Sanctuary levels the playing field for short knockers

By Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - If you're tired of getting beat mentally by your golf buddy's extra distance off the tee and losing cash at the end of your Nassau, there's an answer. It's not a $400 piece of equipment, or $50 an hour for a personal trainer. Simply book a round at Sanctuary Golf Course at Westworld.

Here's how to sell it to your unsuspecting opponent.

Tell your buddy that there's a course up in North Scottsdale that costs only $52 after 2 p.m. (in high season) and you hear it's in great shape (which it is). Mention that the course is only 6,050 yards from the blue tees. When he says its too short, tell him you'll double the Nassua bet if he'll come out. Already he's thinking, "Driver-wedge all day for double the money? Man, I'll be playing for free when this is over."

Once you get him there, make him play from the blue tees. The black tees (6,624 yards) will only work to his advantage. Now, for the most important lesson: Do not take driver out of your bag. Hit nothing but 3-wood off the tee, even on the longer par-4 holes and even the par-5 holes. By the time he realizes what hit him, you'll be at least four holes up with four to play on the front nine. The back nine and the press are up to you.

At Sanctuary, the playing field is leveled against the big hitters. Architect Randy Heckenkemper designed six par-4 holes at less than 365 yards and only one longer than 400 yards (all distances from the blue tees). Short holes do not equate to easy golf. The blue-tee slope rating of 130 is a sign of how tough the 6,000-yard track can play.

Players can hit driver on some holes, but they better hit it straight. Sanctuary is narrow, and in some cases, distance is punished more than it's rewarded. Let's say you boom one down the middle of the par-5 fourth. The further the ball travels, the more uneven the lie will be. A 230-yard shot on the same hole will result in a flat lie for the second shot.

On the par-4 10th, a desert wash cuts across the fairway 245 yards from the tee box. Many of the other short par 4s that appear to be drivable distances on the scorecard turn out to be severe doglegs or have enough trouble surrounding the green, making driver a ludicrous play.

Mike Patzwald, director of golf at Sanctuary, said he shot his low round of 67 when he left his driver in the trunk of his car.

"A good player won't need driver," said Dick Evelsizor, a Phoenix man who regularly plays at Sanctuary. "Keep them in the fairway. It's the only good place to play from."

Heed Evelsizor's advice. The landing areas can be as skinny as 40 yards wide.

Sanctuary is one of 17 courses in the world considered an Audubon Silver Certification Signature Course, which means they use the least amount of grass and water possible. Less grass means tight fairways and a slim outline of non-overseeded rough.

And less water would logically mean worse conditions. But Sanctuary is in perfect shape because they draw water from a canal of untreated water, which they purify and use for irrigation. For every gallon they use, they purify another gallon and give it back to the City of Scottsdale.

The city's effort with the TPC Scottsdale sparked the construction of Sanctuary. When the TPC project was proposed, Scottsdale's public officials demanded that, in addition to the Stadium Course, developers build a course that was affordable and playable for the general public. The TPC's Desert Course was such a hit, the city wanted another course. From there, SunCor Golf, Army corps engineers and Heckenkemper brought Sanctuary to fruition.

Heckenkemper was an associate of the TPC's architects, Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, which is why local players say Sanctuary has a similar feel to the TPC's Desert Course. The course opened in 1999, and according to Patzwald, most of Scottsdale's golfing public still hasn't dropped in for a round, even with green fees that are half as much as some of the big time clubs in the area.

"It's not a must-play," said Jack Ratteree, a 40-year Scottsdale resident. "When my friends come in from California, I have them play other courses. But if they play three or four rounds, I might sneak [Sanctuary] in there."

"It's pretty unique," said Russ Plylar, a golfer from Phoenix. "It's shorter and tighter than most, but it's a fun course for the price. The same experience elsewhere is at least $50 more."

Ratteree and Plylar's comments show the complexity of Sanctuary's reputation. It's known as a good value, but not a must-play. Still, the course seems to be gaining some popularity. Sanctuary tallied 40,000 rounds last year and they're already on pace to better those numbers. With 13 days of frost delays last month, they still booked more rounds than they did in February 2003. And with the increased traffic, pace of play usually becomes an issue. In the first 60 days of this year, however, Patzwald says the average 18-hole round took only four hours and three minutes (as computed by the GPS).

All the deductions - 6,050 yards means it's an easy course, less water means poor conditions, increased rounds hurts pace of play - are nothing more than a mirage. The desert is full of mirages, but Sanctuary is a real deal.

The Verdict

The stretch of holes two through five are as tight as any opening holes in the Valley of the Sun. They were built around a basin that serves as safe passage for flooding waters in the surrounding community, which is why the holes are so tight. Starting on this narrow succession frustrated me, but now that I know to kennel the big dog, I'd like a second crack at it.

I played with a man in his 70s (Evelsizor) who proved that the playing field is leveled at Sanctuary. He teed off one set ahead of me and fired an 84. He hit almost every fairway and didn't have one penalty stroke throughout the round.

The best hole from a design standpoint was the par-4, 409-yard second, which is a great risk-reward drive to a fairway that is split by a bunker. A drive to the left of the bunker requires greater yardage to carry the desert, but allows for a short iron shot into the green. A tee shot to the right of the bunker leaves a long iron or wood into the green at a worse angle. But because it's played so early in the round, I don't think recreational golfers appreciate it as much.

The service is solid, but the fact that they accept walk-ins and do everything in their power to get them on the golf course quickly is their best trait. If a golf packager doesn't set you up at Sanctuary, you can just show up one afternoon. With distances that range from 4,096 to 6,624 yards, it's the perfect place for a father and son to drop in. For Valley residents, the rates are even lower if you purchase the SunCor Pass.

The conditions are superb - manageable green speeds, well-groomed fairways and a good-sized practice facility. Sanctuary has five sets of tee boxes, which is helpful, but its narrow design might frustrate weaker players. Since travelers will probably play the course once during a given trip, it's a good choice for frugal players with handicaps of 20 or lower, and for women, seniors and juniors who hit the ball straight. Higher handicaps should bring a dozen balls they don't mind losing to the desert.

Stay and play

Resort Suites of Scottsdale is conveniently located for golfers who want quick access to both top-of-the-line and middle-tier courses. Sanctuary is only 15 minutes away. Resort Suites offers a la carte golf packages and tee times at some of the private clubs in Scottsdale. For details, call 800-767-3574.

Or, to book a trip a golf trip with more accommodation options, call 800-767-3574.

Dining out

The restaurant inside the Sanctuary clubhouse offers a full menu with reasonable portions. I'd recommend the chicken fajita wrap. It also has outdoor seating. Last summer, the club offered lunch included with its cut-rate green fee. Patzwald said he's considering offering the same deal this summer.

Outside of Sanctuary, The Coyote Grill is only 15 minutes away on Frank Lloyd Wright inside the 101 Loop. The Southwestern cuisine is superb and the atmosphere at the indoor/outdoor bar, which includes relaxed live entertainment at night, is perfect for 19th hole activities.


Take Frank Lloyd Wright east from the 101 Loop. Make a left on Thompson Peak Parkway. Take a right on McDowell Mountain Ranch Road. Finally, take a right at 105thStreet. The course is a mile down on the right.

Fast fact

Sanctuary's environmentally conscious methods of maintaining its facility earned the distinction of being an Audubon Silver Certification Signature Course. Only 17 courses in the world have earned that status.

Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

Brendan McEvoy spent five years with Times Community Newspapers, a Reston, Va.-based chain of 18 weekly newspapers covering the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Sanctuary

    Mike Hess wrote on: Mar 20, 2009

    Could the place be any more crowded and overplayed?