Whirlwind Golf Club: A Surreal Golf Experience

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

GILA RIVER, Ariz. - Not many people outside of Arizona have heard the name Gary Panks. It is a shame, because the guy can flat out design a golf course. The Legacy Golf Club in Phoenix, Grayhawk in Scottsdale, and Antelope Hills in Prescott all claim Pank's signature marks and are continually rated as some of the best courses in the stat.

With the addition of Devil's Claw at Whirlwind Golf Club last November, Panks further solidified himself as one of the best golf course architects in the U.S. Devil's Claw has all the necessary ingredients to become one of the top-rated, daily-fee courses in the Valley of the Sun.

Its conditioning is immaculate.

"Right now, I would put our course up against any in the state," says head professional Steve Schyber.

The layout is player friendly, and has earned its fair share of repeat pla.

"When I first played the course, I thought the course was very user friendly," Schyberg says. "You are not going to need two Advil when you are done. It is the kind of golf course you'd want to play everyday, even if you are an average golfer. You can use different clubs and if you think your way around, you can score on it.

Two roles of film is more like it. Every hole at Devil's Claw is a veritable photo opportunity. But don't let Schyberg and Panks lull you to sleep. There is plenty of golf to be played, and if you want to take on the course from the tips, its going to run you about 7000 yard.

Average golfers, however, can move up to the Gold (6400) and Silver (6000) tees and still use every club in their bag. Golfers from out of state expecting a torturous, target style golf course will be pleasantly surprised to find a only a few forced carries, and fairways that run up to Panks' signature tiered green.

"You have to hit good shots but its not going to tear your heart out," Schyberg says. "You take some guy from Chicago that hasn't touched a club in months and he loses 11 balls on some of those courses in Scottsdale. Out here, that same guy can have a good time.

So many courses these days eschew the idea of having a signature hole, but Schyberg doesn't shy away from pointing out his favorite hole, one that has players talking all the way out to their car.

The par 4 ninth hole has a split fairway, designed for two different levels of player. To the right, the fairway is much more generous and requires a shorter carry to get to the fairway. The approach shot, however, will be up to a club longer, and the green will be harder to hi.

If you play the hole from the left side, the fairway is significantly narrower and requires a carry of 220 yards from the back tees just to make it over reeds. The reward for the risk taken is a club less on the approach and a better angle into the gree.

As far as scoring goes, Schyberg recommends that players take advantage of Devil's Claw's par 5's, especially from the Golf and Silver tee.

"The par 5's are where you have to make your shots up because for good players they are not difficult holes," he says. "Three and six are reachable in two, and fifteen is very reachable in two.

Schyberg says the par 3's are solid, if not spectacular, with the exception of the course's 12th hol.

"The par 3's are good holes and you can make some birdies," he says. "Our toughest hole is the 220 yard par 3 12th hole. When you are standing there with a three iron and the wind in your face, it is daunting.

Signature holes aside, Devil's Claw offers golfers something they can find at only a small number of courses around the state - real estate free gol.

"One of the nice things about it is that when you are out there playing, there are no houses, no dogs, no cars and there are no parallel fairways," Schyberg says. "When you are playing the 15th hole, you can't see anyone. There will be no houses here ever because of the Reservation.

Great conditions, challenging holes and pure golf have appealed to more than just the golfing public. After being open less than a year, Whirlwind will play host to a Buy.com Tour event, the inaugural Gila River Classic Tournament, from October 8-1.

"When we first opened, being where we located, it took a while for people to know where we are," Schyberg says. "We are not in Scottsdale so we are a mystery to some people. But we will get four straight days on the Golf Channel with the Buy.com here, so that should do wonders for us.

So should a 500-room resort hotel and another 18-hole, Panks designed golf course, both slated to open in the fall of 200.

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 TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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