Ten scenic (public) wonders of the world of golf in Arizona
PHOENIX, Ariz. - When it comes to picking courses with super-scenery in Arizona, it's tough limiting the list to 10 without omitting tons of memorable Kodak moments.
We started by dropping the private places you can't play. No sense in getting frustrated while looking through the locked gates. We also knocked off some courses that started out as spectacular landscapes when first built but whose beauty faded as condos rose a mere 7-iron away from the greens.
Not to mention any names.
Be warned: The best scenery also seems to surround target-style tracts with lots of arroyos, rugged washes and boulders. All of that can make for a frustrating round and more lost balls amid the picture postcard settings. So here are 10 daily-fee clubs or courses, where you might do better with your camera than your driver.
We-Ko-Pa - Although there is no real order to this list, we'll start with one of the newest and best. We-Ko-Pa was opened in 2001 by the Yavapai tribe on the Fort McDowell reservation, a few miles from downtown Fountain Hills and fairly close to Scottsdale. On this course on the fringes of suburbia, you're looking at endless mountains: the Four Peaks (We-Ko-Pa is Yavapai for Four Peaks), the McDowell Mountains, Red Mountain and the Superstitions. The fairways here frame the desert instead of intruding on it.
"We started with a great site," says the course's architect Scott Miller. "It's golf in North Scottsdale, the way it used to be, before all the building began. But here, there are no other land uses nearby. No houses or resorts. It's an open canvas; you're open to the beauty of the surroundings." As on many other Native American courses, tribal leaders have pledged to keep the vistas open.
Web site: www.arizonagolfpackages.com/courses/wekopa.htm
Arizona National - This Tucson course is the home course of the University of Arizona Wildcats, but anyone can play and should because of its spectacular Sabino Canyon scenery. Environmentalists put up a big battle in the mid-90s before this Robert Trent Jones Jr. course was built in this incredible area. The high desert really shows its colors here with cacti painted in shades of purple, pink and mauve that are hard to believe. On tee No. 4, you see Tucson spread out below you and allegedly can see all the way to Mexico.
Web site: arizonanationalgolfclub.com
The Golf Club at Eagle Mountain - Scott Miller who worked magic at We-Ko-Pa also designed this course in Fountain Hills as well. Part of the reason for the great scenery here is the elevation, 1,900 feet, with views of the tops of the McDowell Mountains and of areas far below. One of the visually most interesting holes at Eagle Mountain, built in 1996, is the par-4 No. 14 called "the Chasm." It requires a desert carry off the tee and then another gripping shot from the fairway over a canyon full of brittlebush, sage, mesquite and cactus, to the elevated green. "On the 18th hole, you can see Red Mountain and the Superstitions 60 miles away," says Jay Pennypacker of Platinum Golf which manages Eagle Mountain.
Sunridge Canyon - Right down the road from Eagle Mountain is Sunridge Canyon, also with lots of elevation changes and nestled among a set of canyons at the top of Fountain Hills. This course was designed by architect Keith Foster who told us one of things he liked best about the course was the way it leaves the clubhouse and keeps on going into the mesquites and arroyos. You don't see the clubhouse again until get to the end of your round. The last six holes here, known as the "wicked six," are among the most demanding in Arizona, according to many golf lovers.
Web site: www.arizonagolfpackages.com/courses/sunridge.htm
The Dinosaur Course at Gold Canyon - Part of the reason why Gold Canyon is so stunning is that it lies on the eastern fringes of the Phoenix metro area where building has been fairly limited to date. This place started out as a dude ranch and moved on to golf. At least nine tee boxes have great views here of three separate amazing canyons. Unbelievable vistas start on the second tee when you catch your first real view of Battleship Rock, one of the most imposing mountains in the Phoenix area. Greg Nash designed the first nine on the Dinosaur Course; then architect Ken Kavanaugh renovated it and added another nine. Instead of upstaging the amazing views with tricks on the fairways, Kavanaugh plays a supporting role to the layout's natural drama.
Web site: www.arizonagolfpackages.com/courses/goldcanyon.htm
Las Sendas - The site of Las Sendas used to be a ranch belonging to Tom Mix, the cowboy screen star way back in the 1930s and '40s. Now it's one of Arizona's toughest courses, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in the 1990s.
It's located in Mesa, not a town widely praised for its scenery, but this course is in one of the most stunning spots in the area with eye-opening holes that back up to Spirit Mountain and Red Mountain. "It is a nature walk in the desert," the club's publicity claims, and that sums it up about right.
Web site: www.azteetimes.com/courses/lassendas.htm
Sedona Golf Resort - Scottsdale architect Gary Panks created a superlative golf course here amid what some people think is one of the most beautiful places on earth - the Red Rocks of Sedona. Because of the flame-colored boulders and cliffs, this was the backdrop for many a Western movie in the 1940s. The signature hole is No. 10, a par-3, with an elevated tee box that gives you a jaw-dropping look at rust-colored Cathedral Rock.
Tonto Verde in Rio Verde - There are two great courses here - the Peaks and the Ranch. The Ranch by Panks alone and the Peaks by Panks with David Graham. They're fun to play, but the focus of any day spent on the courses is generally the surrounding mountainscapes of the Tonto Verde National Forest, faraway from the world of shopping centers, movie theaters and parking lots. Tonto Verde is what you always thought Arizona would be like before you actually saw it. What's unique about Tonto Verde as well is that it's eventually going private but still allows public tee times. So rush out to get a glimpse before they shut you out.
Web site: www.arizonagolfpackages.com/courses/tontoverde.htm
Ventana Canyon - Here you'll find the Mountain and the Canyon courses, both designed by Tom Fazio, in a wild setting in the Santa Catalina Mountains. One of the most stunning holes among the 36 is No. 3 on the Mountain Course, the par-3 signature hole nicknamed "Hole in the Wall" by Fazio. On the tee box and on the green, you're perched amid rugged rock formations. Groves of saguaro, prickly pear and ocotillo surround you on many of these holes.
Web site: www.loewsventanacanyon.com.
Apache Stronghold - This course, with a layout by minimalist designer Tom Doak, is located in far eastern Arizona on the San Carlos Apache lands near the little town of Globe. All around are the rugged peaks and stony flanks of the Chiricahua, Aravaipa, Superstition and White Mountains. Ragged brush and mesquite and wild arroyos fill the scene, not condos or houses. The Apaches swear they will leave the surrounding land free of development - except for their casino and hotel, of course. There have been some problems with the turf here in the past, but they seem to have been resolved.
Phone: (928) 475-GOLF or (800) 272-2438 (800-APACHE8).
Web site: apachestronghold.com.
As we said at the start, we could go on and on. A few honorable mentions as well: The Boulders Resort in Carefree, with two courses by Jay Morrish. Estrella Mountain Ranch in Goodyear, in the West Valley, done by Jack Nicklaus II.
Troon North in North Scottsdale, the masterpiece created by Jay and Tom Weiskopf.
The Golf Club at Vistoso in Tucson, done by Weiskopf. Rancho Manana in Cave Creek north of Scottsdale, done by Bill Johnston.
November 16, 2003