Tricky Sidewinder course making a name for itself at Gold Canyon Golf Resort
GOLD CANYON, Ariz. -- There are two golf courses at Gold Canyon Golf Resort.
One you may have heard of: The picturesque Dinosaur Mountain Course, which winds through the Superstition Mountains and recently was ranked by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 10 underrated golf courses in the country.
Just across the parking lot from Dinosaur Mountain is its sister course, the Sidewinder. It doesn't get a lot of love from the national media. It doesn't have great views or holes with 60-foot drops from tee to green.
But don't mistake Sidewinder's anonymity for kindness. Even though it's a relatively short track at 6,533 yards from the tips, the par-71 course will challenge any golfer, from the single handicapper to the weekend duffer.
"Our members think it plays three shots harder than Dinosaur Mountain," said Director of Golf Scott Scherger. "It's an underrated golf course."
Gold Canyon Golf Resort's Sidewinder course: Hidden bite
Sidewinder's bite isn't immediately obvious. A first glance at the scorecard shows five par 3s, two par 5s less than 500 yards and four par 4s less than 400 yards. In addition, water comes into play on only two holes, and the sand traps aren't deep or penal.
Then you step onto the first tee, the 487-yard par 5, and it all makes sense: There's no fairway to hit.
Okay, there is a fairway, but it looks like a ribbon between the Sahara Desert on the left and the Gobi Desert on the right. And that's just the first hole. It's rare on Sidewinder to stand on the tee box and think, "How can I miss that fairway?" More often that not, you're checking your pocket for another ball in case you spray your first drive into the desert.
"Dinosaur Mountain gives you a lot of room," Scherger said. "Sidewinder doesn't."
Sidewinder's other devilish feature is its greens. First of all, they're fast. Very fast. They test both your putting touch and chipping ability. But the biggest challenge is their design: Many of them are turtle-backed in shape -- akin to Donald Ross' greens at Pinehurst No. 2 -- and on the back nine -- elevated from the fairways.
"It makes you a better shot-maker," Scherger said. "You have to be creative with your approach shots."
Unlike Dinosaur Mountain, there isn't a signature hole -- or three -- on Sidewinder. And because the nines were built at different times, the course has an odd layout: The first eight holes wind back to the clubhouse, the ninth leads golfers away and No. 10 is a 170-yard parv3.
But the back nine does feature a couple of wonderful risk-reward holes. The two par-5s, No. 11 and No. 16, can be reached in two, but both greens are fronted by huge washes. Clear the wash, and birdies can be had. But wind up in the wash, and double-bogeys come into play.
"You have to really think about where you're going to hit it on those holes," Scherger said.
Tim Reid played both Dinosaur Mountain and Sidewinder while on a weeklong golfing trip in the Valley. Like most golfers, the Edmonton resident was wowed by Dinosaur Mountain's jaw-dropping beauty. But he still enjoyed Sidewinder.
"I think it's easier," Reid said, "but you can lose a lot of golf balls. The desert comes into play more."
Reid did prefer Gold Canyon Golf Resort's Sidewinder course in one respect: The price. He paid $20 less to play there than he did Dinosaur Mountain.
"$45? That's very reasonable," he said.
Gold Canyon Golf Resort's Sidewinder course: The verdict
Gold Canyon Golf Resort's Sidewinder course may not be as famous as Dinosaur Mountain, and it isn't as fun to play, but don't mistake it for a second-class citizen.
The golf course will challenge you off the tee, the greens are tricky to putt, and the risk-reward holes challenge a golfer's physical and mental game. Plus, at $20 cheaper than Dinosaur Mountain, it's a great bargain.
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: The Sidewinder course shares a driving range with Dinosaur Mountain, but golfers have to hit off mats and, because of space limitations, can't use a driver.
May 21, 2010