Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa: Anything but typical Arizona desert golf

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

MARICOPA, Ariz. -- Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club is set on 320 acres, there isn't a home on it, and it's out there a ways -- in more ways than one.

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club - No. 8
The 484-yard par-4 eighth is the no. 1 handicap hole at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club.
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Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club

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Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club was designed to offer a unique playing opportunity to test players of all levels of expertise. Built in 2002, this Fred Couples and Schmidt-Curley-designed golf course was created in the tradition of some of the world’s most coveted courses.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 7546 yards | Book online | ... details »

You see, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes G.C. isn't desert golf at all, and its short history is as interesting as it gets. Once a men's only club, the club was renamed Royal Dunes five years ago by new owners in an effort to develop the property. Fortunately, for golfers, that never happened, and in 2010 the Ak-Chin Indian Tribe took ownership, assuring that the golf course would be home free.

"I don't think you'll find another golf course in Arizona with that much land and no homes on it," said Garrett Wallace, director of golf and general manager at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes.

Indeed, designer Brian Curley of Schmidt-Curley Design had a large blank canvas on which to design a golf course. So Curley and consultant Fred Couples set out to build a course that wasn't a desert course at all, but something more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland.

The land was initially flat, but that's all a distant memory now. With plenty of elevation change and the occasional blind shot, the golf course does its best to hide its desert roots. You have to look off in a distance to find the cacti. Instead, there are a variety of gamma grasses, large undulating greens and 109 bunkers covering 12 acres of sand.

"It makes for such a dramatic visual," said Wallace of the bunkers, which flash on the fairways and around the greens. "It's intimidating, but there really is a lot of room on the fairways."

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club designed for the pros and ams

At more than 7,500 yards, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is equipped to handle players at the highest levels, and it has. The course has been the site of PGA Tour qualifying tournaments, a U.S. Open qualifier, two Arizona State Amateurs and regional professional tours. In fact, the course record is 62, set by Chris Kamin at a Gateway Tour event in 2009.

But don't let Kamin's 62 fool you. The course, even if you play up on one of the other six sets of tees, is anything but easy, especially if the wind is up. All those aforementioned bunkers can wreak havoc with tee shots and approaches, and if you find the fescues, a lost ball looms as a real possibility.

Still, the golf course is very playable, especially during calm conditions. There are good risk-reward holes where if you're on top of your game, you can take advantage. Others, such as the 248-yard par-3 sixth, you just try to survive.

The pars 5s are especially strong and enjoyable. The 16th, at 576 yards from the tips, has plenty of strategic bunkering off the tee and around a sloping green. Birdie is a great score and doable if you play the hole correctly.

The course also finishes strong on both nines. The eighth and ninth are par 4s that play more than 480 yards. The 18th is a dogleg right par 4 around water that sets up a difficult approach shot to a green guarded by bunkers in the back.

Then there's the par-3 17th. A totally blind tee shot leads to a green about 180 yards away, and it's protected by layers of deep bunkers. First-time players will have no idea where their ball finished until they get to the green.

"Players tend to love it or hate it," Wallace said. "But they always talk about it."

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club: The verdict

In short, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is a break from Arizona desert golf. Not that there's anything wrong with desert golf, but Southern Dunes is an excellent diversion and a good test of golf. Players who like links golf will love this course, which is also visually appealing.

More than anything, though, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes G.C. is a complete facility. The lack of homes makes it a special treat, but it also has excellent practice facilities with a large double-sided range, practice green and chipping green. Lessons are available from the professional staff.

The clubhouse and dining area have also been expanded. And the Southern Dunes Grille is as good as it gets when it comes to golf course grub. Chef Tim Miller creates an array of delicious sandwiches and soups, with the latter being particularly tantalizing. His daily chili is good, but his Albondigas meatball soup as well as other homemade broths makes the 30-mile trip south of Phoenix worth it alone, even if you don't play golf.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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