Playing 18 the Short Way: Three Top Executive Courses in Phoenix

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX, AZ - Along with its stunning championship courses, the Phoenix area also offers a number of great executive courses, more perhaps than you are likely to find in many cities around the country.

We're profiling three of the best. All have distinct personalities. They're great places to play when the temperatures climb in the summer and it seems too hot to play a full-length course or when you're golfing with a less-experienced player.

First there's Mountain Shadows, the oldest of the three, built in 1961 and designed by Jack Snyder. Mountain Shadows is located on Lincoln Drive in the heart of Scottsdale and is right next door to a Marriott's motel. So it always seems to be busy, even during summer.

Why is it so popular? According to Travis Rousseau, head golf professional, location has a lot to do with it. "It's also a challenging course with great views of Camelback Mountain," he says. "The course is meticulously maintained. We treat the course as a normal resort course."

Augusta Ranch Golf Club in Mesa is the newest of the three courses, built in 1999 and designed by architect Bill Phillips. It's part of a brand-new subdivision in the eastern part of town and seems to be a favorite with snowbirds. Once they go home at the beginning of May, traffic seems to slow down here a bit.

The third course on our list, the Lakes at Ahwatukee in Phoenix, built in 1978, has the most famous designer of the three - Gary Panks, who has laid out some of the hottest new courses in the Phoenix area, including the Devil's Claw at Whirlwind Golf Club and the Talon at Grayhawk.

Marriott's Mountain Shadows Golf Club

When they built Mountain Shadows 40 years ago, they didn't allot much space to the course. Tee boxes are right behind the greens for other holes. Fairways lie right next to the backyards of houses in an older subdivision that surrounds much of the course. Tall fences have been put up in some places to protect homes and people from flying objects. This is also the shortest of our three executive courses - 3,081 yards from the back tees with only two par-4 holes.

But even with those disadvantages, this is still a beautiful course with velvety greens and fairways and mature pine and palm trees, a blessing in warm weather. This course also has the best service of the three on our list with staff to help you get your clubs in and out of your car, a rarity at most executive courses.

A favorite hole here is No. 6, a par 4 that has a sharp dogleg left - in fact it's really like a 90-degree turn left. You need to aim left off the tee and then, as you make the turn, a careful uphill shot to the green is required. There are several interesting water holes, including No. 8, which requires a precise shot over a little lake to a peninsula target green, and No. 18, where you pop your ball over a postage-stamp-size pond where a fountain is always spraying.

Mountain Shadows is located at 5641 E. Lincoln Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85253. Phone, 480-951-5427. website: Rates: winter, $68-$78; summer, $28-$35. Par: 57/56. Yardage: 3,081, 2,606. Rating/slope: 57.5/96; 54.4/87. Mountain Shadows has its own resort accommodations: Marriott's Mountain Shadows, 5641 E. Lincoln Drive, Scottsdale; phone, 800-767-3574.

Augusta Ranch Golf Club

No, this is not the Augusta where they play the Masters, but the folks who run Augusta Ranch can have a little fun with the fact that their 3,700-yard, par-61 course shares the name "Augusta" with one of the most famous courses in the world. Just like Augusta National, Augusta Ranch has a plantation-style clubhouse, although quite a bit smaller, with a porch set with Adirondack chairs. There are prints of magnolia blossoms and Amen Corner on the walls inside, too.

Golf at Augusta Ranch is strictly traditional with wall-to-wall green turf, but the fairways aren't flat by any means. There are lots of rolling hills that can catch your ball and send it off in the wrong direction.

This course takes pride in its maintenance with well-watered fairways and smooth greens, but landscaping is minimal and the trees are young, mostly pines, eucalyptus and olives.

Holes are widely spread out throughout the Augusta Ranch subdivision and there are no fairways parallel to each other as in so many executive and nine-hole courses. In fact, it almost looks as if there's enough room here for a par 72 18 holes. However, some homes are very close to the tee boxes; so watch out for picture windows and tile roofs.

The first nine holes are a bit shorter (1,704 yards from the back tees, 1,281 yards from the forward) than the back nine (1,995 yards from the back tees, 1,554 yards from the forward). There are seven par-4s and 11 par-3s. Many of the par-3s are fairly long; for example, 178 yards on No. 5, 190 yards on No. 14, and 180 yards on No. 16. Many holes have water hazards. Bunkers are few and far-between, but well maintained with fresh sand.

Augusta Ranch Golf Club is located at 2401 S. Lansing in Mesa, AZ, 85212. The club is off Ellsworth Road, about one block south of Baseline Road. Phone, 480-354-1234; website, Rates: winter, $45; summer, $14-$17. Par: 61. Yardage: 3,699, 3,199, 2,772. Rating/slope: 58.3/92; 57.0/84; 53.6/75. A nearby motel: Hampton Inn, 1563 S. Gilbert Road, Mesa; phone, 480-926-3600.

The Lakes at Ahwatukee

The Lakes is the most challenging of our three courses; it's also the longest - 4,019 yards from the back tees; 3,177 from the forward tees.

This is definitely a good place to conquer your fear of water because there is wet stuff on almost every hole. Over and over again, you can try forced carries over the lakes. A good example is the 12th hole where you think you have a wide open fairway, only to find that if you hit straight down the middle, you're going to have to make your approach shot to the green over a pond hidden behind a berm. Better to head left on this dogleg right; a bit longer perhaps, but drier in the long run.

Panks' design will amaze you. Never in the history of golf did anyone ever think of more ways to build impossible par 3s - many are on the long side, running about 170 to 180 yards. Finally you get to No. 14 (95 yards from the back tees, 67 yards from the forward), and you think, 'at last a short hole and an easy three.' But then you get a glimpse of the grand canyon of sand in front of the green.

Another frustrating par 3 is No. 16 (170 yards from the back tees, 118 yards from the forward). As a yardage book for the course says, "There's trouble on this hole short, right, left and long." Water lines both sides of the fairway and lots of trees are sprinkled along the way. In fact, two palm trees were planted dead center in your line of sight as you tee off. You can go to the right of those palms, but not too right or you're in a bunker.

According to head golf professional Brad Hicks, "The course is challenging for advanced golfers, but can be easy for beginners, too. It's not a desert-type course. It has a lot of big palm trees that provide great shade in the summer. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and the lakes have a lot to do with the aura of the place."

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Poor Link for Executive Courses

    D.H. Ross wrote on: Feb 22, 2016

    The Lakes at Ahwatukee is permanently closed!
    Mountain Shadows is closed as well! Who knows when of if it will reopen. The property has been in disarray for about 10 years. According to a website it is supposed to reopen in 2016, but I wouldn't hold my breath.