Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Phoenix: The complete package
PHOENIX, Ariz. - At the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, the largest luxury hotel in Arizona, there are a plethora of vacation activities, 36 holes at Wildfire Golf Club, and Sonoran Desert views of Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak and the McDowell Mountains.
But there's a view on the Faldo course at Wildfire G.C. that puts fear in the hearts of many a novice golfer. That's when you enter a towering, deep-faced bunker, some as tall as 25 feet, you might plant your feet and not even see the top of the flag stick.
"It's kind of a love-hate relationship golfers have," said John Wright, Director of Golf at Wildfire Golf Club. "They love the look of the 108 bunkers on the Faldo course, but the first time you play the course it might beat you up. Play it numerous times and you learn where to hit and it gets easier."
"We wanted to create a layout that was unlike anything else in the Phoenix region and I think anyone who plays here will agree that we did," said Nick Faldo, whose design team included Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley of Phoenix.
"The course features more than a hundred bunkers, very few water hazards, and our design theme produced a course that looks and plays reminiscent of Australia's sand-belt courses," Faldo continued. "The surrounding scenery, however, is classic Arizona, with its ancient cacti and stunning mountain backdrop."
Wildfire Golf Club's contrasting courses
Wildfire Golf Club opened in 1986 with its Arnold Palmer signature design before the hotel was even built. At 7,145 yards from the back tees at par 72 and a slope rating of 135, the Palmer course has expansive fairways, flashed bunkers and undulating greens.
"The Palmer course is more like a true desert-styled target course, just what many who come to Arizona are looking for," said Wright.
The Faldo course at Wildfire opened in 2002 within a month of the hotel's grand opening. It sits on 174 acres, measures 6,846 at par 71, and offers a slight variation from the typical desert-theme courses. It features generous fairways, large bent grass greens and those deep, menacing bunkers.
Wildfire Golf Club's best holes
The 14th on the Palmer course at Wildfire Golf Club is a looker. This par 5 is 530 yards with the tee shot somewhat blind to split fairways. The desert divides the middle and your layup must be precise to have the correct angle to a long, narrow green.
No. 17 is probably the toughest with 450 yards from the back demanding a solid drive. The green is guarded on the right by water, so a accurate middle iron is needed to a two-tiered green. "It's one of those holes you appreciate a par," Wright said.
"On the Faldo course, I really like No. 16," Wright said. "It is one of those drivable par 4s, 314 yards, and if you hit a great tee shot you can get close. But if you leak it there's a desert wash and six deep-faced bunkers that encircles the green. You can make eagle, birdie or double bogey."
Another Faldo hole Wright likes is the second - a 408-yarder. "It has medium length, but a split fairway makes you decide. There's a row of steep bunkers right down the middle, so the tee shot can go up the high left side or lower fairway to right," he said. "If you drive it in one of the fairways you have a short to medium iron to big challenging green that is well guarded by bunkers."
Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa: The verdict
After playing the Palmer and Faldo courses, you will remember the sheer number of bunkers you had to negotiate on the Faldo. But a lot of people like that challenge. I know I do. The Palmer greens are much larger and some of the greens on the Faldo side are tiny, making your approach difficult unless you are zeroed in and pinpointed on the day you play.
I've played all the celebrated golf courses in the Phoenix area - Troon North, Grayhawk Golf Club, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, The Boulders Golf Club, Talking Stick Golf Club, Kierland Golf Club, Wigwam Golf Club, and many others - but this experience might have been the most friendly and welcoming I've had. And the hotel and its amenities are the best I've seen in Phoenix, with no hint of an uppity atmosphere.
This is the complete package. When I drove out the gates it was with regret.
Lodging at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa
With Phoenix's great freeway system JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa (www.jwdesertridgeresort.com) is very convenient - just 20 minutes from Sky Harbor International Airport and just a couple of minutes from Loop 101 Freeway next door to Scottsdale.
While the GPS golf carts help you navigate the course, Wildfire Golf Club offers single and multi-day lessons on its state-of-the-art practice grounds, including driving range, putting and chipping greens and green-side practice bunker.
The 950 guestrooms, including 81 suites, are the best in town - but there's more. Dine at Meritage Steakhouse next to the award-winning golf shop, or the Blue Sage, Ristorante Tuscany or Roy's.
There's 240,000-square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, the 28,000-square foot Revive Spa, eight tennis courts and four acres of landscaped pools including the Lazy River with serpentine slide.
March 2, 2010