Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa offers path to different and difficult desert golf

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

MESA, Ariz. - "You ever played here?" asks starter Duane Bloemke. Hearing a negative response, Bloemke then replies: "Well, welcome to the hardest golf course in the state of Arizona."

Las Sendas Golf Club - Mesa, Ariz.
Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa is surrounded by scenic mountain views.
Las Sendas Golf Club - Mesa, Ariz.Las Sendas Golf Club - hole 2
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Las Sendas Golf Club

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Las Sendas is a nature walk through the desert, attracting you with beauty and challenging you with shot options.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 7004 yards | Book online | ... details »

This is how newcomers are greeted after they make their way up nearly 2,000 feet into the low mountains on the outskirts of Phoenix, into the sprawling Las Sendas housing community and finally arrive at the first tee at Las Sendas Golf Club.

The view is enough to knock your socks off, and then you're hit with the starter's ominous warning.

Head Professional Mark Nickel is only slightly more reassuring.

"I wouldn't suggest it's the hardest course in the state," he said. "It's certainly one of the hardest."

Others might argue that the two golf courses at Troon North, the Monument and Pinnacle, are tougher. With slope ratings of 147, they would certainly have ammunition.

In fact, Las Sendas, which translates to "The Pathways" in Spanish, had a slope rating of 149 when it opened in 1995. It has since been softened somewhat, with a few desert hazards eliminated and some of the severe green slope and undulation taken out. Public courses can be only so difficult.

So the slope has dipped to 145, but that's still one of the higher slope ratings in the country for a public course. The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed layout will knock your socks off, view or no view.

It's a desert course to be sure, but not a typical, target-style desert course. Jones likes to make you use your head as much as your club. There are decisions to be made, options to be pursued, geometry to be calculated, on nearly every hole. You want to play to your strengths and stay away from your weaknesses on this course, if you're going to find the easiest path to the hole.

"This was (Jones') initiation into desert golf and he's real proud of it," Nickel said. "Off the tee, it's pretty fair, the landing areas aren't that challenging. It isn't until you get to your second and third shots into greens that are well-protected that it becomes tough. This can be a hard course for your not-so-good players."

Yes, the fairways are fairly wide, but that doesn't mean you can swing with impunity. You need to hit to the correct spot on the fairway to get a clear shot to the green. Being in the short stuff doesn't necessarily mean you're on easy street.

"Like No. 6, one of our most controversial holes," Nickel said. "There's a huge risk/reward factor there. If you play from the back tees, if you hit a long ball you can carry the desert outcropping on the left. If you lay up and play it in three shots, you come in at the green angled as a 'T,' whereas if you're in position, you have the length of the green to work with. But, to get the good second shot at it, you have to have a great drive."

No. 6, a 523-yarder from the tips, does indeed demand a long and accurate tee shot. On most other holes, length is important, but accuracy is more so.

"I like Jones' design," Nickel said. "There are a lot of lengthy, challenging par-4s, like No. 10, which could be a par-5 on some courses. Then there's No. 17, a short par-4, but with a very severe green. He mixes it up, there's a great combination of holes."

The greens are about average-sized for a modern course, and subtly quick, falling away mostly to the southwest. They once rolled about a 13 on the stimpmeter; not they've slowed to about an 11, but it's still easy to slide past the hole.

Las Sendas Golf Club: The verdict

This is one of those courses that combines a high-desert experience with great golf holes. In terms of aesthetics, there are homes along the way - that can rarely be avoided in the booming Phoenix area, unless you're on an Indian reservation - but they're no more or less intrusive than most other courses in similar locales.

The difficulty can be approached in several ways, philosophically. If you're a scratch golfer, you'll relish the challenge. If you're an average golfer, you will still enjoy it as long as you decide beforehand not to get too frustrated. You can hit what you consider good shots here and still get in trouble, and make bogey or worse. Make good use of the GPS in your cart.

The course has won more than the usual number of awards, and most agree it's one of the top public courses anywhere in the country.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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