The Foothills: comparatively easy, but worth the price of admission

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

PHOENIX - It is not as though The Foothills golf course is ridiculously easy. Its slope rating of 132 puts it roughly in the middle of most courses in terms of difficulty - and Golf Digest has rated it 3 ½ stars in the past.

But, after playing some of the Phoenix area's more challenging courses, it seems undaunting by comparison.

"It's pretty easy," said Blayne Hobbs, during a practice round at The Foothills. So easy, in fact, that Hobbs had requested it as his qualifying course for a Nationwide Tour event he was scheduled to compete in.

"I work at Anthem (Country Club) and there are two great courses up there," Hobbs said. "So coming down here for me is like playing a par-3 muni. But, it's a good course for the value."

Indeed, it is. The club's green fees are never more than $100, and drop to $25-$30 during the summer, which is when most of the locals play the course, in the blistering heat. The low-cost green fees make it popular, too: the course hosts around 56,000 rounds a year.

"We just like to provide a good value experience," said Foothills director of golf, Kevin McGraw. "It's a kind of pay-for-what-you-get experience. People who pay over $100 expect a lot. We don't want to give them that kind of price tag."

Set out up in the ridges and buttes of South Mountain, about 25 minutes from Phoenix, Foothills is a desert course, but without the target-style golf so many desert courses provide. It has wide, rolling fairways with views of the surrounding mountains, like nearly every course in the Phoenix area.

Built in 1988 from a design by Tom Weiskopf and Tom Morrish, the desert is always around, it just isn't as penalizing as some other desert courses are.

"It's obviously a desert-links course. I would describe it as very playable," McGraw said. "If you hit it in the desert, nine out of 10 times, you'll have a shot if you can find it. It has well-bunkered greens, but everything is pretty much in front of you. There are no blind shots."

Nor is it long at 6,500 yards, so even though the fairways are wide, you won't be using your driver all day.

"From all the way back, it's all the golf you want," McGraw said. "That's where most of our members play from."

That's not to say you can't get into trouble. The desert is always there, and water is there for the dunking on at least three holes, like No. 15 for example, with a lake to the right off the tee.

"This is probably the hardest hole on the course, I'd say, since 80 percent of golfers slice," Hobbs said.

There are also bunkers right and mounds left as well as behind the green. The smallish, two-tiered green slopes right to left and drops off to the left.

No. 6 is a short, driveable par-4, but the smart play is a long-iron and wedge. Many will try to drive this hole - on this particular day, Hobbs almost did - but if you miss, it's a tough up-and-down.

What the fairways lack in difficulty, the greens make up for somewhat. There is quite a bit of subtle undulation, and you rarely get a flat, easy-to-read putt.

The verdict

This is a fine play for the price, especially after the sticker-shock of some other Phoenix-area courses. You can shoot some low scores at The Foothills while still being moderately challenged, and the service is good and very friendly.

It doesn't have the scenic drama or challenge of others, nor is it a particularly bucolic desert experience with houses at close range around the course, but it is worth the price of admission.

That's why it draws a lot of locals and, in the winter months, golfers from Chicago, New York, Minnesota and Canada.

Stay and play

The Millennium Resort in Scottsdale has 176 units, of which 51 are two and three-bedroom villas that cater to golfers. The rest are guest rooms.

Centrally located in the heart of Scottsdale, most golf courses in the Phoenix area are within a 30-minute drive from the resort.

The resort overlooks a man-made lake and features mountain views and access to two, non-desert, traditional courses at the McCormick Ranch.

The resort also features a poolside bar and jacuzzi, two restaurants and use of kayaks, canoes, pedal boats and sailboats.

Fast fact

The Foothills is managed by American Golf, which has more than 300 courses under its management.

Dining out

The Millennium resort's two restaurants offer excellent food, especially the Pinon Grill.

For heaping portions at good prices, try Claim Jumpers.

The Foothills also has a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch, as well as a good snack bar.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • foothills golf course

    Drew wrote on: Jun 16, 2008

    Played there on fathers day and it was hands down the worst conditions I've played since moving to the Phoenix area. Fairways were patchy and yellow(where there was grass) and the greens were just as bad. With all the courses in Phoenix that are at summer rates; Dont waste your money on this wounded course that only offers a moderate challenge at best.