Scottsdale's 'most exclusive' private course to open soon

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The developers claim it could be the most exclusive private golf hideaway in the Southwest. And it could be the most expensive.

After all, The Golf Club Scottsdale has an initiation fee of $200,000. To put that in perspective, you could buy 20,000 sleeves of Pro V1s for that or 727 rounds at Scottsdale's most pricey public course or even a pretty nice condo in Scottsdale.

Golfers will finally start playing the fairways at the club next month after nearly a decade of work and planning. The project got its start about nine years ago in the bar at another exclusive private club in Scottsdale, Desert Highlands.

"A bunch of us were sitting around drinking beer and said to each other, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have our own club and not have to call ahead and ask for a tee time?' " says Mark Isakson, one of the developers of The Golf Club. "It seemed simple enough - famous last words. If I'd have known then what I know now, I probably would have done something else. Nine years is a long time to spend on a project like this."

Isakson and his partners are now showing off the club's course, designed by architects Jay Morrish and Dick Bailey (Bailey is a partner in the project). Now that play is ready to begin, marketing of memberships is starting to get a bit more serious. The permanent clubhouse, however, has not been built yet.

What makes the club call itself "exclusive"? There are only going to be 265 individual members, no families. The number is about a third or more less than most new, high-priced clubs in the Scottsdale area and guarantees that tee times will be easy to get; in fact, you can probably walk in and play at will in many cases. Each member will pay $850 a month in dues - more than $10,000 a year. Once the course opens, the investors hope to raise the initiation fee quickly to $250,000. So far, about 40 people have put down deposits of $50,000 on memberships.

One savings: Members don't have to buy a lot in a subdivision to join because there will be no houses on the course, not even mansions. And that's one of the attractions as well, golf with vistas of boulder-strewn mountains unobstructed by stucco walls, picture windows and driveways.

Also missing at this club are swimming pools with lifeguards, tennis courts and country club dinner-dances. No social memberships: This is just a place for golf.

Maybe we shouldn't say it, but this seems like a club that might also like to be a place just for men. The clubhouse floor plan shows a men's grill that's almost four times as big as the co-ed grill. And the men's locker room area is quite at least twice as large as well.

Another thing that could make The Golf Club Scottsdale very unique is that few courses, public or private, are expected to be built in Scottsdale in future. "There probably aren't going to be any more courses," Isakson claims, although a neighboring private club, Whisper Rock, hopes to put in a new course.

But generally, lack of land and water mean that building new fairways could stop cold in a place where golf is just about as important an industry as fine dining.

Isakson didn't have trouble finding a site for this new club; it was finding the water that proved tough. "We had to buy a ranch with a 100-year water supply on the west side of Phoenix along with Desert Mountain (another existing private club in the area) and then build a pipeline to bring in water out here," Isakson said. "We also had to get legislation at the state level so the water board could act on our project."

The Golf Club Scottsdale will use recycled wastewater to irrigate turf and greens. The water gurgling through the pipeline will replenish an underground aquifer in the area that has been losing water.

The site for this club is on Dynamite Road, a little bit east of one of the most highly acclaimed courses in Scottsdale, Troon North. Morrish's name is stamped on Troon North and also on the nearby Boulders and Desert Highlands clubs.

In fact, Morrish has been credited with helping invent Arizona-style target golf while designing or co-designing those courses. He says that his layout at The Golf Club Scottsdale definitely fits that label. "We're limited here to having 90 acres of turf, and if you want to have a good-sized driving range as part of that, this is definitely target golf."

"But we made the fairways a little more generous than they are at Desert Highlands and Troon," Bailey adds.

"We didn't have any bad areas where we had to change the terrain. Here every hole had something interesting on it - saguaros or big rock formations," adds Morrish. "Building a course on a piece of property like this without the restraints associated with builders' expectation for putting up houses is almost unheard of these days."

The Tonto National Forest lies nearby. And portions of the course wrap around the base of Frasfield Mountain.

Some of Morrish's favorite holes:

No. 3, a par-4 dual strategy hole. "If you take the right path, you can land in what I call a 'speed slot,' a bowl of grass that can help your ball run a lot farther," he says. "If you take the easier shot to the left, you could end up blocked in your path to the green."

No. 15 Morrish predicts will be "much discussed." This par-5 wraps itself around a hill. A tee shot has to be launched with a big desert carry well into the first landing area and then a second shot is fired across a deep ravine and wash to the second landing area. Finally, an approach shot goes uphill to the green.

"No. 18 will be a hole everyone will remember," he also says. "It's a par-4 and a half. There's no easy way to play it." Once again, he has created two landing areas separated by a wash. The second looks something like a triple dogleg, left, right and then left again to the green.

There are five sets of tees, 7,310 from the back and 5,255 from the forward. "We did our best to utilize the site," Morrish says, "recognizing that a high percentage of members will be very good players."

Despite the price, Isakson also expects a lot of members to make this their second-buy club. They'll be golfers who already live on the high-end courses located within a 15-minute range of the Golf Club Scottsdale.

One of the big selling points will be a state-of-the-art double-ended practice range and short game areas with swaths of grass molded to resemble some of the fairways and greens on the course. The practice putting range totals 12,000 square feet.

All that plus a clubhouse resembling a Spanish hacienda to be built out of bricks that will be "weathered" on site before they're laid.

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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