New Arizona courses have hooks galore

By Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

The Duke at Rancho El DoradoAccording to the National Golf Foundation, 15.7 million fewer rounds were played in the United States in 2002 than in 2001. And yet, NGF also estimates that 194 new courses will open this year. The end result is an oversupply of golf courses and a revenue pie sliced a little thinner.

Who in their right mind would want to build a new golf course these days?

Welcome to the bizarre world of the golf industry. New courses today sometimes serve a different purpose than generating revenue. They are often used to sell real estate or as a resort amenity. In those cases, profitability is a secondary priority.

In other words, "If you build it, they will come" - and spend money on homes, condos, hotel rooms, spa treatments, and on and on.

And that's just fine with us - the golfing public. More courses mean lower rates and more variety. Often, a well-designed new course will open with lush conditions and a low green fee to get the hook in us. This year in Arizona, we took the bait three times and never looked back.

Canoa RanchCanoa Ranch Golf Club in Green Valley - 15 miles south of Tucson - weaves through a (as of this writing) home-free subdivision. Scottsdale architects Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley delivered a masterpiece through property with scenic views of the Santa Rita Mountains and Elephant Head. Because space was at a premium, Schmidt and Curley designed a par-70 course that plays 6,549 yards from the tips at 3,000 feet above sea level. The course plays longer because of its up-and-down mountainous terrain.

The six par-3 holes are some of the strongest, most scenic holes on the golf course. A good imagination is needed to manage this golf course. The par-5 second hole plays 546 yards from the back tees and 385 from the front has a target-golf tee shot into an island of green surrounded by rock and brush. The next shot is to a split fairway that runs length wise toward the green, with only a slight advantage on the approach for the more difficult lay-up. It's a tough challenge right off the bat.

The design is top notch, but so are the course conditions. In a move future new courses in the area will likely follow, Canoa Ranch has three kinds of grass: bent grass on the greens, Bermuda on the tee boxes and rye grass on the fairways. What does that mean? No closing for overseeding in the fall. The Rye grass won't go dormant during the desert's mild summers.

San Pedro Golf CourseThe Duke at Rancho El Dorado in Maricopa - 35 miles south of Phoenix - is an oasis in a wide-open desert. The course is the centerpiece of a 1,600-acre community where developers plan to build more than 5,500 new homes. Phoenix architect David Druzisky took a flat piece of land and used the dirt that was removed to make room for the homes to create mounds and bumps in the fairways. He used Pine Valley-like bunkers on holes 12 and 13. Like Canoa Ranch, the par-3 holes are a real strength of this course.

The green fees are half or a third of what most daily fee golf courses charge in Scottsdale. OB Sports, the property manager, said they view The Duke as an affordable complement to We-Ko-Pa, a high-end course they manage in Fountain Hills.

While those two courses are impressing future homeowners, San Pedro Golf Course in Benson - 45 miles east of Tucson - is on an all-together different piece of property. The course lies on top of a former landfill and sits next to a sewage treatment plant. The sewage plant was replaced by a modern treatment center that provides water for the bluegrass fairways. Today, this land is a respite for the sweaty summer golfers from Phoenix.

Mark Rathert designed San Pedro, which is high desert that is 10 degrees cooler than in the city. The course weaves around the San Pedro River and arroyos filled with mesquites against the Dragoon Mountains backdrop. The distance from the tips is 7,313 yards and 5,262 from the front, but the ball travels further at high elevation.

With historic Tombstone down the road from San Pedro, golf and exploring make for a good day trip. San Pedro also offers the lowest green fees for the level of golf offered.

All three courses have elements in common. Each charge less than most daily-fee courses in and around Phoenix and Tucson (but it won't stay that way for long).

Secondly, all three either have well-known or local architects. Canoa Ranch designers Schmidt and Curley are from Scottsdale, The Duke's Druzinsky is from Phoenix and Rathert is a former associate of Robert Trent Jones. And finally, all of them have a non-golf hook, like the scenery, the proximity to a historic town, the temperature ... and lest we forget, real estate lots.

New golf courses might have become a selling tool for Realtors, but you won't hear the traveling golfer complaining.

Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

Brendan McEvoy spent five years with Times Community Newspapers, a Reston, Va.-based chain of 18 weekly newspapers covering the suburbs of Washington, D.C.


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