Las Sendas Golf Club: Kiss Those Birdies Goodbye
Chip Shot: If you're ready for the challenge, Las Sendas is waiting for you only 40 minutes east of Phoenix. Plan on playing at least three or four rounds to just get somewhere close to your playing potential. Maybe you'll get a lucky punch in round one, but even if you're an ace, the scenery will certainly knock you out.
MESA, AZ-- Armed with your PGA Tour card is the only way to play Las Sendas from the tips. Any golfer with anything else is just plain crazy! A slope of 149 (tops in Arizona), blind tee shots, hazards exactly where you don't want them to be, and well-guarded greens slicker than the backyard Slip'n'Slide is a pretty good summary of what to expect. Over-ambitiously choose the wrong tee box and the results won't be pretty. Blue or better is a good motto.
World-famous course designer, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., says of his challenging layout, "Las Sendas is not a course contrived with artifice, decor, or railroad ties, nor is it a target course. It is a strategic course, so learn the preferred route from tee to green. It is a Wild West course, and you'd better bring your six-guns, because you're going to have to shoot it out here."
Wild West is a perfect description of the area situated 40 minutes east of Phoenix and Sky Harbor Airport. Silver screen and real life cowboy, Tom Mix, called his dude ranch, on the land where Las Sendas now sits, home in the 1930's and 40's. Spirit and Red Mountain add to the dramatic landscape, while an elevation 2,100-feet higher than Phoenix, provides for spectacular vistas. Unlike many mountainous desert courses, Las Sendas, winding in a figure-eight pattern around the foothills of the Usery Mountains, does not feature incredible elevation changes like the Gold Canyon or Sunridge Canyon courses. My vote is a resounding hallelujah! This layout certainly doesn't need any added difficulty.
According to Jones, "Las Sendas requires you to think your way around to play it well. Here, old foxes can outwit young limberbacks. Just hitting the ball will not be enough. You must favor the correct sides of the fairways to obtain the best angles to the greens. Some holes require a little governor, or lay-up, so as not to leave you with an impossible view to the greens. Generally, the greens are subtle. But, be very precise when you read the break to avoid slipping past the hole, as the land mostly falls toward the southwest and the grass grows toward the setting sun."
Thanks for the advice Mr. Jones, but what were you thinking! It really didn't have to be quite this tough. In Spanish, Las Sendas translates to "the pathways", but in my dictionary, Las Sendas means ay caramba.
Las Sendas is considered one of the Arizona's greatest courses in everybody's books, newspapers, websites, and magazines. The challenge and scenery alone make it a must-play for anyone who enjoys Grand Canyon State golf. It's not an absolute beginner course, but good shot selection even without distance can turn into a reasonable score for less advanced players. Even busy days don't get so congested that you are stuck waiting around at every hole. The occasional hacker might bite off too much to chew, but the starters are great at throttling your eager enthusiasm. If they sense hesitation, they very politely warn against the hazards from the back. You'll be thanking them soon enough.
Prices at Las Sendas are better than par for the best Phoenix area. Greens fees range from $64 for a Monday through Thursday summer round all the way up to $160 during the peak season weekends. Reserving tee times more than a week in advance carries a hefty $15 premium surcharge. Your hotel concierge can arrange tee times for you or just take your chances with last minute or standby golf, but be sure to call or go early. Since Las Sendas is 40 minutes east of Phoenix, you might beat the rush.
Each hole is an adventure and you're guaranteed never a dull moment, but the 9th especially stands out. This double-dogleg, double-water doozy welcomes you to the turn, but even if you finish in one piece, your scorecard will most likely be ripped into many little ones.
The hole really isn't that hard, like every hole in golf, if you just play with a little strategy. Stay left on the drive and don't try to crush it because the lakes will punish you. The landing area is generous. If you are very aggressive, you can fire for the pin on shot two, but be forewarned that you better have Tiger's confidence, not to mention his swing and distance. There is no shame in settling for the lay up. The third shot will probably play exactly how you see it, so concentrate on the green. Just try not to look at the parking lot!
Make it through the turn without too much difficulty and I wish I could say it lets up, but the course stays true to its intrinsic challenge and delight. Actually, golfers like me are lucky because the now-astronomical slope could have been much higher had the original creation not taken longer due to financial difficulties with the original management and investment group.
"That five- or six-year hiatus between start and finish was good for the [Las Sendas] project, because in the end, we softened up the course considerably," recalls Jones.
Imagine the difficulty if all had gone as planned. I repeat ay caramba. However, despite the fun of the challenge and the consistently flawless conditions, Las Sendas is one small step away from a truly unbelievable course. Once you get past the usually hit-but-sometimes-miss service of the staff and are out on the course, you'll be blown away.
I suppose for most golfers, Las Sendas is not as difficult as I might make it sound (or as it is for me). The first round is tough though because you just have no idea of what to expect and planning your attack without knowing the course is impossible.
Plus, the traditional par-71 layout is deceivingly easy on the eyes. Then there are the wide-reaching views of Phoenix and the surrounding Sonoran desert to distract you from playing your optimal game. The second outing is much easier when you start placing your shots better, but this time you'll realize what an effect the wind has on your play. The holes are at that perfect distance where even a gentle breeze in your face helps you kiss your birdies goodbye. But, by the third time around the loop, I had moved back to the tips. That, of course, was a huge mistake! So after just a couple holes, I feigned serious shoulder injury and snuck forward. Although a pro card is not really required to play from the black championship tees, a single-digit handicap really is.
Overall, even with the stunning desert scenery, it's the character and challenge of Las Sendas that brings you back to the Wild West. Although I may never hold my own from the tips, I sure as heck will keep trying with my bag of six-shooters blazing.
From Phoenix, follow US 60 east to Power Road. Exit and turn left/north. Las Sendas is located just east of the intersection at Thomas Road. Las Sendas is about 40 minutes from Sky Harbor Airport.
Black Tees: 73.8/149/6874
Blue Tees: 71.6/136/6381
White Tees: 69.6/131/5929
Red Tees: 69.9/128/5100 Par: 71