Flagstaff's only public course puts on a new face

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Continental Country Club is literally the only public game in town, and because of that, the club probably could have ignored some of its turf problems.

Although there are private courses in and around Flagstaff, including two brand-new ones, Pine Canyon and Flagstaff Ranch, Continental is the only daily-fee course in this town of 60,000. Flagstaff, at 7,000 feet in Northern Arizona, is annually visited by hordes of tourists on their way to the Grand Canyon and by flocks of Phoenix area residents fleeing the heat in Southern Arizona. If they want to golf, most of them have only one playing choice here.

But despite its monopoly on public golf, Continental has just finished something of a facelift, including spiffing up the clubhouse and spending $1.4 million to redo its irrigation system. You still can see the scars of the work on the fairways.

"It will take a year or two for the trenches to fill in, but then we're going to start getting back some of the turf we had lost because of the drought," says Leon Schwebke, the director of golf. "We bought a state-of-the art irrigation system, the best that we could afford and as good as you'll see on the best resort courses in Phoenix."

After the renovations, the club also got a new name - Continental Country Club - to replace "Elden Hills Golf Club," named after Mount Elden and its foothills seen from many holes on the course.

The course was laid out in 1960 by designer Bob Baldock, but the routing and holes have been renovated and changed many times over the years so that no one's really sure what Baldock did back in the beginning.

Conditions had been deteriorating, yet the course remains the crown jewel of the subdivision of 2,500 homes that surrounds it. "I told the board of the homeowners association that it would continue to deteriorate, and in a few years, we would be down to a $20 green fee," says Schwebke. "But they were very proactive and determined to improve things."

Once more of the grass pops up, the layout will undoubtedly look more resort-like. Much of the front nine lies out in a rolling meadow area close to local highways. Out in this open flat area there are washes, drainage areas and ponds to add some challenges to the holes and views of Mount Elden to serve as a photogenic backdrop.

Even so, don't expect a championship-style test in distance or slope/rating. There are only two sets of tees - 6,014 yards from the back and 5,245 from the forward. The rating/slope from the back tees is 67.5/118.

One of the better holes here is No. 8, a par-3 (183 yards from the back tees and 156 from the forward) where golfers make their shots from the top of a hill to a green that's surrounded on two sides by water.

"This hole plays with a 3-wood to a 9-iron depending on the wind," Schwebke says. "And you're usually hitting into the wind."

You'll enjoy playing back into the Ponderosa pines on the hillsides that meander above the flatter part of the course. It's these holes that keep Continental from being just the average traditional-style course. But up here, as throughout Flagstaff, there has been serious damage from bark beetles that are killing tall pines all over Northern Arizona. In fact, Schwebke told us that the next project on the course is to start removing more of the brown pines and replanting with baby green trees.

A favorite hole on the back nine is No. 12 - a par-4 (390 yards from the back tees and 330 from the forward) that plays as a slight dogleg right.

"There's a crowned fairway that looks wide, but it doesn't play wide. That crown can kick the ball out," Schwebke says.

The par-3s are among the better parts of the course. You often hit from elevated tees, down to greens that are framed by trees, like No. 13 (140 yards from the back tees and 113 from the forward).

One of the tougher par-5s on the course is No. 14 (470 yards from the back tees and 410 from the forward. The fairway takes you uphill, then downhill and then uphill again along this dogleg right.

Schwebke sees it as unlikely that there will ever be another daily-fee course built in the area, unless local government gets involved.

"The city fathers have been mulling over the idea for years. Right now the cost of land is too prohibitive for some private developer to finance a daily-fee course unless they already own the site," he says. "There's some talk of a city-owned course being built down near the airport."

Places to stay

Flagstaff is loaded with brand-new, reasonably priced motels. Try the Comfort Inn at I-17 and I-40 (928-774-2225).

For casual food

Try the Beaver Street Brewery & Whistle Stop Café on Beaver Street in old-town Flagstaff. It's a Northern Arizona hangout that can be packed with students in the evenings. Lots of salads, burgers, pizzas in generous and tasty portions. And of course, lots of beer choices. Located at 11 S. Beaver St.; phone, (928) 779-0079.

For finer dining

One of the new local places on the outskirts of town is Jackson's Grill at the Springs. It's a beautiful mountain inn-roadhouse that features spit-roasted chicken, wood-fired pizzas plus unusual dishes with a nouveau Asian flavor. Located at 7055 S. Highway 89A; phone, (928) 213-9350.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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