The Links at Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix: A golf course packed with drama
The Arizona Biltmore Links golf course in Phoenix is full of theatrical flair that will keep you guessing until the last hole.
PHOENIX -- At first, the sign comes off as a joke. Then you think about it for a second and -- well, you're not going to be the one who disobeys it in some unofficial test.
"Enter This Gate And You Will Be Killed," it reads, simply and coldly.
Hey, who wants to turn out like those college kids from a bad horror movie who escape a rollercoaster collision or similar improbable disaster and end up having Death chase after them for 90 full minutes -- give or take a preview? Why don't you go ahead and stick a toe in?
"I guess you don't want your golf ball ending up there," my playing partner, Darren Janke, says with a laugh.
The sign threatening death may be the last surprise on the Arizona Biltmore Links Course, but it's hardly the only one. This Bill Johnson design is packed full of drama and a definite theatrical flair. Which is about the last thing most people expect from the Arizona Biltmore Resort -- a storied place known for hosting presidents -- or the golf club that features old black and white photographs of figures like Teddy Roosevelt on the front of its Web site.
Only Biltmore's Links Course doesn't play that. Instead, it's more like one of those Hollywood starlets that like to get trashed in neighboring Scottsdale's trendy clubs: A little wild. Only it manages to stay classy as it swerves all over the place. Including right near the death sign on 18.
This sign happens to be on the gate of an actual Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house -- which means it's worth millions and a lure to architecture geeks (who are about as threatening as bird watchers). Yes, essentially this sign of doom is the world's most ominous "Keep Off The Lawn."
Somehow, it fits right in with Biltmore Links Course. This is a course that goes by many impressive homes. Radio icon Paul Harvey -- he of "the rest of the story" -- had a huge white house right on the second hole.
Biltmore Links also flaunts much of golf convention. Fairways are tilted at crazy angles here, up on hills, down in washes. Holes take dramatic sharp turns that render the term dogleg flimsily inadequate.
There's one short par 3 where you cannot even see the green from the tee (it's tucked around a bend). There's another where you can see almost all of Phoenix from a high, high perch (no. 15). This is the best view in the whole area and completely different from every other hole on Biltmore Links.
It might sound scatter brained. But it adds up to one rollicking, fun play that's going to stick in your mind long after the day's done.
"I like it because it really makes you think," said Janke, who's the manager at Wright's, Biltmore Resort's restaurant.
After the thought, you'll usually be grinning. Or shaking your head. Or both. Biltmore Links is a course where you'll find yourself in more uneven stances than a ballerina. You'll have shots with one leg on the side of the hill and the other on level ground, shots where you're trying to land on a green you cannot see.
"We call Links the players course," Biltmore Golf Club General Manager Dick Bates said. "Because you have to be a player to get a good score out there."
Shows you how much distance can mean. The 6,300-yards on Biltmore Links' scorecard is even 128 yards less than its sister course, Adobe plays. But while Adobe's a leisurely green stroll in the park, Links tests you like a high school teacher in love with those dreaded pop quizzes.
You never know what could be waiting around the corner (often a tucked-away green) or what creative trouble a wayward shot can find if it bounces off the often-skinny fairways.
"It's a golf course with a lot of little secrets," Janke said.
Including word on what's happened to those who've tested that sign of death.
Arizona Biltmore's Links Course: The verdict
Arizona Biltmore's Links Course does not carry the coast-to-coast reputation of some of Phoenix-Scottsdale's vaunted resort courses. It's no desert forced-carry beast that's going to scare you from the glossy pages of a golf magazine. It is one of the more enjoyable, quirky courses you'll come across anywhere.
It most reminded this reviewer of Furry Creek Golf & Country Club outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, which is another unconventional track you either love or hate. Biltmore Links does not have Furry Creek's water dramatics, but it does have holes that will make you consider club selections you've probably never thought of in your life before.
That plays out on one of the greener and well maintained golf courses you'll find in the Valley of the Sun. While Biltmore Golf Club and the Arizona Biltmore Resort have different owners, there is a definite focus on making sure those paying top dollar for Biltmore's historic luxury are not disappointed when they walk across the street to the golf courses.
April 14, 2008