Las Sendas Golf Club, Mesa, Arizona - Arizona Golf Courses

By Shannon Gazze, Contributor

Chip Shot: Las Sendas Golf Club, a 1995 design by Robert Trent Jones Jr., proves to be easy on the eyes and tough on the short game.

MESA - In English, "las sendas" roughly translates to "the footpaths." Las Sendas Golf Club roughly translates to a challenging round of play through the foothills of the Tonto National Forest and Usery Mountains, which border the development to the North and East.

Opened for play in 1995, Las Sendas is a traditional par-71 layout in a high desert setting with a distinctly Southwestern theme. The average elevation of the Robert Trent Jr. design is 1,600 ft., which gives you a great view of the valley on several holes and serves as another reminder that something must be done about the air down there.

Like footpaths, the fairways on this upscale public course are narrow and winding. Grass mounds grace the fairways, roughs and greens and, while beautiful, can be intimidating or simply a nuisance. Together the holes form something of a figure eight around a mountain, keeping most of the holes generally level. You won't see any drastic elevation changes on Las Sendas, which is good, because the course is tough enough without them.

The mention that the course plays to 6,874 yards, a 73.8 rating and a slope of 149 from the championship (Black) tees is strictly for informative purposes. Players without their PGA Tour cards probably shouldn't venture past the Blues (6,381 yards, 71.6 rating, 136 slope). It's not that the course is too long from the tips, but because most of the difficulty on Las Sendas lies close to the pins, only the straightest of hitters can afford to take chances from the tees as well.

The White tees play to 5,929 yards, giving them a 69.6 rating and 131 slope for the men and a 74.3 rating and 137 slope for the ladies. Ladies' Red tees play to 5,100 yards, a 69.9 slope and a 128 slope.

Regardless of where you start, everyone has to finish on the same greens. If you don't bring your short game and you care much about your score, this may not be the course for you. The Las Sendas staff is proud of its bent-grass greens, though speaking strictly in acreage, there is not much there to be proud of. Most of the greens are small and many of them are raised. Only No. 3 green can truly be called round. The others jut out and narrow into various nooks and crannies.

Particular pin placements, for instance a pin at the mounded front of the par-3 second hole, can change the entire look (and difficulty) of the greens.

The putting surfaces are low-cut and hilly, with many of the greens running away from the adjacent mountain. Watch for hidden breaks that can be real downers. Sand is abundant at Las Sendas, especially around the greens. The many homes being built snugly along the fairways combine with the desert to make accuracy off the tee and in the fairway a must.

For all these reasons, amateurs may have a frustrating day in store for them at Las Sendas. Fortunately for them, the course is "the home of the $1 lesson." This promotion, advertised on their website, offers tips in the practice area from PGA professional instructors for $1 per minute. Las Sendas also offers more comprehensive lessons, up to and including a Personal Coach for a Day.

While high handicappers may find Las Sendas daunting, some women and seniors may conversely find it to be just what the doctor ordered. Especially from the two front tees, Jones seems to have taken the emphasis off the long ball and placed it squarely on the pure, straight swing. Being able to hit fairways off the tees and loft irons onto tight greens can be beneficial on any course, but these skills are absolutely key at Las Sendas.

Of course, the number one draw to golfers is not necessarily the challenge of the course, but the quality. Las Sendas has that quality to boot. Golfers are pampered from the moment they drive up to the club drop with friendly service and first-class facilities. In fact, the course was rated as a four-star facility for 1999 by Golf Digest.

The practice range is conveniently located close to the clubhouse and balls are included with your greens fee. Carts include coolers and ball and club washers, and drinking water is readily available out on the course.

Tee boxes are lush and scenic while the fairways and greens are in peak condition. (The staff expects your cooperation in keeping them that way, meaning Las Sendas is a soft-spike facility and there is a cart paths-only rule in effect.) The peaceful surroundings afford terrific mountain views and post-card quality shots of the Upper Sonoran vegetation.

Finding your exact yardage should never be a problem at Las Sendas. Distances are laser-accurate and printed on sprinkler heads and on plaques at each tee box, as well as marked along with important carries in your pocket course guide.

There isn't much water on the course, but Las Sendas' three lakes help Nos. 9 and 10 combine to be one of the toughest turns in the Valley. Nine is a par-5 that double doglegs around two lakes and puts a scare into even a lay-up shot. Ten is an equally difficult dogleg par-4 with sand protecting the landing area off the tee and the green.

The prettiest hole on the course has to be No. 13. A routine drive leaves about 170 yards over a grand desert wash and straight into the face of the mountain. The course guide reminds you to take enough club, "since you're hitting straight uphill and the putting surface slopes strongly away from the hillside."

Also of interest on the back nine are a helicopter landing port and a few gorgeous adobe homes that have sprouted up in the mostly unoccupied community adjacent to the course.

When your round is finished, visit the fully stocked clubhouse or relax at The Grille at Las Sendas, offering "Southwest cuisine in a casual adult atmosphere."

There is one area that leaves a little to be desired at Las Sendas, and that's the pace of play. Like many popular public courses, there's no point in playing through because those in front are waiting as well. Perhaps pace is slowed because it's a difficult course, perhaps it's because there are five par-3 holes, perhaps it's just a hit-or-miss proposition.

Whatever the reason, the best efforts of the marshals couldn't prevent waits on most holes. Don't expect to squeeze in a four-hour round. You're more likely looking at one that's over five hours. But if you are willing to take the time and use it to enjoy the splendor and challenge of Las Sendas, then it's certainly worth the wait.

Shannon Gazze, Contributor

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