Gold Canyon Golf Resort's Dinosaur Mountain course is worth the drive from Scottsdale
GOLD CANYON, Ariz. - Indianapolis Colts left tackle Ryan Diem is in Phoenix for a golf vacation.
Instead, he's on the other side of the Valley, playing the Dinosaur Mountain course at Gold Canyon Golf Resort.
"I rarely get a chance to see anything like this," Diem said on a beautiful March afternoon. "The golf course is phenomenal, the scenery is incredible. This is what I hoped desert golf would be like."
Diem, who said his handicap is, "a lot," has been won over by Dinosaur Mountain's charms. The 6,653-yard, par-71 golf course, which features six par-3 holes, is one of the Valley's hidden gems.
Actually, hidden may not be the right word. Dinosaur Mountain has been rated the top public golf course in Arizona several years running by Ranking Arizona magazine. Sports Illustrated ranked it as one of the top 10 underrated courses in the United States.
But because it's not part of the north Scottsdale scene, it's not as well known to out-of-town golfers.
Gold Canyon Golf Resort's Dinosaur Mountain course: The 'wow factor'
"We don't have a big marketing budget so we rely on word of mouth," Director of Golf Scott Scherger said. "When people play it they come back year after year because this is Arizona golf. Gold Canyon gives you the wow factor."
Dinosaur Mountain is about 35 minutes east of Sky Harbor Airport, but it's an easy drive; all freeway. Once you arrive, the "wow factor" immediately kicks in. The golf course, designed by Ken Cavanaugh, was built into the heart of the Superstition Mountains. Several of the tee boxes are set on cliffs, and a 60-foot drop from tee to green isn't unusual.
If you're afraid of heights, Dinosaur Mountain will scare the dimples off your golf ball.
"There is a lot of dramatic elevation," Scherger said. "Ken had a great piece of land to work with, and the course just rolls very naturally with the mountain."
There is one drawback to playing on a mountain's doorstep: Any putt rolling down from the mountain is treacherous. My playing partner had a 15-foot putt for par on the innocent 316-yard, par-4 first hole.
He had a 30-foot putt for bogey.
The fairways have just as much slope as the greens. Fortunately, Cavanaugh had the weekend hacker in mind and made them wide enough for 20-handicapper to hit.
"A lot of the holes are pretty driver friendly," Diem said. "But if your ball does get into the rocks, good luck finding it."
The six par 3s, while unusual in number, are what make the Dinosaur Mountain course special. Three of them measure more than 200 yards from the tips, including the 236-yard fifth hole. The drop from the No. 2 tee to green, meanwhile, is about 80 feet, Scherger said.
Club selection, as you might imagine, is a bit tricky, especially if the wind picks up.
The signature hole on the course: There really isn't one, unless you count the 378-yard, par-4 15th. Confident golfers can shorten the hole by aiming their tee shots over a mountain. Hit it straight enough and long enough, and they might reach the green. Scherger said one golfer has aced the hole from the blue tees (354 yards).
"People remember that hole, but I'm not sure we have one hole that stands out," Scherger said. "If you went into our dining room and asked everyone what their favorite hole was, you'd probably get 12 different answers.
"That's what really sets this course apart. It's memorable."
Gold Canyon Golf Resort's Dinosaur Mountain course: The verdict
Do yourself a favor next time you take a golf vacation in the Phoenix area: Head east on U.S. 60 and spend a few hours on Dinosaur Mountain. It might not have some of the amenities of the north Scottsdale golf courses, but it's fun to play, it's always in great shape, and the Superstition Mountains are the perfect backdrop for desert golf.
But remember: Leave your putts below the hole and bring a camera. You'll want to take a few pictures.
Lodging and instruction at Gold Canyon Golf Resort
Gold Canyon Golf Resort, which sits right next door to the golf course, offers stay-and-play packages all year, Scherger said.
The course also offers instruction through the Gold Canyon Golf School.
One note: Dinosaur Mountain has a driving range, but golfers have to hit off mats and, because of space limitations, can't use a driver.
April 2, 2010