Talking golf on Phoenix radio

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Should Phil Mickelson have taken on Tiger Woods' equipment and what the heck is happening to Phil Mickelson's golf career anyway? And is Annika Sorenstam moving over to the PGA because she's just plain bored with how easy it is to win in the LPGA?

Those are the kinds of questions that get analyzed on "Bunker to Bunker," a Phoenix area golf show on the radio on Saturday mornings.

It's not surprising that Phoenix - one of the golf meccas of America - would have a golf talk show on the radio. But it probably is surprising that the show has been able to last for 10 years.

"We usually recap the major tours of the week, have occasional special guests and talk about controversies in golf," said Greg Ellis, a longtime golf pro in the Valley of the Sun, who is one of the hosts of the show Saturday mornings from 7 to 9 on ESPN Radio 860 KMVP. "We don't take many calls from listeners except for a golf trivia contest that we run every week."

Ellis is now the director of golf at Sundance Golf Club, a new course that opened in Buckeye, about 35 miles west of the Phoenix city limits; he's the former head golf pro at the TPC Scottsdale. His co-hosts are D.J. Flanders, the director of golf at Kierland Golf Club in Scottsdale, and Tiffany Nelson, in charge of golf sales for the brand-new Westin Kierland Resort.

The show actually was launched 10 years ago by a local golf lover and radio broadcaster who is now deceased. Ellis joined the show two years ago. The show has been doing so well that it went from 90 minutes to two hours last fall. The broadcasting team also does live golf specials at big events like the Phoenix Open and LPGA Ping tournament held in Phoenix.

Big discounts on green fees slip away

At first glance, it seems as if the big bargains on green fees in the Phoenix area from last year have all but disappeared this year with a lot of big-name clubs like Troon North and Grayhawk in North Scottsdale holding tightly to their rack rate. We're talking $275 for a weekend round at Troon and $225 any day at Grayhawk, for example.

We asked Greg Ellis of "Bunker to Bunker" what he thought about the price situation, and he agreed: "I think the high-end courses decided to hold the line on prices this year. It's not that they raised prices; they just re-stabilized."

One option for budget-conscious golfers, he said, is to call golf courses and see if they have any same-day special rates.

Ellis' course in Buckeye, for example, has green fees of $35-$45. "There's a strong niche in Phoenix for golfers who want to play at that price level," Ellis said. "We established our rates so low to start with that we don't need to give special bargains." If you're interested in giving Sundance a try, call (623) 328-0400.

But there are other possibilities as well: Whirlwind Golf Club on the Gila River Indian Community, about 11 miles south of Sky Harbor Airport will give you a 40 percent discount on a second round of golf if you book two rounds within seven days of each other. The regular green fee, by the way, has been $130. This special is in effect from March 1 through April 6. Call 800-767-3574 for more information.

Even Grayhawk has a special Web site - that offers 3-day-in-advance tee times at substantial savings. During February they were: $95 Monday through Thursday and $125 Friday through Sunday. For more information about what's going on right now, call 800-767-3574.

At Wildfire in North Phoenix, green fees are $155 Monday through Thursday and $175 Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The only hint of a discount is a coupon that runs on the course's Web site that offers a round for $99 Monday through Thursday to golfers with an Arizona driver's license.

New name for the Thunderbirds Golf Club

The Thunderbirds Golf Club has had a name change since new owners took over the course on Feb. 1. It's now called the Vistal Golf Club. "Vistal," according to staff at the club, is a loose translation of a Spanish phrase that means "view of the village." And that name was chosen because the club has a great view of the downtown skyline of Phoenix - provided that smog doesn't get in the way.

The club in South Phoenix was previously owned by the non-profit Thunderbirds group, the organization that puts on the Phoenix Open each year. The club ran into financial problems soon after it opened about a year ago, and Bank One foreclosed on the property. The course was then auctioned off in January to three wealthy Phoenix area businessmen.

On the face of things, it's probably a good move to change the name and get rid of the link with the Thunderbirds completely, particularly since there was another crisis at the club last summer when more than 80 people became ill after allegedly drinking tainted water at the course. However, an earlier resort and golf course on the site had used the "Thunderbird" name for decades before the Thunderbirds came along. So the name has a lot of history in south Phoenix.

At any rate, the practically brand-new club remains open and has green fees of $79 during the week and $99 on Friday through Sunday. Staff said callers might also be able to get same-day tee times at a slightly lower rate on slower days. Call (602) 305-7755 for information.

Reopening of Longbow postponed

Reopening of the popular Longbow Golf Club in Mesa has been postponed again while the golf course is being renovated and an industrial and business park is built on adjoining property.

The course, which was supposed to reopen in April, will now stay closed until late May or early June, according to staff at the course. Call (480) 807-5400 for more information.

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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