'The Essence of Arizona Golf' - Longbow celebrates 20 years

'Golf is a good walk spoiled.' - Mark Twain

The Signature Longbow Golf Club combination of holes four, five and six surrounding the lake were rerouted but preserved as an essential element of the Kavanaugh redesign of The Old Course.

Obviously, author-humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, never teed it up at Longbow Golf Club in northeast Mesa. Had Twain had the privilege to test those gently rolling fairways and greens at Longbow, “the father of American literature” might have come away with a completely different opinion about the game.

Since the day Longbow’s first layout – “The Old Course” – opened its doors on November 5, 1997, Longbow Golf Club has been a good walk not spoiled, according to the website Excellent Golf Walks of America. 

“Longbow is delightful to play, from the welcoming 60’s music in its mesquite tree-shaded courtyard…to the fireplace on its massive covered patio, where you are served libations and good food…you will be entranced and entertained,” the website observed.

As it turns out, Longbow Golf Club, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, was always intended to be a pure walking golf course, according to Ken Kavanaugh, the Tucson golf course designer/ceator. 

“I like all of my golf courses for different reasons,” said Kavanaugh, whose portfolio includes eight signature layouts among his 25 projects, most of those located throughout the western United States. ”What I like about Longbow is that it’s the most walkable desert layout that I’ve ever done. It’s golf the way it was meant to be played, which is not always the case in the desert. Plus, and this is a huge plus, it’s playable. You’re not going to get beat up at Longbow.” 

Even though the course was named after the Apache Longbow Helicopter, which still is built right across the street at the Boeing Company, it helps to have the skills of Robin Hood, the rapscallion archer who made the medieval Longbow a weapon notorious in battle. Accuracy, location and knowing the subtleties of the golf course still are paramount for those who play well at Longbow, a great neighborhood club that welcomes all types of golfers.

Bob McNichols, who purchased the club in 2001, said Longbow’s kinder gentler personality and popularity with East Valley players was one of the reasons he first became intrigued with the club. That, McNichols said, along with an abundance of vacant land for development surrounding The Old Course, all of which led to an “unintended consequence.” 

“I had planned to buy the 135 acres that the club is built on from Boeing along with an adjacent 200 acres of vacant land, and then have Ken (Kavanaugh) redesign the course as the centerpiece of a mixed-use business and housing development and trade the golf course to the City of Mesa, which at the time was looking to add a municipal course in northeast Mesa,” McNichols recalled. “But about half way through the construction of the redesigned golf course, I got a call from the City of Mesa saying it couldn’t go through with the deal.”

And with one fell swoop, McNichols was in the golf business. Luckily, the Denver native also had acquired the water rights to the huge 330-acre parcel of property that stretches from Recker Road to Higley Road to McDowell Road and on to the Loop 202. In fact, McNichols is the first to admit that having his own water rights essentially “kept us in the game.”

McNichols also caught a big break when Kavanaugh’s second edition of Longbow exceeded the design and playability of The Old Course. It helped that the golfers who had played the course in the early years, loved the changes they discovered and responded with enthusiasm and renewed loyalty.

“We draw a lot of people from every state around the country as well as surrounding communities, even if the locals are our backbone,” McNichols noted. “That’s why we have thousands of true-blue followers who purchase loyalty cards every year.”

To McNichols’ credit, he has made Longbow better and better through the years. And no club has reached out more to the Arizona golf community, as well as golf organizations at the junior, collegiate, amateur and pro levels, as well as charities and community organizations of all types.

“This year we will host the 20th anniversary of the American Junior Golf Association’s Heather Farr Classic, the 15th time it’s been held at Longbow Golf Club,” said McNichols, who sits on the board of The First Tee of Phoenix and executive board of the Arizona Golf Association as a statewide officer.

“But being heavily involved in the golf community, hosting events like the LPGA Symetra Tour Gateway Classic, and having a great golf course like Longbow to host a full schedule of other events like the USGA, NCAA, NJCAA, high school and The First Tee, is really what it’s all about.”

No wonder Longbow Golf Club, managed by OB Sports, is considered a top golf course by many raters and writers, like Golfweek, which named Longbow a Top-20 Course you can play in Arizona, as well as among the Top 100 Resort Courses in America, also by the magazine. Kavanaugh’s remake is unique and exhilarating, with a closing stretch that will knock your golf socks off.

For those who want to play it again for the very first time, it’s not The Old Course any more, as the new and improved nines have flip-flopped in playing order while the individual holes have grown in stature. And Kavanaugh kept it real but noticeably better with some encouragement from McNichols.


The opening hole on the par-71 layout, that ranges from 5,202 yards up to 7,050 yards, is a somewhat surprising 626-yard (from the tips) par 5 that sounds almost impossible for a starter except that you can cut a little length off the dogleg left. A testier stretch might be found at the turn, where No. 9 rambles on for 474 yards and No. 10 goes 451 yards. Yes, all you can handle for two back-to-back-breaking par 4s.

Along the way you will encounter some pristine par 3s, like the 224-yard 16th, which starts that crescendo that ends with a bang at No. 18, a 556-yard, double-dogleg par 5, where eagles sometimes fly for those who are savvy enough to navigate the hole’s shortcuts. (The “regulars” are well-versed in that route!)

Oh, yes, and did we mention that Longbow Golf Club offers some spectacular mountain views from every hole on the course, backdrops that feature the McDowell and Superstition Mountains, Usury and South Mountain, and the majestic sandstone cliffs of Red Mountain.

Just as cool, the Longbow experience doesn’t end at the 18th hole. Named one of the ‘Best 19th Holes in Arizona Golf’ by the local newspaper, the cozy indoor lounge and enormous covered patio represent The Grille at Longbow Golf Club with style and comfort. And there’s much more, like that aforementioned patio where you can enjoy a Classic Burger or a Chicago Dog along with a cold beverage. Or maybe it’s the patio where you start your day, featuring the Longbow Southwest breakfast burrito which comes on a fresh tortilla that is loaded with fluffy eggs, green chiles, jalepanos, chorizo, black beans, cheese and salsa?

All certainly hit the spot, especially for those who have just got on (or off) their Longbow GolfBoards, the latest-greatest innovations to surf the earth as you play the course. Longbow has 16 of them, and the demand among golfers is burgeoning.


“They’ve become so popular we’ve included them at no additional cost for the use of our cardmembers,” said McNichols, who certainly lives up to the club’s motto: “We make golf fun for all ages at Longbow Golf Club.”

Actually, that fun-for-all theme is not the club’s official motto. That would be, “The Essence of Arizona Golf.” Now those are some exquisite words that even a masterful writer like Mark Twain could relate.