Enjoy natural golf in the Phoenix/Scottsdale valley, minus the housing

By Scott Bordow, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- One of the best things about golf in Arizona is that you don't need your insurance agent on speed dial.

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club - hole 16
Ak-Chin Southern Dunes G.C. features great golf with no housing in sight.
Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club - hole 16Whirlwind Golf Club - Devil's Claw course - 7th teeTalking Stick G.C. - North course - holes 7 and 10
If you go

Let's face it: Playing courses that have homes on every fairway can be a bit daunting. Spray a drive off the tee and you flinch, hoping your Titleist won't break a window, infuriate the home owner and cost you several hundred dollars in repairs and a higher insurance tab.

Fortunately, there are a bevy of scenic golf courses in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area -- mostly on Indian land -- that aren't in the real estate business. The only damage a golf ball can inflict is to a cactus or tree, and at last check State Farm wasn't insuring saguaros.

Here are just a few of the courses where a man's home isn't a hassle ...

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, an Australian-links style course, is more than an hour's drive from the golf hub of north Scottsdale, but there are some advantages to being in Maricopa, surrounded only by Arizona desert.

The par-72, 7,517-yard course, which sits on 320 sprawling acres, looks and plays like a true links course. It's hard and fast and filled with bunkers; to be precise, 129 sand traps. Course designers Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley were able to use as much land as they needed because they weren't confined by any subdivisions or housing tracts.

"To build 18 holes of golf on 325 acres, typically you build on less than half that," said Southern Dunes General Manager Garrett Wallace. "And usually what drives where a golf hole is placed is where you're going to put lots. In this case, Brian Curley was able to design golf where he wanted golf to be and not have to worry about homes."

The result: A golf course that feels like 18 separate golf courses. Because Southern Dunes is spread over so much land, you can play 18 holes without ever seeing another foursome.

"We had the freedom of space to be able to do that," Wallace said. "There are very few holes on the golf course where you can miss a shot and your ball ends up on another hole."

Whirlwind Golf Club

Whirlwind Golf Club, which is located in Chandler along the I-10 freeway, consists of two courses: Devil's Claw and Cattail. The courses aren't all that similar except in one respect – there's no real estate to blunt the wind, hence the club's name.

Whirlwind's Cattail course is the more difficult of the two layouts, stretching 7,218 yards, while the Devil's Claw course checks in at a modest 7,029 from the tips. But it's not the length that poses a problem. Nor are the courses overly challenging; the fairways are wide and the greens receptive.

But beware: The wind will howl almost every day.

It's the one downfall of homeless golf.

Talking Stick Golf Club

It's not exactly correct to say there's no real estate at Talking Stick Golf Club, which houses two courses in Scottsdale, just across from the new Arizona Diamondbacks-Colorado Rockies spring training facility.

"We're out here in the middle of nowhere, it's peaceful and natural and there are no man-made objects – other than a big 15-story hotel," said Talking Stick General Manager Scott Heideman.

Yeah, the Talking Stick Resort and Casino does tend to dominate the landscape. But it's the only building in sight for golfers who play either the North Course, a links-style layout designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, or the South Course, a more traditional, tree-lined track.

Either way, golfers feel as if they've left the hustle and bustle for a scenic walk in Arizona's desert.

"There are no houses, no kids and no dogs. It really makes the golf course from a playability and visual standpoint just beautiful," Heideman said. "There's nothing to distract you."

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club

Perhaps no two courses better exemplify the pleasure of homeless golf than the Cholla course and Saguaro course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, located in north Scottsdale.

It's not just that the courses have received dozens of well deserved accolades. The Saguaro, for example, was named Arizona's No. 1 public-access course by Golfweek – it's designed for golfers who want to eschew a cart and get some exercise. And Sports Illustrated recognized Cholla as one of the world's 10 best new courses when it debuted in 2001.

It's that the beauty around We-Ko-Pa Golf Club is unparalleled. With no real estate to block views, golfers be awed by several mountain ranges, including the Four Peaks, which is often covered in snow, and the Verde River.

Longbow Golf Club

One of the perks of playing Longbow Golf Club, a par-71, 7,003-layout in east Mesa, is the view of the surrounding mountains. Golfers can see Red Mountain, the Superstitions, Usery Mountain and, on the 15th tee, even Camelback Mountain.

Put a few million-dollar homes in the sightlines, and Longbow loses some of its natural beauty.

"Aesthetically it's more attractive this way," said Longbow General Manager Jay Larscheid.

Larscheid also likes the way the course flows naturally without having to be pinched in by neighboring homes. It gives Longbow a more traditional feel, as opposed to courses built to sell real estate.

Finally, there's one advantage all these courses have over those with homes.

"For some players who are limited on ability," Larscheid said, "it gives them more of a comfort level."

Scott BordowScott Bordow, Contributor

Scott Bordow is the golf columnist for the Arizona Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @sbordow.


Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment