Gary Panks talks about the outlook for new golf courses in Arizona

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - Over the past few years, Scottsdale architect Gary Panks has been responsible for laying out some of the most popular courses in Arizona.

Recently, the Sonoran Scene, a magazine published by Resort Suites of Scottsdale, listed the names of 18 courses most requested by guests at the resort. Six of these tracks were designed by Panks, either by himself or with his former partner, professional golfer David Graham. These highly rated courses are: the Talon course at Grayhawk in Scottsdale; the Tonto Verde Golf Club in Rio Verde (where Panks did the Peaks and Ranch courses); the Raven at South Mountain in Phoenix; the Legacy Golf Club in Phoenix; the Sedona Golf Resort; and the Devil's Claw course at Whirlwind Golf Club on the Gila River Reservation south of Phoenix.

Part of Panks' talent for creating very playable but challenging courses may relate to his own background as a player. At Michigan State University where he earned a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture, he was also captain of the golf team; he holds 18 amateur titles. He went into private practice as a landscape architect in 1971.

We sat down with Panks recently to talk about his work and the future of golf in Arizona. Here is what he had to say:

Question: Since 1990, we have seen a huge explosion in the building of new courses in the Phoenix area. Is that going to continue or will the economy begin to take its toll on the golf industry?

Gary Panks: It looks as if the number of new courses will taper off. We've had some peak years the last 10 years with the building of eight to 12 courses a year in this area. But it has slacked off a little bit. We're probably going to drop to half that number now per year. The economy has had an effect on this as much as anything else. I wouldn't say we're overbuilt with respect to courses. Almost every large size housing development is planning a golf course now. We're seeing a number of larger projects that are putting in multiple courses.

Question: Where are some of these large projects going to be?

Gary Panks: Out in Anthem (the Del Webb housing development north of Phoenix), they're building their second course. But there are some projects that are planning four or more courses. We're working right now with the builders of Pleasant Point in Peoria (on the northwest side of Phoenix) where they're going to have four courses. In Buckeye (west of Phoenix), there's an 8,000-acre project - Verrado - where they're going to build four courses. One is underway right now. Lyle Anderson (developer of Superstition Mountains and Desert Highlands) is also planning a project with 10 courses in Buckeye. So the southeast valley and far west and Peoria in the northwest are going to be big players.

Question: Many golfers complain though that a lot of these new courses are going to end up being private clubs where the public can't play. Is that the trend in Arizona - more private and less public?

Gary Panks: No, I think the majority of these courses will be resort or daily-fee operations. We did Seville Golf and Country Club (part of a Shea Homes development in Gilbert south of Phoenix), which is public now, but which will eventually become private. But it's one of the best bargains going right now in terms of membership (initiation fees will be $17,500 for homeowners and $19,500 for non-owners). It's a high quality project and extremely well maintained. They didn't skimp on the amenities. The clubhouse and community center will be top notch.

Question: On your website, you discuss the need for balancing difficulty with fairness on courses. In fact, you're quoted as saying: "Let's design more courses with reasonably sloped putting surfaces, broad enough fairway landing areas and hazards that give us half a chance of escaping." Could you talk about that a little bit?

Gary Panks: Well, take Seville for an example. We knew we wanted a course that would be fair to all levels of players. They needed something enjoyable for everyone. So we made the fairways broad and the greens accessible. But that particular course could set things up for a tournament by moving back the tees and speeding up the greens.

I played at Augusta National a while ago. Of course, I haven't played since they made all the changes there. But when you play there from the membership tees, with the normal speed of greens, it's a wonderful golfing experience.

Question: Has anyone ever asked you to design a difficult course?

Gary Panks: I guess I'd have to say that about Chaparral Pines in Payson (a private course that opened in 1997). They were asking for a more challenging course, and it's probably the most challenging course we've done. When you do that, more often than not, the course should be private and generally the membership will develop with a higher skill level. But of course, when you're a member and you play frequently, you learn how to play a course.

Question: Could you name your three favorite courses among all those that you've designed?

Gary Panks: I guess I'd have to start with Chaparral Pines. It is by far the most beautiful and most challenging course I've done. It has great views and a wonderful setting. Then there are the 36 holes we did at Grandover Resort in Greensboro, NC.

And then there is an 18-hole course we did in Queensland, Australia - Laguna Quays. It's right on Repulse Bay, which has some of the clearest, bluest, best scuba diving and snorkeling water in the world. Repulse Bay got its name from Captain Cook. He tried to land there and was "repulsed."

Question: Without naming any names or courses, what are the biggest mistakes that you see being made by other golf course designers today?

Gary Panks: I see a lot of courses that are just plain overcooked; they have too many bunkers. If those designers had eliminated some of those bunkers, the courses would be more affordable and more playable for the average golfer. The courses would be easier to maintain, and they'd be more eye-appealing. Some places actually have as many as 100 bunkers. Another problem is that some courses are not graded properly so that they tie in with their surroundings and they're not landscaped so that they tie in with their surroundings.

Then again, there are always exceptions. For example, at the Raven at South Mountain, we designed a palette of plants that would be compatible with the location, just as we did at the Legacy Resort nearby. But when the owner started looking around, he noticed that in south Phoenix there were a lot of farms where they grow pine trees for Christmas. He happened to own a ranch in Bozeman, Montana. So he said he wanted to create a pine forest in south Phoenix, something that would be totally unique. So we planted 6,000 pine trees. We still used a lot of other plant materials for the shrubs that fit in with the location.

Question: What about the concept of signature holes - an idea that has become wildly popular in Arizona and elsewhere? How did that idea get started?

Gary Panks: I guess it got started because architects made an effort to create a postcard hole. Developers called it a "signature hole." But any architect worth his salt should be willing to sign all 18 holes. The signature hole is usually a par 3, and we always make an effort on all our par 3s to make them unique. Often they have water or flowering plants - things you wouldn't see on another hole. But a long par 4 with flowing contours and no bunkers can also be extremely aesthetic.

Question: What projects are you working on now?

Gary Panks: We have three under construction. One is a second course at Whirlwind, named Cat's Tail. There is a Sheraton due to open there as well that's a 500-room hotel. Cat's Tail will be a little different from Devil's Claw at Whirlwind. It's going to be a more difficult venue - a little longer and a little more challenging. There won't be as much elevation change; it will be on the desert floor, but there will be more water.

We're also doing a course at La Quinta in the Palm Springs - Trilogy at Coral Mountain. It's part of a Shea Homes active adult community and will open in November. And we're doing a joint venture with Quadrant and Shea Homes in Redmond, WA, building Trilogy at Redmond Ridge. It will open in 2003.

All About Gary Panks

If you're interested in playing some courses designed by Gary Panks, here are some possibilities in Arizona and elsewhere:

Devil's Claw at Whirlwind Golf Club is located at 5692 W. N. Loop Road, Chandler, AZ 85226. The club is about a mile west of I-10 off Maricopa Road (exit 162). Tee times: 800-767-3574. Yardage: 7,017, 6,465, 6,020, 5,523. Slope/ratings: 131/72.8; 126/70.2; 121/70.2; 121/71.4.

The Legacy Golf Club is located at 6808 S. 32nd St., just north of Baseline Road in the south part of Phoenix, AZ. Tee times: 800-767-3574. Web site: Yardage: 6,802; 6,359; 5,958; 5,471. Slope/ratings: 125/71.8; 120/69.3; 116/67.4; 117/70.4.

The Raven Golf Club at South Mountain is located at 3636 E. Baseline Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040. Take exit 155 off I-10 south. Tee times: 800-767-3574. Yardage: 7,078; 6,722; 6,264; 5,759. Slope/ratings: 133/73.9; 130/71.5; 124/68.8; 124/72.9.

The Sedona Golf Resort is located at 35 Ridge Trail Drive, Sedona, AZ 86351, about 90 miles north of Phoenix. Take highway 179 north to the Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon exit and travel 7 miles north to the resort. Tee times: 928-284-9355 or 877-733-9885. Web site: Yardage: 6,646; 6,126; 5,637; 5,030. Slope/ratings: 129/70.3; 121/67.80; 112/65.60; 114/67.00.

The Talon course at Grayhawk Golf Club is located at 8620 E. Thompson Peak Parkway, between Scottsdale Road and Pima Road in Scottsdale, AZ 85255. Phone: 800-767-3574. courses/grayhawk.htm. Yardage: 6,973, 6,391, 5,867, 5,143. Slope/ratings: 143/73.6; 133/70.6; 120/68.0; 121/70.0.

Tonto Verde Golf Club is located at 18402 E. Circulo Drive in Rio Verde, AZ 85263. The club is just off Forest Road. Phone: 800-767-3574. Peaks course yardage: 6,744; 6,345; 5952; 5,376; 4,791. Peaks course slope/ratings: 133/71.8; 126/69.9; 122/67.5; 127/70.6; 113/67.8. Ranch course yardage: 6,988; 6,631; 5,788; 5,287. Ranch course slope/ratings:133/73.1; 130/71.2; 127/72.2; 120/70.1.

Seville Golf and Country Club is located at 6683 S. Clubhouse Drive, Gilbert, AZ 85297. Tee times: 480-722-7041; Web site: Yardage: 7,015, 6,510, 6,130, 5,765, 5,350. Slope/ratings: 126/72.3; 125/71.9; 120/70.1; 115/68.1; 117/70.2.

Grandover Resort is located at 1000 Club Road, Greensboro, NC 27407 (near the intersection of Grandover Parkway and Groometown Road). Tee times: 336-294-1800. Web site: East course yardage: 7,100, 6,600, 6,000, 5,500. East course slope/ratings: 140/74.30; 132/71.90; 128/68.90; 132/71.90. West course yardage: 6,800; 6,300; 5,700; 5,050. West course slope/ratings: 136/72.50; 125/70.00; 116/69.20; 118/67.30.

Laguna Quays Resort is located on Kunapipi Springs Road, Whitsundays, Queensland 4800, Australia. Phone: 61-7-4947-7777. Web site: The Panks designed Turtle Point course is a par-72 course, 6,366 meters long.

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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