Raven Golf Club at South Mountain in Phoenix: An oasis in the desert

By Scott Bordow, Contributor

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Any story about the Raven Golf Club at South Mountain has to begin with what it isn't: a desert golf course.

Raven Golf Club at South Mountain - hole 18
Raven Golf Club at South Mountain ends with a bang. No. 18 a 428-yard par 4 with water to the right of the green.
Raven Golf Club at South Mountain - hole 18Raven golf course at South Mountain - hole 5Raven GC at South Mountain - hole 16
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Raven Golf Club - Phoenix

5 stars out of 5 (based on 1 reviews)
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3636 E Baseline Rd
Phoenix, Arizona 85042
Maricopa County
Phone(s): (602) 243-3636
18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 7078 yards | ... details »

Oh, the par-72, 7,078-yard track is situated smack dab in the middle of Arizona's native surroundings. But unlike many of its brethren, your ball will never find the trunk of a saguaro cactus or get stuck under a cholla bush.

It is very possible, however, to be stymied by one of the nearly 7,000 pine trees that were imported to give the Raven a unique look among Valley golf courses.

"It's a golf course in the desert but not a desert golf course," said General Manager Travis Fish.

When the design team of Gary Panks and former PGA Tour pro David Graham built Raven Golf Club at South Mountain in 1995, they were able to stray from the typical desert topography because the land was situated on cotton and alfalfa fields. More than 700,000 cubic feet of soil was moved, the pine trees were brought in and, just like that, golfers had their oasis in the desert.

"People can't believe it," Fish said. "They'll come off the concrete jungle (on Baseline Road), see our water feature on No. 18, all the pine trees and they're amazed. We definitely wanted more of a parkland feature, and no expense was spared."

Because the Raven was built on relatively flat land, it doesn't feature the dramatic elevations and spectacular views that are a signature of so many desert golf courses.

But not every golf course has to be a postcard. The appeal of Raven Golf Club at South Mountain -- particularly in the heat of an Arizona summer -- is its ability to convince golfers they made a wrong turn somewhere and wound up on a layout in, say, Wisconsin.

"It's in the middle of the city but you don't even feel like you're in the city," said Jim Adams, a 12-handicap golfer from Phoenix.

The golf course itself? Well, one nice feature is that unlike most desert courses, if you spray your ball off the tee you can find it. It might be in the next fairway, but at least you can play from there.

"That's probably one of my favorite things," Fish said. "If you've been playing desert courses for a week and you're tired of losing balls, you can come here and have a little leeway off the tee. You won't be teeing up another ball."

Variety is key at Raven Golf Club at South Mountain

The golf course is not particularly difficult but it does give golfers a lot of variety. Two of the four par-5 holes, for example, are 596 yards and 593 yards from the tips. But three of the par 4s are less than 386 yards, and the signature hole is the devilish par-4 fifth hole, which measures just 324 yards from the tips.

Devilish because the hole features seven bunkers -- four in front of the shallow, two-tiered green, one in back, and two to the right of the green. Golfers can either try to bomb their driver left and have more green to work with on their approach shot or take a long iron or rescue club off the tee.

"There are so many different ways to play it and you're not sure which is the right way," Fish said.

The course ends with a bang: No. 16 is a 453-yard par 4, No. 17 is a 593-yard par 5, and No. 18 a 428-yard par 4 with water to the right of the green.

"I like the set-up because they have a good mix of holes," Adams said. "Long par 4s, short par 4s, water. You have to use every club."

We can't end this story without mentioning the mango-scented towels. The towels, which are iced down, are handed out to golfers starting June 1 of every year. You can just imagine how popular they are.

"Nobody else was doing that when we started in 1995," Fish said. "It just seems to be a pleasant scent everybody really enjoys."

And just another reason the Raven Golf Club at South Mountain is not your typical desert course.

Raven Golf Club at South Mountain: The verdict

If this was a beauty contest, the Raven Golf Club at South Mountain wouldn't be among the top 10 golf courses in the Valley. There isn't a hole that takes your breath away, and you might as well leave the camera in the hotel room -- there are no panoramic views to take in. But the Raven is a pleasure to play because it's such a departure from all the courses around it. The thermometer might not agree, but you'll swear it's 10 to 15 degrees cooler among the pine trees than the saguaro cactuses.

Practic and instruction at Raven Golf Club at South Mountain

Raven Golf Club at South Mountain, which has a full driving range and putting green, offers private instruction from four independent contractors. Also, the course is the home of the Soft Spikes Research and Development lab.

Scott BordowScott Bordow, Contributor

Scott Bordow is the golf columnist for the Arizona Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @sbordow.

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