Incredible course, incredible value: Trilogy Vistancia, the golf course find in greater Phoenix

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

PEORIA, Ariz. - Knee deep in the native grasses, searching for a little white ball, despite those starter warnings of rattlesnakes, with a desert whirlwind over your shoulder in the near distance, it quickly becomes apparent that Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia is unlike any Phoenix-Scottsdale golf course you've played before.

Being out here in the suburbs of Peoria, the middle of nowhere if you listen to competing course GMs (but really only about a half hour from downtown Phoenix), makes all the difference in the world. At least, it does if you're playing this Gary Panks marvel of a design.

Trilogy at Vistancia's only been open for a little more than a year and right now it just might be the most underrated course in the entire state. Trilogy's that good and that different from most of its Phoenix-Scottsdale brethren.

Discover it now before the crowds arrive and the beautifully-low greens fees ($99 at high, high season and $25 for super twilight after 3 p.m. specials) inevitably skyrocket. Playing Trilogy now is like finding a great restaurant right before it becomes mega popular and its chef decides his time's better spent on TV shows and book-signing tours.

"I fell in love with it the first I played it, "Phoenix golfer Terrence Haskins said."And I've been back here as many times as possible since. "

It's easy to fall head over spikes for Trilogy at Vistancia. The native grasses give it a distinct look, permeating the course with a stark sense of true nature many of the area's vaunted $200-plus resort courses even lack.

And these tall, stalky, thick grasses don't just set a visual tone. They shape your round, penalizing with cold-blooded impunity. They make straying from the fairways an adventure in futility. Every course lets you know how important is to be precise off the tees. Trilogy backs up that talk with serious consequences.

Even if you manage to find your precious Pro V1, you need to be in a fortunate lie to even punch it out back to the fairway.

Course rules allow you to drop a ball one club length from the grasses, at one-stroke penalty, but there's little fun in that. Of course, after a few flailing swipes in these long grasses, you may decide there's no fun in that, either.

This is a course that can frustrate the best of golfers. I found myself playing with a guy good enough to walk onto Duke's perennial championship-contending golf team. Still, this golfing prodigy kept cursing Trilogy as he watched good shot after good shot roll off the greens.

Trilogy at Vistancia's greens were so rock hard this day that getting anything to stay could have turned an atheist to prayer.

"You're not supposed to have to chip it five feet past the pin to get it to stay up there, "golfer Todd Breen said."It's like being at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock. "

Once you're on the green, however, they roll true. This putting surface is hard but fair if you find the right line. The greens take concentration, but they're worth the work.

The green of the course contrasts nicely with the native grasses, but not so much that it gives things an unrealistic feel. It looks like Panks' design belongs on this piece of land. The holes blend into the surroundings.

The emphasis on native grasses also provides its maintenance advantages, allowing Trilogy at Vistancia to maintain its look throughout the brutal Arizona summers.

"It's Southern Arizona and all we've got to do is water them, "Trilogy General Manager Mark Bakeman said."It's nice to be doing what's native. "

This local, natural approach makes the real wonders of the Native American area ring even truer. On this day, our group saw two different whirlwinds - what Native Americans call restless spirits. Whipping around in the distance, with winds hitting 60 to 70 mph in the whirling, small funnels, these forces are a sight to behold.

How often have you played golf with restless spirits creating a ruckus nearby?

If the whole look and atmosphere hasn't captured you by the first tee, just wait till the third hole. Trilogy at Vistancia doesn't slowly build to a climax. It grabs you quickly and rarely lets go.

A lot of people think the heart of Trilogy at Vistancia can be found in the stretch between the fourth and sixth holes. That's severely shortchanging No. 3 though, a beautifully rugged challenge.

This 416-yard par-4 greats you with a forced carry off the tee - a nearly 200-yard carry from the back tees. It's only getting started though. A high, dense brush area dissects the fairway clean across about 140 yards from the green.

It's clear it, or get your score crushed here. Simple and straight-forward as can be.

Oh, did we mention the third green is also tucked away in the back left corner, flanked by three rather large bunkers?

If you manage to play No. 3 without finding any trouble, you're either swinging great or lottery lucky.

No. 3 through No. 6 is the best stretch of the course in part because it's one of the most deserted.

Trilogy never appears cramped by houses, except perhaps on No. 11, but the early run is particularly wide open. Looking to the side from No. 4, all you see is Southern Arizona landscape stretching as far as the eye can make out. No. 5 is a monster par 5 (608 yards from the back tees) that's so cut off from the rest of the holes. It could qualify as its own continent.

This is a very unique course, a departure from all the rest. It doesn't take long to see that.

The verdict on Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia

Trilogy at Vistancia is such a wonder of a bargain right now; it tempts you to break into the shtick of a car salesman."Run don't walk to play this course! You'll never see prices this low or tee sheets this open ever again!"

Silly sure. But in this case it carries plenty of truth.

Bakeman admits Trilogy at Vistancia will likely raise rates once it becomes more well-known. It's location in Peoria and the fact it's only been open since Feb. 14, 2004, has combined to keep the tops greens fee $99. The management at Intrawest smartly decided to sell low and build interest high as Trilogy went through infanthood.

The wide-open front nine wows you early, but there are several fun holes in the closing stretch as well. The 348-yard par-4 15th features two huge bunkers smack dab in the middle of the fairway. The 163-yard par-3 17th requires a short carry over water straight to the green on all but the most forward tee.

You'll fall hard for Trilogy at Vistancia the first time you play it. Expect to be booking a second tee time soon after walking off the 18th green.

"Get there now! Now, now, now."

Places to eat

The greater Old Town Scottsdale area is home to many of the best restaurants in Arizona. Chef Nobuo Fukuda works wonders with his counter side tasting menus at Sea Saw ((480) 481-9463), producing dishes every bit the equal of New York's more famous Nobu at a third of the cost.

For a happening, mingling spot, you only have to go down the alley behind Sea Saw and open the unmarked door to the Kazimierz World Wine Bar ((480) 946-3004). Sure, this forced, faux mysteriousness is a little cheesy, but once you get inside the comfortable place where the Phoenix area's 30- and 40-somethings relax with a selection of 1,800 wines to choose from, you'll forgive it. Make sure you try the Country Pate.

Places to stay

The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort ((602) 997-2626) is far enough away from the hustle and bustle to provide a relaxing getaway retreat and close enough to easily reach all the areas you want to visit. This sprawling complex includes a meandering, slow-raft-lounging pool and a putting practice course. There are a half-dozen golf courses within a 10-minute drive.

The Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center ((480) 991-9000) provides distinctive, comfortable accommodations at cheaper rates than some of the surrounding resorts that aren't as nice, but still cost more than $100. This is an especially good place to get a last-minute deal. Another bonus is that most of the rooms have balconies to enjoy the area's temperate winter weather.

Fast Fact

Peoria is the spring training home of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners and it offers special spring training golf packages.

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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