SunRidge Canyon Golf Club, just northeast of Phoenix, is a shot maker's test - with bite

By Scott Bordow, Contributor

FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. - The starter asks if we've ever played SunRidge Canyon Golf Club.

SunRidge Canyon Golf Club - hole 5
SunRidge Canyon Golf Club's fifth hole, a 463-yard par 4 that drops from tee to green, is the highlight of the front nine.
SunRidge Canyon Golf Club - hole 5SunRidge Canyon Golf Club - 17th holeSunRidge Canyon golf course - 14th hole
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SunRidge Canyon Golf Club

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SunRidge Canyon Golf Club's beautiful layout winds among the foothills the McDowell Mountains. Nestled between the canyon walls, it at times seems like the missing piece to a beautiful golf course puzzle that evolved over millions of years in the Sonoran Desert.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 71 | 6823 yards | Book online | ... details »

"Many times," we answer.

"Okay," he says. "But we've spotted a few rattlers lately, so if you hit your ball into the desert take a stick with you."

A few hours later Joel Schafer, SunRidge's director of golf, pulls out a photo that was taken in October of 2008. In the picture, a man is holding a 10-foot rattlesnake that was found on the course.

"But we've never had anyone bit by a rattler," Schafer said.

SunRidge Canyon Golf Club, on the other hand, will bite golfers who aren't careful. The 6,823-yard, par-71 course - which is located in Fountain Hills, just northeast of the Phoenix metropolitan area - doesn't crack a lot of top 10 lists, but with a 142 slope and 72.6 rating from the back tees, it will get your attention in a hurry and keep it for all 18 holes.

"It's a great test of golf," Schafer said. "It's definitely a shot makers course. You have to hit every club in the bag."

The golf course, which features Bermuda greens and was designed in 1995 by Keith Foster, rewards skill rather than power. Oh, there are some holes you can let the driver loose. But on several of the shorter par 4s - including the 318-yard first hole and the 308-yard 10th - the driver isn't an automatic choice because the fairway turns into desert 230 to 250 yards from the tee.

Then there are the washes, which dissect nine different fairways. The washes were left untouched during the course design because Foster was trying to limit the amount of dirt that would have to be moved and the permit process to remove the washes would have been protracted and expensive.

And because Foster designed the golf course so the washes come into play, golfers have to think their way around the course. Do they try to fly the washes or lay up and leave themselves a longer iron to the green?

"There's a risk-reward on a lot of the holes," Schafer said. "That's what makes SunRidge really cool."

The golf course starts off slow but builds to a grand finale. The front nine is fairly non-descript, with the exception of No. 5, a 463-yard par four that drops from tee to green. But once you make the turn, the course perks up.

For one thing, golfers have to play uphill as they wind their way back to the clubhouse. The prevailing wind also plays into your face, making club selection vital. On several holes, it's advisable to take at least one more club than the yardage suggests.

But the biggest difference between SunRidge Canyon Golf Club's two nines are the closing four holes. Let's put it this way: If you're not swinging the club well when you get to No. 15, you might want to call off any bets.

"The back nine is just so much tougher," said Les Willsey, a 22-handicapper. "I was really confident going into the back nine, then it robbed me of my confidence in a hurry."

No. 15 is a nasty 457-yard par 4 with bunkers surrounding the green; No. 16 plays at 533 yards straight uphill; and No. 17 is the signature hole on the course, a par 3 that can play from as short as 152 yards on the SunRidge side or as long as 209 yards on the Canyon side. Then you finish up on the 432-yard 18th, which plays about 450 yards and, according to Schafer, "is one of the best finishing holes in the Valley."

"You have to finish strong," Schafer said. "It's hard at the end of the round when you might be losing your concentration. That's the area of the golf course that's the most demanding."

You're almost better off running into a rattler.

SunRidge Canyon Golf Club: The verdict

SunRidge Canyon Golf Club doesn't sit on resort property and it isn't one of the more heralded courses in the Valley. But if you like a golf course that rewards shot makers rather than big bombers, SunRidge is for you. Plus, it's not as expensive as some of the big-name courses in north Scottsdale. All in all, it's a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Just remember: The front nine is the appetizer; the back nine - and especially the last four holes - are the main course.

Scott BordowScott Bordow, Contributor

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

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