Out-of-the-way Verrado Golf Club rewards West Valley day-trippers

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

BUCKEYE, Ariz. -- It's not often you see a proud "Founded 2002" sign. That's just the first indication that you've arrived in a different kind of place.

Verrado Golf Club - No. 18
Verrado Golf Club's 18th hole features water to the right, and it always seems to play into the wind.
Verrado Golf Club - No. 18Verrado Golf ClubVerrado Golf Club - back 9Verrado Golf Club - hole 2Verrado Golf Club - waterfall
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Verrado Golf Club - Founder's Course

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Verrado Golf Club - Founder's Course is an upscale desert layout designed by John Fought and Tom Lehman that opened for public play in January 2004. John Fought and Tom Lehman collaborated on the course at Verrado Golf Club, a voluptuous design that meanders through the old Caterpillar bulldozer proving grounds.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 7258 yards | Book online | ... details »

"Welcome to Buckeye, Arizona!" the attendant who takes your bag declares with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for "Free beer!" Everyone from the marshals to the head professional to the hostess in the grill welcomes you with vigor at Verrado Golf Club. You're liable to think they've mistaken you for some B-list celebrity.

But no, this is the standard Verrado Golf Club greeting. This is the rare golf course with fawning press clippings and shiny Golf Digest plaques that still seems excited golfers are there.

The zip code has something to do with it. Verrado Golf Club is at the outer limits of the Phoenix-Scottsdale resort corridor - more so than club's radio ads would have you believe. It's a good hour from Scottsdale. You have to want to get to there to end up there.

Go ahead. Gas up that rental. This is one course that's worth the trip.

The service is the first thing you'll notice. They pack your cart with complimentary bottled water. That's right - in the desert home of the $2.48 water, it's free. And there's more available every three holes. If you're ever going to be stranded on a golf course overnight, you want it to be Verrado Golf Club.

As good as the service is - and I'd put it in the top 25 of courses I've visited all over North America - the course itself will stick with you more.

This is one entertaining battle of golf. It's desert golf with devilish greens, scenic golf that doesn't just sit there and look pretty. Verrado will slap you across the cheek just as you're admiring its vistas.

There's some serious attitude in this John Fought and Tom Lehman design. Mr. T attitude.

No. 13 tells everything you need to know about this 'tude. This 310-yard par 4 looks like it should be cake from the tee - an oasis in a flurry of back nine knee knockers. It plays somewhat uphill, but it's so driveable.

One slight hitch. Sticking a shot on the cruelly sloping green is akin to stopping a pool ball on an ice-slicked mountain driveway. You'll be praying for Phil Mickelson's touch. And watching balls roll back down and far, far away.

Calling this a raised-ridge green is like terming Barry Bonds a little testy. This is essentially a hill that goes straight up to a sharp point. Anything landing below that point is coming back down.

No questions asked. Remember, this is the driveable par 4.

"Sometimes you just want to throw up your arms and say I surrender," vacationing golfer Scott McReynolds said.

And sometimes you just want to look up from your shot and take in the view for another moment before continuing. It's easy to pick out the members from the vacationing golfers at Verrado. Only a regular could speed through this course.

The green at No. 2, a sharp dogleg-left par 4 that looks like a snake in the desert, is set up to give the best view of the most striking blue sky. With its lone distinct tree behind the green, it looks like a painting you'd find in Scottsdale's art-gallery row (at least until you step onto the green and suddenly spot all the houses below).

Verrado Golf Club is not one of those courses where the holes start blending together. By day's end some feel less like you played them than like you dated them - psychic scars included.

The par 3s are particularly drama- and anxiety-filled. You're usually shooting down from an elevated tee, aiming for a green that seems to be lost in desert outcroppings, floating in a mountain background.

"That's usually a club difference," a marshal advised a newcomer at No. 6.

At Verrado, everyone's willing to help. Chances are, you'll need it.

Verrado Golf Club: The verdict

Verrado Golf Club is worth making a day of on your Phoenix-Scottsdale sojourn. It's a contender for the Arizona top 10, perhaps less dramatic than Troon North or the Boulders but much less expensive too.

Be aware: Verrado is a desert golf course. You'll lose your share of balls if you spray, but the forced carries off the tee aren't ridiculous (they are frequent).

In other words, Verrado Golf Club punishes with some panache. The first par 5 you reach (No. 5), you'll look out on the wide open fairway and think what a nice benign par 5. Can you call a 588-yard par 5 benign?

At Verrado, the answer's a resounding yes.

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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