Hitting the beach on the fairways

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX - Is it just your imagination or do you feel as if you need sandals instead of golf shoes on the fairways lately?

That could be possible in Arizona and similar desert locales where a number of courses have been built lately with 100 or more bunkers per course. And it's not just because architects are layingawake nights thinking of how to get back at the manufacturers of all those high-tech balls andclubs.

A lot of it, says Brian Curley of the Schmidt-Curley design firm in Scottsdale, has to do withthe restrictions on the acres of grass per course set by cities and states across thedrought-stricken West. "You're only allowed 90 acres of turf," he says, "so you have another 100acres to fill up. You have no choice. You put down tall grasses or bushes or you lay down sand ordecomposed granite. And people are getting tired of losing their balls in bushes every day. Atleast with a bunker you can find your ball and retrieve it."

That's part of why Schmidt-Curley is guilty of helping lay out the Faldo Course at Wildfire,part of the Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix. There are 106 of those sand suckers out there.Not only are they plentiful, they also have tall flashing faces, intimidating, but also a scenicwonder.

"There's more bark there than bite," says Kevin Stockford, director of golf at Wildfire. "Theylook bad off the tee, but if you get into one of them, you're actually hitting out of the sides ofthem. The lips don't prevail."

Actually he may be taking too positive a viewpoint. My playing partner and I landed in severalof Faldo's dungeons and escaping was a gritty experience, particularly around the greens wherethose "faces" are hard to climb. Among the most testy holes: the par-4 No. 8 and the par-5 No. 9.Lots of beach drama on No. 18 as well.

These hazards are supposed to remind you of bunkers you find at Australian sandbelt desertcourses. The story is that Lee Schmidt and Curley got together with PGA player Nick Faldo todiscuss a concept for their next golf course project, and the bunker idea clicked immediately."When we met with him, I pulled out a Golf Digest with a picture in it of Australian bunkers, andhe pulled out the exact same photograph from the magazine," Curley says.

Schmidt and Curley used the same concept at Shadow Ridge (also done with Faldo) in Palm Desert, Calif., and at a private men's-only golf club, Southern Dunes, south of Phoenix (created with FredCouples).

Another bunker extravaganza built in Arizona in the past few years is The North Course at TheGallery Golf Club in the Tucson area. This course, designed by PGA player Tom Lehman andplayer-turned architect John Fought, has 108 bunkers that are stunningly beautiful but that offerextreme sand experiences. "They really are very difficult, and they're meant to be a penal hazard,"says Fought. "But that's because we have very wide fairways and all the challenge is in thebunkers. They're meant to be like the bunkers in Scotland and Ireland."

Apparently, the depth of the Gallery bunkers has been judged to be a bit off-putting. Foughtsays that plans are for some of them to be filled slightly. "We're going to raise some of them," hesays. "They've also been a bit difficult to maintain."

Still, when I played there it seemed that members of The Gallery, destined to eventually becomea private club, were breezing past those beaches. "It's like anything else," says Fought. "If youplay a course often enough, you learn how to stay away from the hazards. You can make ithappen."

When Fought recently designed a second course at The Gallery, The South Course, he used acompletely different type of layout. This is a course he did without Lehman. "There are shallower,grass-faced bunkers there," Fought says. He cut down on the number, too; there are only 86.

Another brand-new course that makes use of 72 bunkers to add challenge to its layout is Trilogyat Vistancia on the northwest side of Phoenix. This course was designed by Scottsdale architectGary Panks, who used about one-third more bunkers than he has usually done, mostly to add morevariety.

If you're looking for a record in the Phoenix area, you'll find it at the posh and very privateDesert Mountain Club in North Scottsdale, where Jack Nicklaus just completed Outlaw, home to 126bunkers. In contrast, Nicklaus only installed about 80 bunkers on each of the five other courses hedid at Desert Mountain.

If you're planning to play one of these places, think club selection, club selection, club selection. That might be second nature for you, but you're going to be viciously penalized for sloppy play at these sandy courses. And once you land in one of these bunkers, it's easy to find yourself hitting monotonously out of one and into the next.

One final tip: Be sure to rake those traps. I'm probably going to be right behind you.

If you want to take on the sand

Wildfire Golf Club is located at 5225 E. Pathfinder, Phoenix, on the grounds of the Marriott Desert Ridge resort, about 20 miles from Sky Harbor Airport.
Phone: 800-767-3574;
Web site:http://www.arizonagolfpackages.com/courses/whirlwind.htm
Green fees: $175 now; $145 on April 5.

The Gallery is located in Dove Mountain about 10 miles north of Tucson, about an hour and a half south of Phoenix. Take Tangerine Road off I-10 to Dove Mountain Boulevard.
Phone: (520) 744-4700.
Web site: gallerygolf.com.
Green fees during the winter are $170; they drop to $100 at the end of April.

Trilogy at Vistancia is located at 12575 W. Golf Club Drive in Peoria about 35 miles north of Sky Harbor.
Phone: (623) 594-3585.
Directions are tricky: To reach Trilogy, take the 101 Loop west to the Union Hills exit. Turn right on Union Hills and right on 99th and follow it as it becomes Lake Pleasant Road. Watch for the signs leading you to Vistancia Boulevard. Green fees during the winter are $99 Monday through Thursday and $119 on weekends. Prices drop to $69 weekdays and $79 weekends at the end of April.

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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