Heading south to Seville Golf and Country Club: Gary Panks goes Mediterranean in Gilbert

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

GILBERT, Ariz. -- The last few years, more and more golf courses have been built on the southern fringes of the Phoenix metro area, so far south you think you're halfway to Tucson when you get to the first tee.

Seville Golf and Country Club
Seville Golf and C.C. is something in between a desert course and a traditional course.
Seville Golf and Country Club
If you go

Trilogy at Power Ranch and the Golf Club at Johnson Ranch are good examples. And now the latest and one of the best among them is Seville Golf and Country Club, part of a new home development by Shea Homes of Scottsdale, about 40 miles from central Phoenix and 50 miles from Scottsdale. It's also an area of watermelon fields and citrus orchards, where dozens of orange and grapefruit farmers seem to have put "for sale" signs on their groves.

Seville, designed by one of Arizona's hottest architects, Gary Panks, opened in early March. Panks of Scottsdale has designed several other courses in the Phoenix area including the Talon course at Grayhawk in north Scottsdale, Whirlwind Golf Club's Cattail course on native American tribal lands well south of Phoenix, and Raven at South Mountain.

Seville is destined to go private in a couple of years, according to the course's director of golf, Todd Weiand. But until enough memberships are sold, the public can play at Seville.

The theme of the development and the course is Mediterranean: stucco buildings, towers and arches, tile roofs and hundreds of fairly large orange trees everywhere. The trees were actually part of an original grove on the site and were moved to new locations when the course was built, Weiand said. The transplanted trees are now in full bloom so the entire course has the scent of a glass of Minute Maid. Although the landscaping was generously done, it will be a while before it fills in and all the trees grow up a bit to throw some shade.

Conditions on the fairways and greens of this par-72 course are pristine and the grass is so new, you almost have to hunt for divots. Keep in mind, though, that the clubhouse won't be open for at least 18 months and staff is now working out of the development's sales office. A temporary trailer-clubhouse will open in a few months. The day we played, the food possibilities were limited to drinks and chips. The nearest restaurant or clubhouse for a post-18 beer and burger is a couple miles down the road at Trilogy at Power Ranch.

But a visit to Seville is a great opportunity to see what Gary Panks is all about on a very playable course. There are five sets of tees with 7,015 yards from the back tees and 5,350 yards from the forward. Playing now also offers the chance to experience a big-sky, open-land feeling with great views of the Santan Mountains from every teebox. Only about 100 of an expected 3,000 homes in the development have been built so far.

Seville is not a trick course designed to astonish you with extremely narrow fairways and targets to hit. "It's not visually intimidating off the tee, like so many places they build in Arizona," Weiand says. "You can really let your swing go."

This seems to be a course that takes into account that members want to play it again and again and shoot par regularly. "Generally, I'd say that the fairways are generous off the tee," says Todd Weiand. "Where you lose shots on this course is around the greens. The bunkers are fair; they don't beat you up."

Panks starts out here with those open, generous fairways on the first few holes before he throws obstacles in the way. On the first tee, you'll reach for your driver. The long, wide-open par 4 (410 yards from the back tees, 285 yards from the forward tees) is not what you would expect of some of the desert courses that Panks has done in the past.

In fact, this isn't really a desert course at all and it isn't a traditional course either. It's something in-between. There are spots of desert wash that require forced carries. There are lots of elevated greens and tees. But there are also miles of rolling, undulating knolls and not much in the way of elevation changes. If you visit here often enough, you'll learn the spots to hit to give your ball an extra 20 to 30 yards of roll.

Although you can play it safe at Seville and have a great time, you can also be aggressive and take a few risks because there are several doglegs, some of which curl around the lakes and ponds that come into play on seven holes.

No. 2, a par 5 (555 yards from the back tees, 460 yards from the forward tees) is a dogleg right, for example, where flying over some righthand bunkers on your second shot is almost a necessity in order to make par. The good news is that a well-placed second shot will trickle down a little hill and edge very close to the green.

Another imaginative dogleg right is the par 5 No. 5 (530 yards from the back tees, 425 yards from the forward tees) that requires all levels of golfers to make their tee shots over a bit of desert wash studded with heavy grasses. The intrepid players who fire from the tips had better be careful about where shots land, as a bunker has been strategically placed about 240 yards from their tee. If you keep playing the right side of this fairway, you'll also find yourself making an approach shot to the green over a sizeable lake. And even if you make it over the lake, you need another 10 to 20 yards out of your ball to get over a long bunker right below the green.

Without a doubt, though, the most fun on this course are the three finishing holes, 16, 17 and 18. "Everybody comes off the course saying that they loved those holes," says Weiand.

No. 16 is a short par 4 (315 yards from the back tees, 205 yards from the forward) with a lake that runs up and down the right side of the fairway. What's special about the hole is that those who are comfortable using the middle tees (250 yards) could probably land on the green with a first shot, giving them a strong birdie or even an eagle possibility. From the back tees you also have the option of cutting the dogleg on this hole by firing over the lake. Like many holes on this course, this one favors someone who knows how to make a right-to-left shot work.

No. 17 is a short par 3 (145 yards from the back tees, 90 yards from the forward) that requires hitting onto an island green. This is truly an island, not a peninsula green as is the case with so many "islands" on other courses. The prize on this hole goes to the Mickelson imitator who can pop the ball up in the air and make it land softly; long, hot shots will roll off the green and over a wall into the drink.

Everyone has to shoot over water again on No. 18, a par-5 hole (520 yards from the back tees, 420 yards from the forward). But you really don't realize it until you're halfway down the fairway because the water is so far away from the tees. From the back tees, you need to make a hefty drive straight down the middle of the fairway, avoiding the bunkers on either side. Then you have to lay up with a short iron right up to the edge of the water, still roughly 100 yards from the hole, or hit onto a wide stretch of fairway grass on the other side of the water. In either case, the approach shot to the green will be interesting: You could lose your ball in the water or land on a wide beach of bunkers around the hole.

By the way, Weiand actually prefers the par-4s, Nos. 7 and 13, which he likes "because I can play them well." For example, on No. 7, a hole where the green is protected by a lake, he advises golfers that if they hit a really good drive, they can use a pitching or sand wedge to hit over the lake. "But you must be accurate," he says.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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