, but it didn't encourage people to go for the green.
"The best par fives that are in the range where you can go for it (in two) ought to beckon you."
According to Jeff Raymond, head golf professional at Lookout Mountain, the changes will save more than 10 million gallons of water a year. And Richardson said there are more savings in eliminating future maintenance costs.
"The best water hazards are always the natural ones such as rivers, coastlines or lakes," Richardson said. "When you go against Mother Nature and try to create artificial water hazards, there's a cost associated with that.
"In this case, the water hazards are at the end of their life and the best decision was to change them into something more appropriate."