SunRidge Canyon Golf Club keeping pace with Fountain Hills golf scene

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. -- Once upon a time, in a Fountain Hills of not so long ago, SunRidge Canyon Golf Club was the "must-play" upscale course of this quiet settlement on Scottsdale's easternmost edge.

SunRidge Canyon Golf Club - 5th hole
SunRidge Canyon Golf Club's fifth hole, a 463-yard par 4 that drops from tee to green.
SunRidge Canyon Golf Club - 5th holeSunRidge Canyon Golf Club - Nos. 13 and 14
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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.

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Actually, it was the only upscale course in town. The Fountain Hills public golf course was the area's municipally flavored track, replete with flat, Florida-inspired fairways and strands of ubiquitous stucco housing. But SunRidge Canyon, which opened in 1995, was the lone bastion of modern, resort style desert golf.

Fast-forward seven years, and this scenic dale wedged between the majestic McDowell Mountains to the east and the snazzy shops and spas of Scottsdale to the west, is oozing with offerings for the traveling golfer.

"Fountain Hills, for having 24,000 people, has one of the best collections of golf courses per capita I can think of," says Jay Haffner, director of golf at SunRidge Canyon. "We have private courses, semiprivate courses and daily fee course. We have it all covered."

So formidable is Fountain Hills' golf lineup that the town muni changed its name to Desert Ridge and nearly tripled its peak season greens fee.

"Everyone's getting in on the action," adds Haffner.

First it was SunRidge Canyon. Then it was the Golf Club at Eagle Mountain and most recently, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Indian Reservation. On the private golf front, Tonto Verde and Rio Verde both opened with 36 holes apiece, and Fire Rock (across from SunRidge) opened with 18 more.

Haffner says the competition was daunting at first. But area courses are beginning to work together to promote Fountain Hills as a legitimate golf destination.

"At first, it was a competition between SunRidge and Eagle Mountain," says Haffner. "But lately, we've gotten together and done some marketing together. We are trying to draw people to Fountain Hills and let them know that we are just a step beyond Scottsdale. We are what Scottsdale used to be before the hustle and bustle."

The design work at SunRidge Canyon is the product of Keith Foster, a former associate of Arthur Hills. Like his mentor, Foster is known as the type of architect who drapes courses over the existing lay of the land. The site at SunRidge Canyon already was blessed with hills, canyons, and arroyos -- plenty of built-in drama.

"He really didn't move much earth out here, and I think it shows," says Haffner.

The front nine plays almost entirely downhill, diving deep into a 450-foot deep gulch filled with Sonoran desert flora and fauna. The back nine climbs back up toward the clubhouse and ends in dramatic fashion with a stretch of holes that has been dubbed "the wicked six" by the local PGA Section.

"Mr. Foster once told me that he wanted to make SunRidge Canyon a course where you had to manage your game," Haffner says. "He didn't want it to be overpowered or tricked up. When I play my best out here, I use every club in my bag."

In fact, driver is optional throughout most of the front nine. If you tee off in the morning, the prevailing winds will be in your face the entire day. This climatological fact is actually a blessing, as tee shots need to find strategically placed landing areas that favor brains over brawn.

"You need that head wind to hold your shots in check," Haffner says. "Otherwise you can drive it through fairways and over greens."

SunRidge Canyon Golf Club's back nine

On the arduous back nine, the one-wood is a necessary evil, as is a strong iron game. Playing from the tips, the final four holes go something like this: a 457-yard par-4 that is just flat out long; 578-yard par-5 with water in play down the right side; 181-yard par-3 that's all carry to a crescent shaped green; and a 432-yard, par-4 finishing hole with seven bunkers and a sliver of a green.

And remember -- it's all uphill.

"Good players actually play better on the back nine because there are more chances to score," says Haffner

For the average player, however, there's plenty to enjoy at SunRidge Canyon should "going low" not be a high priority. The course is in excellent condition, and the views from the front nine's elevated tee boxes are postcards waiting to happen.

For armchair architecture critics, Foster's classic bunker shapes are worth the price of admission.

"He is really meticulous on the design of the bunkers," Haffner says. "He likes the old (Dr. Alister) MacKenzie style of bunkering where the sides are rolled down to give the image that the bunker is natural. There's not an abrupt cut in the contour of the fairway, so when you looks back on the hole from the green, it looks like its part of the natural setting."

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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