Talking Rock: A ranch of your own?

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX, AZ -- This fall marked the opening of yet another superb Jay Morrish - designed golf course in Arizona -- this time at Talking Rock Ranch, a new real estate development near Prescott.

This Arizona high-country, par-72 course (7,350 yards from the back tees, 5,105 yards from the forward) is supposed to be a members-only country club course. But this is not going to be the laid-back, lazy kind of place where members get to know the ins and outs and ups and downs of every fairway and green after playing the course a dozen times. No this is a course that will stump golfers again and again as they learn its ins and outs. Particularly challenging is Morrish's layout of deep bunkers.

"The words championship course have been said a number of times about our layout," says Jim Leisenring, head golf pro for Talking Rock. "We have length here; we need that because of the altitude. But it's playable for a lot of people because we don't have a lot of 100-yard forced carries over water or desert."

Talking Rock is part of a boom in Northern Arizona golf that's producing new courses designed by some of the biggest names in the golf-architecture business. Jay Morrish, of course, is an icon in the industry - a man who pioneered in developing the concept of desert-target golf at private clubs like Desert Highlands and Desert Mountain in North Scottsdale.

The new Morrish course, Talking Rock Ranch, opened in September 2002, is part of a planned 3,500-acre, 1,500-home development set on a site about 14 miles north of the town of Prescott and about 120 miles from Phoenix. It's an area known as Williamson Valley. As visitors to Northern Arizona know, much of Prescott is becoming heavily commercialized. But out in this valley, there is still a wide-open rural feeling. Homes will be built along the course, however, according to sales representatives.

The front nine is the more level section of the course. It wanders around for what seems like miles through the scrub pine forest with fabulous views of local peaks like Granite Mountain. The back nine is where the elevation gets higher, and the terrain grows more rugged. The mountain views are more spectacular as well.

Club memberships are tied to buying homes or home sites; the custom lots, which can be up to 1.75 acre in size, range in price from the low $100,000s to the high $200,000s. Only 80 have been sold so far. But there will also be a development of patio homes or golf cottages, ranging in size from 1,800 to 2,000 square feet and starting in the low $400,000s, said Sherry Trapp of the sales office.

All property owners get a limited golf and social membership in the club when they buy. A membership including unlimited golf Monday through Thursdays is $17,400; A full membership costs $35,000. It may sound a bit expensive, but not compared to the rates at new clubs in North Scottsdale where unlimited golf runs from $100,000 to $225,000, depending on the club, and where property ownership is also required. They're expecting to have 450 full membershps at Talking Rock; so far they have sold about 80. For more information, call 877-922-4440. To get to the development drive about 12 miles north of Prescott on Williamson Valley Road. The Talking Rock gate will be on the righthand side.

It's 'Go Wildcats' now at Arizona National

Last summer Intrawest Golf Corp. of Scottsdale sold the Raven Golf Club at Sabino Springs in Tucson to I.R.I. Golf Group of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. Now the Raven has a new name, Arizona National Golf Club, to tie in with the fact that the course serves as the home base for the University of Arizona Wildcat golf teams.

The school always had a presence at the club before, said Eric Hoffman, Arizona National's general manager, but now the atmosphere is definitely colored red, white and blue - the school colors. "They always had their home tournaments here," he said, "but now we see them here everyday working out on the new practice facility."

Hoffman said that the course took its inspiration for the multi-million-dollar renovation from the Washington National Golf Club near Seattle, the purple-and-white facility where the Huskies train and play golf. "There's a U of A logo and a flag out front," Hoffman said about Arizona National. "The golf carts have been painted bright red and blue, the scorecards are red and blue. Even the pin flags on the green are red, white and blue."

Twenty percent of every golf membership sold goes to a scholarship foundation at the University of Arizona. And on Nov. 17, the course will dedicate a new Arizona Golf Wall of Fame to honor such Wildcat standouts as Jim Furyk and Annika Sorenstam.

The clubhouse has been repainted; its patio has been expanded and a new enclosed pavilion was built so that larger tournaments can hold dinners and awards banquets.

The 6,776-yard, desert-style golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, has always been acclaimed as a great place to play, and it will pretty much going to stay the same. But the bunkers have been renovated, Hoffman said.

The university formed a partnership with I.R.I. at the time of the sale. "This is a great day for Wildcat golf," said Arizona director of athletics Jim Livengood when the changes were announced last summer. "The ability to call this beautiful facility home will benefit our golf programs for years to come."

Arizona National is located at 9777 E. Sabino Greens Drive, Tucson 85749. Phone: 800-767-3574.

Greens get a bit greener at Troon North

Troon North Golf Club in North Scottsdale spent the summer, starting June 15 and going until late October, restoring the size of the greens on its Monument Course to original specifications. The improvements were done nine holes at a time at the club, which also operates another course, the Pinnacle.

According to head golf pro Mark Richeson, the greens, as they do at most courses, "tend to get smaller and smaller over the years."

So with the help of designer Tom Weiskopf, who laid out the course 12 years ago with Jay Morrish, the greens at the Monument were enlarged to original size. On hole No. 14, a long narrow green "was also widened a foot all the way around," Richeson said. The additional grass will allow for new pin placements behind an intimidating front greenside bunker.

The type of bentgrass used was changed to a new and better variety, called pennlinks.

All of which goes to prove that at Troon, well known for its precision maintenance, no blade of grass goes unwatched and untended. There are no immediate plans for changes at the Pinnacle Course.

Troon North, one of the most expensive courses in Scottsdale (green fees are $275 in high season), is located at 10320 Dynamite Blvd., Scottsdale. Phone number: 800-767-3574.

On with the Phoenix Open

The Phoenix Open, to be held Jan. 23-26 at the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale, has found a presenting sponsor, Xerox Corp., which will put up about $2 million in the one-year deal.

Xerox had sponsored by Open for the past three years paying more than $3 million a year to participate, but had previously declined to sign a multi-year deal.

The Phoenix Thunderbirds, a charitable group that puts on the tournament, had struggled in vain for months to find a sponsor who would commit to four years at $6 million a year. But the new deal does allow the Open to add other presenting sponsors or to cancel.

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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