The Golf Club of Estrella in Goodyear offers scenic, challenging golf - and an escape from Phoenix

By David R. Holland, Contributor

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – The deer and the antelope don't roam here among giant saguaros, but certainly bobcats, coyotes, rattlesnakes and other Sonoran Desert wildlife do. This western Phoenix suburb is an escape -- a place where city slickers can getaway to the boondocks and play the Golf Club of Estrella, in the shadows of the Sierra Estrella Mountains.

Golf Club of Estrella - hole 17
The 194-yard, par-3 17th -- the Golf Club of Estrella's signature hole -- is a postcard beauty.
Golf Club of Estrella - hole 17Golf Club of Estrella - hole 13Golf Club of Estrella - 13th holeGolf Club of Estrella - hole 3
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Golf Club of Estrella

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As Jack Nicklaus II's inaugural Arizona course, Golf Club of Estrella offers a classic golf experience unlike any in the area. Following in his father's legendary footsteps, Jack II's daily-fee championship course is golf in the traditional sense -- challenging yet forgiving, and always spectacular.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 7139 yards | Book online | ... details »

Who would have thought that, when the Goodyear Tire Company bought 16,000 acres of cotton-farming land in 1917, some 107 years later the town would be the spring training home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, and nearby Glendale would be home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes.

"I think the top reason people like to play golf here is the location," said Tom Cortabitarte, Estrella's general manager. "We don't really have that many houses on the golf course, but a lot of Canadians have second homes here and we even have golfers from Scottsdale, a 35-mile drive, that love coming out."

At the end of the day or a round at the Golf Club of Estrella, patrons fill out survey cards and the results equal satisfaction.

"Many rate us a nine or a 10, come back year after year, and even mention employees by name," Cortabitarte said. "They like our friendliness, the non-urban feel and the fact we don't overseed our greens with rye October to February like most Phoenix golf courses do. Our greens are always in pristine condition."

Golf Club of Estrella: Bringing excellent golf to the West Valley

Designer Jack Nicklaus Jr. commented on bringing great golf to the Goodyear area.

"I guess what I'm most proud of is that before we built Golf Club of Estrella, there really were no great desert courses on the west side of the Valley that measured up to what they have in Scottsdale," he said.

Opened in 1999, the golf course immediately began winning notice. In 2000, Estrella was listed among the top 40 daily-fee courses in both Golfweek and Golf Magazine.

The 194-yard, par-3 17th hole -- the Golf Club of Estrella's signature hole -- is a postcard beauty. Be sure and visit the back, elevated tee; it demands a 160-yard carry to green grass. There are bunkers short, left and right, but even if you hit it a smidgen right you might get a friendly bounce back toward the green.

The par-5 16th is a 605-yarder that bends left and is uphill. An arroyo finger protrudes into the fairway 250 yards from the green that is fronted by a sandy expanse across the length of the fairway. A huge bunker is right of the green.

"The final hole is a par 4, 437 yards with a split fairway," said Cortabitarte. "You can go right or left. It's not the most difficult hole, but surely is one of the most picturesque."

If you choose to go left, bunkers circle out into the middle of the fairway and you have to be precise. The right side doesn't have much more landing area, but a well struck shot can avoid the series of traps.

"Another thing I like is that many avid golfers are able to remember and describe each hole when the finish," Cortabitarte said. "How many courses do you play where you can say that and have a challenging and memorable day?"

Golf Club of Estrella: The verdict

I can't say I've ever been disappointed by a Troon Golf management golf course and the Golf Club of Estrella has certainly been lauded. In 2008, Golf Magazine ranked it No. 23 in its state ranking. Golf Digest gave it 4.5 stars and Golfweek placed it at No. 7 in the state in 2007.

What you should like are the variety and the scenery -- it is a natural wonderland with mountains, giant saguaros and 220 acres of gulches, arroyos and native vegetation. The landing areas are always generous, but you have to think about placement. There are more than 80 bunkers, some very large, and lakes on the fifth and sixth holes.

The Golf Club of Estrella's practice facility includes a two-tiered driving range with sweeping views of the Sierra Estrella Mountains. All-grass tees and two practice putting greens help you get ready for your round or simply spend some time working on your game. Use of practice facilities is complimentary before your round of golf.

Estrella conducts clinics for beginners, children and adults. This instruction in a group setting is affordable and provides basic understandings of the golf swing. Once the basics are mastered, students are encouraged to participate in private lessons. Private lessons enable students to develop their game faster with individual attention from the instructor focusing on the student's specific needs.

Where to stay

Xona Resort Suites ( in Scottsdale offers a home away from home. I stayed in a one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen and access to laundry facilities, ideal for a stopover on a three-week road trip. Other features include access to wireless Internet, LCD televisions in living rooms and bedrooms, living rooms with convertible sofa sleepers, a pool and hot tub. And in the main building there's the Asada Desert Grille and the Orange Iguana for dining.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • I like it

    Jay Hames wrote on: Aug 5, 2010

    Enjoyed your story. Your stuff is the best and I always like the way you insert history into your stories.


  • I like it

    Jay Hames wrote on: Aug 5, 2010

    Enjoyed your story. Your stuff is the best and I always like the way you insert history into your stories.