Hardly evil: Devil's Claw at Whirlwind Golf Club is an easy goin' round in Phoenix-Scottsdale
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- A name like "Devil's Claw" may sound vicious, but Whirlwind Golf Club's original 18-hole course is anything but venomous. Get ready for a playable, well manicured excursion through wide open desert minutes from the heart of Phoenix.
Located on Gila River Native American community property, 36-hole Whirlwind Golf Club personifies many of the benefits to golf courses built on reservation land: wide playing corridors, no accompanying residential component to design around, and plenty of peace and quiet. Throw in panoramic mountain scenery and the adjoining Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort for stay-and-play, and you've got an entirely unique golf experience in the Valley of the Sun.
Whirlwind debuted the Devil's Claw Course, designed by Gary Panks in 2000, who then added Whirlwind's Cattail Course in 2003. Prior to construction, the 242-acre property that makes up both courses was a mostly flat, nondescript part of the valley winding along the small Gila River.
Panks' team crafted a gently contoured canvas to create plenty of interesting roll, which results in some elevated tees, a couple water features, curvy fairways and particularly undulating green surrounds.
Devil's Claw at Whirlwind Golf Club: The course
Devil's Claw plays more than 7,000 yards from the championship tees, but despite championship-caliber length, it's certainly not among the most penal designs in the valley.
With large, rolling fairways, golfers will have a lot of confidence on the tee box. The course commands most of its attention around the greens: large, fast and with plenty of humps and run-off areas surrounding them. Lies are tight, even in the over-seeded winter and spring, so a nervy short game will go a long way.
Two of the course's most scenic holes are par 3s that share real estate bordering a large pond. The seventh hole is a short par 3, but a waterfall to the right and rocks bordering the green provides for plenty of distractions. Just across the pond is the par-3 12th, which is a longer shot to an elevated green bordered on both sides by deep bunkers.
But these penal holes are more of the exception than norm on Devil's Claw. Most fairways are generous (though shorter holes tend to have fairways a little more guarded with sand) with the opportunity to attack with a driver. The 18th hole is a fine example. A fairway that slopes downhill rewards long drives with a few more bounces of roll to create a shot less than 100 yards coming in for a shot at a closing hole birdie.
Devil's Claw at Whirlwind Golf Club: The verdict
With peak spring season rates up to $169, Whirlwind checks in the upper-middle-class bracket of the Phoenix-Scottsdale area and delivers top-shelf, over-seeded playing conditions in the peak season to its large fairways and greens.
Whirlwind's current 4.5/5.0 rating by golfers at GolfNow makes it one of the top-rated facilities in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. Managed by Troon Golf, Whirlwind won the upscale management compare's "Facility of the Year" award in 2011.
For golfers here, there are a lot of standout perks: a double-sided driving range and practice area, a small pro shop, Sivlik Grill & Bar serving breakfast and lunch, as well beverage-cart service that comes early in the round and often.
Stay and play at Wild Horse Pass
While Whirlwind is a resort-course property that also offers daily fee play, those who want to stay on the Wild Horse Pass reservation have two options. A casino hotel was recently built and has 242 guest rooms to go with live table gaming.
For a more peaceful resort option, stay at the Sheraton Wild Horse, which boasts spacious guest rooms with balconies or patios, plus large bathrooms and updated furnishings. Guests can bask in the 17,500-square-foot Aji Spa or walk or jog a three-mile nature trail along the Gila River. Other recreation options include tennis or horseback riding. Whirlwind Golf Club is just a short, complimentary shuttle drive away. (The same shuttle also takes guests to the casino hotel.)
For dinner, check out the resort's Ko'Sin, a bistro-style restaurant with a large wine list. My entree, the "Two Sisters Salmon" came with spiced papita, cranberries, goat cheese and smoked corn reduction. Other entrees include filet mignon, or go more casual with mac 'n cheese or fish tacos.