Las Sendas still looking to put Mesa on the Valley golf map
MESA, Ariz. - It is easy to feel insignificant standing on the tee box of the 18th hole at Las Sendas Golf Club. The endless urban basin that is the "Valley of the Sun" stretches out before you, and the craggy outlines of Camelback Mountain and Squaw Peak rise up from the grid-patterned street system below.
The hole itself is enough to humble most golfers, sans the knee-knocking view. A dramatic 536-yard downhill par-5 with a plump landing area wedged between two glimmering lakes is what awaits a pinpoint accurate tee shot.
Jones Jr. once described Las Sendas as being "designed for the 10-handicapper and under, not for pros." The question, invariably, is where does that leave the rest of us?
To take in a round of golf at Mesa's swankiest daily fee golf address is not just about being brought to your knees by the course's present, however; it is more about gaining an understanding of the property's rich past. Over 10,000 years ago, this scenic chunk of earth at the base of Red Mountain served as hunting ground for Paleo Indians. Las Sendas, translated as "the pathways," was later the center of an ancient Hohokam Indian community that farmed the surrounding land using irrigation ducts from the nearby Salt River.
The Hohokam inexplicably disappeared from the area and 100 years later were replaced by Spanish explorers, Pima, Maricopa and Apache Indians and Anglo-American adventurers. Army scout Kit Carson passed through the area, as did fur trapper James O. Pattie. In the 1930's, Las Sendas' enviable setting in the foothills of the Usery Mountains was discovered by the emerging Hollywood movie industry. The property came to be known as the El Rancho Grande dude ranch, and was a favorite vacation spot for John Wayne and other silver screen cowboys.
"Part of the allure of this golf course is actually what came before it," says Diane DePaolo, Las Sendas' director of marketing. "Not many courses in the valley have this kind of story to tell. The challenge is getting golfers to consider us alongside the upscale courses of Scottsdale and making the trip down here to play."
The carrots that Las Sendas dangles in front of the discriminating golfer are enticing: location, quality, and price. While the course sits a full 40 minutes from downtown Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport, it's readily accessible from Chandler, Scottsdale and Tempe. On the quality front, if Las Sendas were located in Scottsdale, it would be mentioned in the same breath as SunRidge Canyon, Kierland and Eagle Mountain and would command a greens fee in excess of $200 in the peak season.
But DePaolo and the Las Sendas brass are acutely aware that their product isn't surrounded by a plethora of comparable high end, daily fee tracks, chic shopping malls and posh resorts. This geographic and demographic fact of life keeps the course's rates close to $160 in the peak winter season, around $100 in the shoulder seasons, and as low as $64 in the blazing heat of summer.
"We know our price point, and the course you get for the money here is a great value," DePaolo says.
And that course - or more accurately, its surroundings - have changed dramatically since it opened back in 1995. Native Sonoran desert has been replaced by hundreds of homes and villas. Nowhere is that more evident than on the 13th hole. The magnificent 424-yard par-4 once featured unobstructed views of the Superstition Mountains and a glimpse of Golf Canyon. Now reams of ubiquitous stucco housing line the hole from fairway to green, providing a not-so-subtle reminder that greens fees don't pay developer's bills.
The course itself, though, remains virtually the same as it did 14 years ago when Jones Jr. declared, "Las Sendas is not a golf course through the desert or planted on a desert. It is a golf course in the desert." If you haven't played Las Sendas in a few years, however, you will find that the front and back nines have been flip flopped to their original configuration, thus allowing the unforgettable 18th to serve in its proper role as finishing hole extraordinaire.
"The original director of golf had the nines switched because he didn't want golfers playing into the sun on 18," says Jeremy Hester, acting general manager. "But we eventually switched it back and it's a much better layout. It is the way that Jones intended it to be."
With its slope rating of 142 from the 6,874-yard back tees, Las Sendas has been known to challenge some of the Valley's best golfers. Count former U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen among them. Janzen used to represent Las Sendas on the PGA Tour and found that the course helped him improve his shotmaking. The white tees do offer mid to high handicappers a considerable break, playing to a slope of 125, but they've been backed all the way up to a driver-negating 5,929 yards to do so.
"What you see is not what you get out here," says Hester. "There are blind shots, mounding, visual deception, and elevated greens that will keep you guessing."
Despite a bit of chicanery, Las Sendas still offers up a strong sampling of memorable golf holes. The par-4 10th and par-3 11th holes climb through the craggy foothills of Spirit Hill. The par-4 12th caps the stretch as it slides along the base of the hill to a smallish green graced by one of the course's most breathtaking backdrops.
"Whether you love this course or not, there are some holes that are going to stick in your head," says Hester.
All the pieces have fallen into place for Las Sendas following a rough start in the late 1980's and early 1990's that saw the property's original owners struggle through some financial hardships. Eagle Crest Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of United Development Inc., rescued the development back in 1994 and Las Sendas opened shortly thereafter.
"That five or six-year hiatus between start and finish was good for the project, because in the end, we softened up the course considerably," recalls Jones.
The only question surrounding Las Sendas' future is its viability as a public access facility. The course recently underwent a major overhaul in management and rumors are circulating that its principle investors would like to make the course private.
With golfing options already limited in this section of the Phoenix metro area, you can bet that both residents and visitors will be pulling for Las Sendas to keep the welcome mat out for the golfing public.
Resort Suites of Scottsdale offers golf packages with dozens of nearby courses, and features villa style suites grouped around quaint courtyards with crystal blue pools. The property is located just off Scottsdale Road next to the Princess Resort. Ask about Resort Suites' Personal Vacation Planners and Golf Bank. For more information or visit them on the web at www.arizonagolfpackages.com.
From Phoenix, take the 202 Freeway to end (currently Gilbert Road). At freeway end, make left onto Gilbert Road and quick right onto McDowell Road. Continue east to Power Road. Make a left onto Power Road, continue one mile to Eagle Crest Drive. Make a right onto Eagle Crest. Las Sendas is on the right, about 1.3 miles from Power Road.
Red, White and Brew features an outstanding assortment of wood fired pizzas, ranging from the traditional to the eclectic. Appetizers alone are almost enough to tide you over at this neighborhood eatery. Choose from Calamari, cheese ravioli, baked clams and other Italian/American offerings. Located on the northwest corner of Power and McDowell Roads. Log on to www.rwbaz.com for a complete menu and a local map.
November 4, 2002