From Dan Quayle to Average Joe Golfers, Prescott loves Antelope Hills North

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

PRESCOTT, Ariz. - You do not expect to be able to play a golf course a former Vice President enjoys for under $30. Even if that VP is Dan Quayle.

But Antelope Hills provides such an opportunity. This is the golf complex in Prescott that everyone in Arizona somehow seems to have played a round on, including nearby Valley dweller Quayle. It helps that Antelope Hills hosts enough tournaments (120 a year) to qualify as the unexpected, unofficial golf capital of the state. The most popular of these tournaments - the always sold-out 500-golfer-strong father & son scramble - is what drew Dan Quayle here about five years ago.

"Quayle is a better golfer now that he's working a lot less," head pro Dennis Naughton said.

Naughton grins, looking around Antelope Hills' bustling, very informal bar area. This golf lifer knows the setting is about the last place you'd expect to find a supposedly stuffy, starched shirt Republican big wig/spelling ace.

Then again, fun is an easy word to spell for anyone. No temptation to throw on an extra e here.

Antelope Hills doesn't do extras. It's barebones, salt-of-the-earth golf. No pretension, no fuss. You will be lugging your own bag to and from your car, setting up your own cart. Which can actually be a welcome break from the legions of so-called resort courses in Arizona. Especially when you see your credit card bill for this round.

The guy who sets you up in the clubhouse is a big, friendly fellow who seems to know everybody. This isn't a muni with no manners. It is a low-key worthy Prescott play with the feel of a neighborhood hangout.

On this sunny Tuesday, midwinter afternoon, Antelope's two 18s are both packed. And this is no case of early spring, anti-groundhog fever. Drive by Antelope Hills and it always seems to be jammed with golfers.

In many ways, Antelope Hills is the heart of Prescott's burgeoning golf community. This is the course visitors should play when they actually want to met a few locals, a course perfect for forging instant friendships. When Villas At The Ridge - a condo complex down the road that offers golf packages - brought in a group from Chicago, Antelope Hills quickly became a hangout.

"We'd asked the guys if they wanted to go to dinner," Ray Veach, Villas At The Ridge's manager, said. "So we called them when it was getting late and we hadn't heard from them. They told us, 'Oh we're fine. We're hanging out at the clubhouse bar. Go ahead without us."

The Chicago golfers ended up closing down Antelope's bar that night.

Before moving on to such pursuits, the North Course makes for an enjoyable round. This is a track where even a relative beginner is unlikely to find much frustration, yet it still possesses just enough bite that some of Prescott's best golfers swear by it.

"Definitely (play) the North Course," said John Vandeventer, a regular contender in Arizona's amateur championships. "It's a truer test of golf."

The North is the older, more narrow of Antelope's two 18s. Opened in 1956, it carries an old-time feel with few gimmicks or extravagant tricks. In a world of showman, it stands out like old Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers.

The sand traps are shallower than the plastic, backyard kiddie pool. They are deep brown, more dirt trap than sand trap. These aren't ball-gobbling monsters. It is almost as easy to hit out of the sand here as it is off the fairways.

Water comes into play about as often as it does in the Sahara. No. 8 - a short par 3 with its tee box straight across a small pond from the green - is the only hole with a forced water carry. And this carry is unlikely to frustrate anyone who can get any lift at all on the ball.

Rather, Antelope North challenges with its somewhat narrow fairways. There are trees lining the course that come into play more in the spring and the summer, when the branches stretch out into the edges of the fairway. On this winter day, the tree trimmings left along the side of the course provide a welcome, if not exactly picturesque, tightening challenge.

This is the tougher of Antelope's two courses. Which is like saying someone is the smarter of two celebrity squares.

Not that this impacts Antelope Hills' devotees. A lot of golfers do not want a place where they feel like they're shooting around Mt. Everest for their regular course. Cheap, reasonable-difficulty-level plays like Antelope Hills are more the wish.

"You're not going to lose a lot of balls here like you do at a Stone Ridge ," local golfer Howard Butler said of Prescott's forced carries parade course. "But it still tests your game and it's almost always in great condition."

True to its everyman nature, Antelope Hills achieves that condition without resorting to artificial means.

"A lot of courses paint," Naughton said of one way to achieve that green grass look even in winter. "We don't paint."

What Antelope Hills does is provide a place for golfers of all levels. The practice greens on this day are filled with a number of young kids chipping right next to gray-haired retirees.

Nothing for Dan Quayle, that old Murphy Brown-battling, champion of family values, to complain about here.

The Verdict

Antelope Hills North isn't going to wow you, but that doesn't mean it will not please. This is the course to enjoy on a day when you want to go low, a day when you're not looking for much anxiety. This is the course to take a group with a wide range of handicaps. As Goldilocks would say, It's just right.

The stretch of No. 9 through No. 13 is typical. Five four pars in a row, all relatively straight. It is easy to get in a groove here, maybe easy to get bored.

Antelope Hills is best played with good friends, new or otherwise, and a full cooler.

Places to eat

The best place to find grub with character is Prescott's downtown Whiskey Row. Murphy's ((928) 445-4044) is just one of the places on the National Register of Historic Places in this Old Wild West area. Nearby, Rose Restaurant ((928) 777-8308) is supposed to have the most creative menu in town, heavily Italian. Rose is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays though.

For something more familiar there is a nearby mall with the usual suspects in a food court.

Places to stay

This condo complex rents 11 of its units to golfers, each one individually decorated. There is also a huge gathering room that's been deemed the golfer frequent flyer lounge. What makes Villas At The Ridge stick out though is its do-anything-to-please staff. They even give you printed-out directions to every course you're set up to play.

The only thing you worry when you stay here is your score.

Avoid the Quality Inn & Suites Conference Center which looks nicer and appears much more reasonable from the outside than it really is. This is the kind of place you drop $110 for a room you could get for almost half that down the street.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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