Built in 1970, Desert Canyon Golf Club is still worth the drive to Fountain Hills
FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. -- In the middle of the desert northeast of Phoenix, is the world's largest fountain, spraying water 560 feet into the air, in the appropriately named town of Fountain Hills.
Not being able to compete with that much water may have been why water barely comes into play on the area's oldest golf course, Desert Canyon Golf Club (formerly Fountain Hills Golf Club) built in 1970, the same year the remote community was developed.
Instead, the traditional layout captivates its golfers by offering a relatively short course - with elevated tees or greens and sometimes both on nearly every hole - where birdies are probably the most popular wildlife on the track that is located about 40 minutes from downtown Phoenix.
Desert Canyon G.C. is less than 6,500 yards from the back tees and just over 6,000 from the men's, with all the par-4s from this range less than 400 yards. Since most of the holes are doglegs, big hitters are given plenty of opportunities to cut some corners with plenty of danger, often in the form of white stakes on hillsides, if they come up short.
There are plenty of opportunities to record low scores, but with hilly fairways usually lined with oak trees and homes - both from the early settlers in Fountain Hills when John Allen laid out the par-71 championship course to the outlines of modern developments within the desert landscape that survived the first wave of homes - bordering many holes, big numbers are just as common on the scorecard for the risks that don't pay off.
You don't have to wait long at all to start off with a bang. No. 1 is a short (328 yards from the back tees, 312 from the men's) par-4 dogleg left from one of many elevated tee boxes. Tee shots usually roll right off the hill on the left side of the fairway that is lined with palm trees. Another half dozen palms form a semi-circle around the back of the undulating green.
The second hole, a modest par-4 with a slight dogleg right, features a common green: elevated, and not too big. An extra club is usually necessary to reach many of the greens.
The next hole, the shortest of the three par-5s at 507 yards all the way back (488 from the men's tees), provides a generous fairway (although a road runs along the far left side) with an approach uphill to a sunken green that slopes front to back. A sand trap sits short of the green on the right side waiting to capture the shots that don't make it up the hill. Two holes later is Desert Canyon's longest par-5, yet not out of reach for big hitters. At just 527 yards (507 up one tee marker) it sets up similar to No. 3 but with a more severe climb uphill and a sharper dogleg right. Keep your tee shot left for a good angle into the green and away from the rising trouble on the right.
No. 6 is the hardest hole on the side, and the biggest par-4 - 423 yards from the back (396 from the men's). It's all uphill with OB right and a fairway that slopes to the left from the elevated tee with another elevated green.
Desert Canyon Golf Club's best known hole is the 144-154 yard par-3. The tee box sits 150 feet above the tight green that slopes severely from back to front with plenty of trouble below the green on all sides. Depending on the wind, that often blows against you, club selection is tricky.
The front side closes with a par-4 that features two options from the tee box: Hit an iron or wood to the fat part of the fairway at the bottom of the hill; or fire away with the driver over the hill on the dogleg right to a small patch of grass for a level pitch at the green. The fairway sits way below the lofted putting surface. A large oak tree on the right side of the fairway can cause problems with tee shots too far left that don't find the water hazard.
No. 10 is the only hole at Desert Canyon Golf Club where water really comes into play. The fairway is overtaken by a lake on the left side about 220 yards from the elevated tee box and continues all the way to the green on this 372-yard par-4 (354 from the men's tees).
The longest par 3 awaits on the 11th hole, requiring a long iron tee shot of 180-199 yards that plays even farther to a blind, elevated green with traps on the left.
Despite No. 12's length of 403 yards from the back (385 from the men's), this par-4 is drivable to the courageous who are able to carry their tee shot over a hill of over 250 yards to a green that sits on top of another hill with OB short. Any balls hit short of the green - from any direction - generally roll back down to the fairway.
The 13th is the back's only par-5. A solid drive down the middle of the 523-yard hole can leave you with a reachable second shot, but drives left will find trouble with a group of trees and right has desert brush before opening up onto a road. The slight dogleg right is protected by a bunker short of the green on the right side. A concrete irrigation ditch, that occasionally acts as a cart path, bisects the front of the green and runs through the next couple of holes.
The next group of holes are basically straight-aways with plenty of elevated tees and greens that lets you rest before the finishing hole.
No. 18 is a long par-4 (for Desert Canyon) at 413 yards from the back (396 up one) that includes the basics of the course: uphill, dogleg right with a nasty tree blocking the right corner. Play at least one extra club up the hill.
Once you've holed out, be sure and check out the view looking back across the endless mountain ranges, like the picturesque Mazatzal Mountain and Four Peaks area. And there's always the Fountain to provide a unique visual to the backdrop of the area's first golf course.
New neighbors: While Desert Canyon Golf Club has been around for more than 30 years in Fountain Hills, it no longer serves as the only track in town, although it is still the cheapest. Three new courses have opened there since the mid-1990s - SunRidge Canyon Golf Club (1995), Eagle Mountain Golf Club (1996) and FireRock Golf Club (2000). All the courses except FireRock are open to the public. Wonderful options for another round within view of the Fountain.
April 5, 2004