West side story takes off in Phoenix golf

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX - If you want to play the newest and best thing in daily-fee courses in the Valley of the Sun this winter, you'd better head west, far west.

Two of them, the Raven at Verrado and Trilogy at Vistancia, are set to open in a few months with green fees anticipated to be in the $120 to $130 range in the high season and $50 to $60 in summer.

As is often the case in the Phoenix area, these new places to play will be the centerpieces for giant housing developments. But both offer high-quality golf, a cut above the average subdivision course.

First to open in late January or early February will be the Raven at I-10 and Verrado Way in Buckeye, a town that is about 20 miles from downtown Phoenix. The par-71, 7,300- yard course is being designed by architect John Fought and PGA star Tom Lehman. Although it's billed as a desert-style course with a target flavor, the Raven at Verrado will have generous landing areas, says Ben Keilholtz, marketing manager for Intrawest, the firm developing the course and also managing it.

"It's going to be tough for golfers when they get around the putting surfaces," Keilholtz says. "The greens have a lot of undulations and there are challenging bunkers."

This new Raven winds up and down through the foothills of the White Tank Mountains where golfers can see the Phoenix skyline on clear days. Some 1,600 native trees were salvaged during building and are being replanted to give the course a lush feeling.

The course bears the signature brand of the "Raven," a logo that Intrawest, a Scottsdale firm, uses to label its premier offerings. There are six Ravens across the country; one other is in Phoenix - the Raven at South Mountain.

"It's possible that future courses could be built in the Verrado community, but for now, there's only the Raven," says Keilholtz.

Verrado itself is an 8,800-acre community with elevations of up to 3,600 feet. It's expected to have 14,000 homes at build-out with 2,000 popping up in the first phase. The master-plan developer is DMB of Scottsdale, also developer of DC Ranch in that town; Lehman makes his home at DC Ranch, by the way. DMB's goal is to make Verrado resemble an old-fashioned small town that will have a city center with housing, office, retail stores, schools and entertainment. For more on the development, check out verrado.com.

The other new course opening in February is Trilogy at Vistancia, also managed by Intrawest. This course, actually northwest of Phoenix, is located in Peoria and is being laid out by Gary Panks of Scottsdale, acclaimed for his designs at Whirlwind Golf Club on the Gila River Reservation and the Talon Course at Grayhawk in Scottsdale.

"This course has a very different style," says Keilholtz. "It's a links design with tall fescue lining the fairways. It's going to be 7,200 to 7,300 yards in length and will be very challenging."

Vistancia has a 7,100-acre site near the reservoir of Lake Pleasant and at buildout will have 17,000 homes. The first phase, Trilogy, will be a community of 2,500 homes for active adults and another 1,100 for families. The location, about 20 to 25 miles from downtown Phoenix, is roughly bordered by Carefree Highway, Jomax Road and 113th and 163rd avenues.

Developers of Vistancia are Shea Homes and Sunbelt Holdings. For more information on the development, call (800) 685-6496.

Intrawest Golf can be reached at (480) 874-2200.

Grass is growing greener at Palm Valley

Speaking of west side golf, Palm Valley Golf Club, in the town of Goodyear, spent the summer replacing all the fairways on its Palms Course, a 10-year-old championship layout designed by Arthur Hills. According to clubhouse staff, the Palms previously had fairways that were common Bermuda - about the quality of the grass you'd find in many Phoenix backyards. That inferior green stuff was replaced with a hybrid that will vastly improve playing conditions. The par-62 Lakes Course at the club, designed by Hale Irwin, remained open during the renovation; it already had the hybrid. Palm Valley is located on North Litchfield Road, a little less than 20 miles from downtown Phoenix; for tee times, call (623) 935-2500.

The season for overseeding

It's a frustrating time of year for Phoenix - and Tucson - golfers because courses throughout the Valley of the Sun close down for two weeks for overseeding. Bermuda fairways are dried out and scalped down and then reseeding with rye grass that takes about two weeks to take root and grow up tall enough to be played on. The objective is to have green grass on the courses for the winter season when Bermuda usually turns brown.

Not every course closes at the same time, but throughout late September and early October, it gets a little bit harder to find a place that's open and courses that are open can be jammed with players.

Here are several that overseeded early, along with their announced reopening dates: ASU Karsten Golf Club in Tempe (Oct. 9); Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club in Carefree (Oct. 10); Golf Club at Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills (Oct. 9); the Talon at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale (Sept. 26); Legacy Golf Club in South Phoenix (Sept. 29); Legend Trail Golf Club in Scottsdale (Oct. 4); and Rancho Manana Golf Club in Cave Creek (Oct. 4).

S.F. Giants could swallow up little golf course

For a while now, the San Francisco Giants have been lobbying the city of Scottsdale to build them a better spring training practice facility to go with their springtime stadium in the city's downtown.

For fear that the team might leave the city when its contract expires in 2007, Scottsdale officials aim to plow up a 30-year-old nine-hole golf course near Scottsdale Stadium and create an $18 million facility for the Giants. The plans include a 17,000 square-foot clubhouse, batting cages and unlighted practice fields along with new park space for the city. Part of the money would come from a $1 surcharge on spring-training tickets. The city also wants the state Tourism and Sports Authority to put up $12 million of the cost.

All that doesn't sit too well with the neighbors whose homes border the track in question - Coronado Golf Course at Thomas and Miller roads. And golfers are riled up, too, about losing the course where green fees range from $5 in summer to $9 in winter; carts are extra - about $5 each. The 44-acre course is a par-31 that is about 1,850 yards long. Built in 1966, the course is privately operated, but most of the land is leased to the operator by the city.

"We have lots of seniors and junior golfers and a lot of families who play here," says Connie Adams, the general manager. "What's really popular is our lighted all-grass driving range that's open until 9 every night. Golfers are really upset about losing that."

Some 400 golfers already have signed petitions protesting the plans, but the city seems committed. The actual decision on whether to go ahead is still six to nine months away.

For tee times at Coronado, call (480) 947-8364.

Phoenix Open sponsorship deal

A Washington, D.C., area investment bank has agreed to sponsor the Phoenix Open for the next five years. As part of the deal, the event will be renamed the FBR Open after the sponsor - the Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group, Inc.

The new sponsorship agreement is a great relief to the Phoenix Thunderbirds who put on the tournament and had had only a partial sponsor, Xerox, to help stage the show last year. "To say we are thrilled to have FBR on board as our sponsor would be an understatement," said 2004 tournament chairman Greg Hoyt.

Because of FBR's involvement, the total purse for what is the best attended tournament on the PGA tour will go to $5.2 million compared with $4 million in 2003. The first prize share will go from $720,000 to $936,000. The amount going to charity will also increase substantially. It had dropped drastically while the Thunderbirds lacked a full sponsor.

FBR with offices in Arlington, Va., and Bethesda, Md., is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and invests in mortgage-backed securities and merchant banking opportunities.

This season's open will be held at the TPC of Scottsdale from Jan. 26 through Feb. 1. One downside to the story: Ticket prices will go up this year to $25 from $20 at the last open.

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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