Just south of Phoenix, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is a tasty Arizona golf experience

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

MARICOPA, Ariz. -- Originally a private, all-men's club, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes has found its own unique identity among Phoenix/Scottsdale-area golf courses.

Southern Dunes Golf Club - No. 18
The finishing hole at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club has a green that is well protected by bunkers and water.
Southern Dunes Golf Club - No. 18Ak-Chin Southern Dunes GC - No. 8
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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 »

Anything but typical desert golf, this wonderfully difficult Brian Curley design is one of the most unique courses in the area. For one, there are no homes on it, and while that isn't totally unique to the area, it certainly is a bonus.

But the biggest difference is the style of golf. There aren't too many links-type courses in the desert, and Southern Dunes certainly stands out. As an added bonus, the clubhouse food is as good as it gets.

Opened in 2002, Southern Dunes was originally a men-only club, but difficult times led to the sale of the club and a new mission as it was renamed Royal Dunes. But when the Ak-Chin Indian Tribe took over in 2010, it retained its original name.

Curley, who worked with Fred Couples on the design of the golf course, basically had carte blanche over 320 acres of flat land, free to move as much dirt as he wanted, create hazards and design a course that didn't have to follow the land.

What transpired was a creation that doesn't look like it belongs in the desert at all, but rather in Ireland or Scotland.

What was once flat now has huge mounds, creating blind shots in some instances and areas where players can bounce the ball to the greens. Other areas have water on them, requiring some forced carries, and there's the monstrous par-3 sixth that plays some 250 yards from the tips, often into the wind, forcing even good players to hit driver there on occasion. And instead of cacti and native desert plants providing the contrast, it's a variety of gamma grasses and 109 bunkers.

From the tips (there are six sets of tees), the course stretches out to more than 7,500 yards and has hosted many high profile events, including the Arizona State Amateur.

When conditions are calm, the course can be tamed (the course record is 62), but throw in some wind and it certainly has its challenges. With a variety of good risk-reward holes, including a drivable par 4 and good par 5s, the golf course never lacks from interest. And both nines finish very strong. The eighth and ninth are difficult par 4s that play more than 480 yards. The finishing hole is a dogleg-right par 4 that plays around water to a well protected green.

Stay for the grub: Golfers often talk about a clubhouse offering pretty good food, but Southern Dunes, which is managed by Troon Golf, is off-the-charts good. Whether its barbecue, fajitas or a simple sandwich, the food is prepared with so much care and expertise, that golfers sometimes remember what they had to eat over what they shot on the course.

The chili and homemade soups are particularly outstanding. In fact, the Southern Dunes meatball soup is so good that's it's not uncommon for golfers to order enough to eat some there and take the rest home.

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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