Tourists return big time in Phoenix

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX - All signs are that tourism - and golf, too - had a booming winterseason in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area.

In January alone, the occupancy rate was 69.3 percent in hotels and motels - even higher thanthe 67.5 percent enjoyed in 1999 at the height of the dotcom boom, according to Smith TravelResearch.

"Business has gone pretty well," said Ben Keilholtz, marketing director for Intrawest whichmanages several golf courses in the Valley of the Sun. "We're certainly doing better than lastyear..

During the height of the high season, the new Intrawest course in Buckeye - the Raven at Verrado- has been pulling in 100 rounds a day, and an older Intrawest course, Trilogy at Power Ranch, hasdrawn 200 players a day.

Despite the demand, Keilholtz contends prices have not gone up.

Jim Goodman, regional director of sales and marketing for Troon Golf, said that courses in the Southwest were "very busy and the number of rounds are up over last year..

As for specific clubs, "TroonNorth (in Scottsdale) continues to do very, very well," Goodman said. Other Troon golf clubs in Arizona, like Ocotillo and Whirlwind, were also selling well.

Anthem opens Ironwood

AnthemCountry Club, part of the giant Anthem housing development on I-17 about 30 miles north of the Phoenix city limits, has opened its second golf course, The Ironwood. The course is only being played by members right now, but should open for public play soon.

Both The Ironwood and The Persimmon, which opened in 1999, were designed by Greg Nash, who hasdone a number of courses for Del Webb, the original developer of Anthem. According to the club, the two courses have some similarities: large undulating greens, dramatic elevation changes, valley and mountain views and deep canyon washes. But Ironwood is oriented toward Daisy Mountain while The Persimmon overlooks the Valley of the Sun. Water is in play on seven of The Ironwood's holes,compared to two on The Persimmon, where the desert is more of a factor.

Eventually, these courses will be strictly private, but limited public play is allowed now atThe Persimmon and soon at Ironwood after 10 a.m. weekdays and noon on weekends. Green fees at ThePersimmon (which Golf Digest has rated as the 14th best course in Arizona) have been running about$150 a round during the high season. For tee times at Persimmon, call (623) 742-6210; at Ironwood(once it opens to the public), call (623) 551-2296.

Speaking of public courses that have gone private, time has run out for public play at the GaryPanks' designed course at the Seville Golf & Country Club in Gilbert. According to BenKeilholtz of Intrawest which manages the club, the course has enough members now to allow it to gocompletely private. But the brand-new 30,000 square-foot clubhouse at the course features afour-star restaurant, Bolero's, which is open to the public.

The spirit of Billy Bell revived

One of the oldest courses in Phoenix - the Adobe Course at the historic Arizona Biltmore Hotel - is in the process of getting a facelift. The course, built in 1928 and designed by Billy Bell,is being reconfigured in order to allow for the building of luxury townhomes and condos along someof the fairways.

Kabuto Corp., which owns the course, has hired architect Forrest Richardson of the Phoenix areato make the changes.

There's always a bit of controversy about renovations of historic courses, but Richardson has promised to restore the look and feel of the original layout and contribute to the legacy of architect Bell.

Some minor adjustments have already been made, but the course will close June 1 for the big stuff: flipping the first and 18th holes, building a new par-3 No. 16 and a new No. 17, which will be a risk-reward short par-4. The changes could take until well in September.

To tell the truth, I have played the Adobe and found it dull and drab, particularly compared tothe modern desert-target style that fits the Phoenix area so well. Out on the Adobe's fairways, you could very well have been in Chicago or Florida, except for an occasional glimpse of Camelback Mountain.

No one wants to rip up the past, of course, and turn the Adobe into Grayhawk. But clearly this course is retro-retro,built at a time when the goal was to make every golf course everywhere in the United States lookpretty much the same.

High season tee times at the Biltmore were $165 a round; they will start dropping this month.Call (602) 955-9655.

Wie a smash hit for the LPGA

The Safeway International LPGA event at Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club last monthwas a roaring success.

More than 90,000 fans came out for the event, compared with about 75,000 last year when the tournament was held at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix. That might not sound like much,compared with the 500,000 and more that turn out for the PGA's FBR Open at the TPCScottsdale. But the attendance was up so much at the LPGA that charitable contributions will double to $200,000 from the proceeds.

One of the big attractions was 14-year-old Michelle Wie, of course. But Annika Sorenstam, thewinner, had huge galleries, too.

Because of the unexpected crowds, the hot dog and beer booths had impossible lines. But the event's new title sponsor, Safeway, had a huge tent where food manufacturers gave away thousands and thousands of dollars of free goodies to the fans: hot dogs, potato and pasta salads, cups of soup, chips and salsa, barbecued chicken, ice cream bars and cans of soft drinks. There was also a free wine and beer tasting booth.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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  • Any other opinions...

    Golf4 wrote on: Jul 6, 2004

    about this course?