Enron, Phoenix Municipals, and Summer Golf Bargains

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX, AZ - There was a bit of a fuss last month in Scottsdale when the New York Times disclosed that somehow one of the area's most prestigious golf courses had provided inspiration for the leaders of the Enron Corp., the Texas energy company that has fallen on very bad times.

It seems that senior Enron executives paid a visit in late 1999 to the Grayhawk Golf Club (pictured), the $180-a-round place in North Scottsdale, and apparently loved that outing so much that they ended up naming one of their moneymaking schemes Project Grayhawk. Partnerships involved in the Enron scandal were also named Raptor and Talon, after the two famous courses at Grayhawk. Now the FBI is investigating these business entities. Actually, the Enron folks weren't staying in Scottsdale; they had booked their rooms up north in Carefree at an equally exclusive spot, the Boulders Resort, where rooms can cost as much as $500 a night.

The staff at the Boulders (at right) and Grayhawk don't remember a thing about what went on during the Enron visit. It's something of a big coincidence. Hard to believe that anyone could play the Raptor, designed by Tom Fazio, or the Talon, designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, and find time to think up a scam or even talk to each other about hatching one. Most players have to pour every bit of concentration into their drives and putts in order not to end up throwing their clubs into a trash basket on the 18th hole.

Perhaps one of the best comments on the scandal came from an ex-editor of Mad magazine, Andrew Schwartzberg, who wrote to the Arizona Republic about Project Grayhawk. "Golf strikes when you least expect it," Schwartzberg said. "You could be playing the sport for 40 years without incident, then suddenly you pull out your driver and have an uncontrollable urge to run to the nearest restaurant and loosen the tops of the salt and pepper shakers. After you have performed this devilish task, don't blame yourself. Even the strong succumb to the evils of golf."

Bargains Galore on Phoenix Municipals

Visitors who come to the Phoenix area usually head first for the fantastic palaces of golf that they've always longed to play - in spite of the pricey green fees. But they may not know that the area is loaded with municipal courses - many of which have excellent facilities and affordable prices even for non-residents.

The city of Phoenix, for example, has three nine-hole courses and five 18-hole facilities. That compares, for example, with 13 courses in Los Angeles; seven in Denver; and three in Seattle.

Fees at the 18-hole courses are $11 any day of the week during the summer for residents and non-residents. During the winter (Oct. 1-May 31), they are $26 weekdays and $35 weekends for non-residents; $21 any day for residents.

Nine-hole fees are $5 in summer and $7.50 in the winter for anyone at any course.

Among the courses are the 18-hole Encanto, at 2745 N. 15th Ave., built in 1935 and reportedly the third oldest course in Arizona, and the 18-hole Maryvale course, 5902 W. Indian School Road, designed by William F. Bell, who laid out San Diego's famous Torrey Pines course.

The newest and most up-to-date course in the city's roster is the 18-hole Aguila Golf Course that opened in late 1999. Scottsdale architect Gary Panks, who has laid out many prestigious courses in the Valley of the Sun, designed Aguila. It's a $6.5 million, 210-acre facility including a par-3 nine-hole course.

Aguila offers views of the surrounding mountains and downtown Phoenix. The 18-hole, par-72 course has five water holes and 75 bunkers. It's 6,962 yards from the back tees and 5,998 yards from the forward. The course is located in the far south of the Phoenix metro area at 8440 S. 35th Ave. It's actually outside the city limits in Laveen, south of Baseline Road. Phone 602-237-9601 for tee times.

The downside about muni courses is that they're often subject to poor maintenance and have very slow play. Some of the Phoenix courses do have those problems. But if affordability is a concern, they offer an interesting option.

For more information on other courses, check out the city's Web site at www.ci.phoenix.az.us.

Kierland Gets a New Clubhouse

Golf courses pop up like crazy on the Phoenix landscape, but rarely do the developers put up clubhouses as quickly as they plant the grass on the links.

Typical is the Kierland Golf Club, a 27-hole, par-72, daily-fee course that has been operating out of a temporary clubhouse for six years.

A few weeks ago, Kierland finally got its official clubhouse, which is one of the pieces in the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, part of a $180-million resort scheduled to open in December.

The new clubhouse has 19,000 square feet of space and includes a rustic restaurant, the Brittlebush Bar and Grill. Troon Golf operates the course, designed by Scott Miller. Phone 480-922-9283 for tee times. Web site: www.kierlandgolf.com. The course is located at 15636 Clubgate Drive in Scottsdale.

Green Fees Dip as Temperature Rises

May is the month when temperatures heat up in Arizona and green fees start to drop. But every course seems to pick a different day to start making the price break. At Grayhawk Golf Club in North Scottsdale, for example, rates will stay at $115 weekdays and $150 on weekends through May 27. Then on May 28 they will drop to $75 before 9:30 a.m. any day and $50 after 9:30. Those fees are good until Sept. 8 when they start climbing again.

At the Golf Club at Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills, rates dropped on May 13 from $80 on weekdays and $95 on weekends to $50 and $60. At Talking Stick Golf Club (pictured) in Scottsdale, rates came down on May 6. Previously, they were $70-$115 on weekdays and $90-$115 on weekends; now they're $55-$95 and $75-$95.

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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