The 500 Golf Club: A Track That Always Raises The Checkered Flag
PHOENIX - When golf course designer Brian Whitcomb wanted to create a golf course in Northwest Phoenix, he was looking for something special to help him give back to the game he loves.
So Whitcomb turned to a popular athlete who made his fame and fortune from competing on a different kind of track: 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner, and local golf enthusiast, Tom Sneva.
Together they created The 500 Club, a par-72 championship golf course that fits into the natural landscape of the Sonoran Desert, allowing golfers to enjoy a leisurely round - there are no time trials, although the pace of play is quick - through a golf course of doglegs littered with bunkers, water and the black rocks of the Hedgepeth Hills.
Sure, Sneva belongs to an exclusive club of Indy 500 winners, but the beauty of the isolated 500 Golf Club, where "the only house you'll see is the clubhouse," is there are no memberships to this public course.
Weekend green fees only reach $49 in the peak months and drop to $32 to walk the compact desert-style course. It costs $10 more to ride a cart - although Sneva' s 104 mph golf car is not available for rent (although he does like to show it off when he's there and it's not in the shop).
After all, Sneva may have hung up his racing shoes for a pair of golf spikes (and an announcer's microphone), but he still was the first man to break the 200 mph barrier at the Speedway. Now, he just drives a golf ball instead of a high-speed racing machine.
The teamwork of Whitcomb and Sneva was only logical. After all, golf and racing are not strangers, with individuals competing against the track, the natural elements, and a pack of driven challengers before large crowds of people who wait in the sun all day for a glimpse of their favorites to finish closest to the (checkered) flag.
There's even a golf course that runs through the infield at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But there aren't any daredevils racing around the perimeter of The 500 Club. A nearby go-cart track does provide a soundtrack of roaring engines throughout your round.
Since The 500 Club rests in the middle of the Maricopa County park land, homes can't be build on the course. The massive slides of a nearby water park is the only structure visible in the area.
Nature provides the challenges on misplaced shots, with plenty of wildlife running around the course: rabbits, gophers and birds; coyotes and javelinas in cooler weather; and snakes when it heats up.
The fairways are wide enough for well-struck drives. They're bordered with a hilly rough, often resembling the banked turns of a racing track. Transitional areas, featuring the native brush and trees on a hardpan with a slight gravely covering, generally allow for a decent chance at a recovery shot.
Sand traps are everywhere and is Whitcomb's fashion, often fingered and sunken. Grass bunkers also make an appearance on multiple holes. Water comes into play on six holes. An abundance of native trees and transplanted palms often gives the course a tropical feel.
The 500 Club is not that long from the white tees, at 6,203 yards, but the championship tees play 6,897 yards with some challenging lengths and a good risk/reward on the shorter par-5s. Most of the holes are bisected with a wash and the medium-sized greens are soft and run a bit slow, but have enough undulation to make them challenging. A few are tiered.
There is ample space to warm up (or practice on our game) with a lighted driving range, and chipping and putting greens.
The track starts off with a par-4 that offers a lot of the course's characteristics: A dogleg with plenty of bunkers in the fairway (trying to keep those hoping to cut the corner honest), deep traps around the green with the natural terrain to catch errant shots, yet not too severe where you can't play your way out of trouble.
No. 3 takes you deep into the Hedgepeth Hills, with a dogleg par-4 that offers one of the most beautiful approach shots into the black rock. Your next tee box sits in the hills for a par-4 with a lake coming quickly into play off the drive on the right side.
The first par 3, No. 5, has four grass bunkers positioned around the green at the four compass points.
No. 7 is one of few straight-away holes with a rare OB far right and seven bunkers spread throughout the 378 yard hole (from the regular tees, 398 yards from the championship).
The front side closes with a double dogleg par-5 that measures 532 yards from the middle markers (568 yards from the back) with a massive bunker guarding tees shots that try to cut the first leg. The fairway is unobstructed with three grass bunkers growing on the left side of the green.
Another par-5 awaits on No. 10, but this one is a slight dogleg that is reachable. However, a dog's paw bunker and heavy vegetation left of the transitional wash that cuts through about 100 yards from the putting surface makes it crucial your approach shot is on target.
No. 11 is a blind shot to an uphill par-3, on a two-tiered green with a trap behind the green.
The most scenic hole is No. 12, a par-4 of 340 yards (380 yards all the way back) from an elevated tee box off the side of the black rock hills with a 100-foot drop. The deepest bunker on the course sits on the right side of the green and water surrounds the back edge of the putting surface.
Don't run out of gas down the home stretch with No. 14 through 17 being par-4s that go back and forth with a wash bisecting the fairway just short of the elevated greens. Every other hole has you hitting into the black rocks.
Yardage varies on these holes from 301 to 399 yards from the regular tees (314 to 432 yards from the tips) so be conscious of the distance to the transition areas as driver might be the best stick each time off the tee. Water comes into play along the right side of the 17th hole.
No. 18 closes out with the same lake running along its right side as you head back toward the final checkered flag on this short par-5 (460 yards from the regular tees, 480 yards from the championship markers). It's reachable as long you keep your drive out of the lake and trio of ponds on the left. Five bunkers and a grassy hollow surround the simple green.
Regardless of where in the field you finish (and the good thing about this course is, everybody gets to finish no matter how badly you may crash on some holes), there is plenty of milk - and other beverages - awaiting all the competitors in the clubhouse just past the finishing hole.
The 500 Club
4707 W. Pinnacle Peak Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85310