Tangle with the King on the traditional, target-style Palmer Course at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix
PHOENIX -- Five holes into playing the Palmer Course at Wildfire Golf Club, I turned to one of my partners and said, "Do you ever get a flat putt here?"
The answer is no.
The Palmer is one of two golf courses at Wildfire Golf Club on the grounds of the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa. Wildfire's Faldo Course is reminiscent of the Australian sandbelt courses and a beach-lover's dream -- 108 bunkers, some with lips 25 feet tall.
The Palmer, on the other hand, is a more traditional, target-style golf course. At 7,145 yards from the tips, the par-71 layout is a test for long hitters -- two of the four par 3s measure at least 205 yards -- but weekend hackers will enjoy the expansive fairways. The flash-faced bunkers can be a test, but compared to the death traps on the Faldo Course, they're manageable.
What makes the Palmer design a bit, uh, wicked, are the greens.
From afar, they don't look menacing. In fact, with an average square footage of 7,000 feet, they seem almost inviting, as if you could hit them from any spot in the fairway, with any club in your hand.
But as you get closer, the monster comes out.
Every green, it seems, features a huge ridge. It's not uncommon to have 30-, 40-, or 50-foot putts up or down a severe undulation.
The key to conquering the greens is to get and approach shot on the same plane as the pin. But that's not easy, given the size of the surfaces and ridges. Back pins, in particular, are difficult to reach; make sure you take enough club to either fly your ball to the back of the green or get there on one hop.
"It is cool when you have the same hole that can play completely different, depending on the pin location," said John Wright, director of golf at Wildfire G.C. "Hitting a mid-iron to a back pin placement on a green that's wide open is one thing, but then you can have a little shelf and make it a completely different dynamic."
If you can manage to avoid a plethora of three-putts, the Palmer Course can be had. Its wide fairways catch all but the most errant of tee shots, and five of the par-4s are less than 400 yards.
"The key is you have to keep the ball in play off the tee," Wright said. "The desert on the Palmer Course is thicker than the Faldo Course, and if you drive the ball off line sometimes you can't find it."
Wildfire's Palmer Course builds slowly but includes a fantastic finish. The last five holes are as good a closing stretch as any in the Valley. No. 14 is a 530-yard, split-fairway par 5. No. 15 plays 205 yards from the tips to a green protected by bunkers right and a wash left, No. 16 is a short par 4, on which birdie -- and double bogey -- is possible. No. 17 is a monster of a par 4 at 450 yards, with water protecting the green, and No. 18 plays at 430 yards, to a narrow, undulating green.
"The 17th is probably the best hole on the property," Wright said. "It's clearly the most challenging hole on the golf course."
Actually, any hole on the Palmer Course is challenging once you reach for the putter. That's the beauty of the golf course. And the beast.
March 25, 2011