Want something new in Phoenix/Scottsdale golf? Go West Valley!

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. - Golf geography is a funny thing. It doesn't matter if a course is in a decent location if it's not in a location on the usual tourist/resort player path. Dora The Explorer and Boots may be able to find you no problem, but that doesn't mean golfers will.

Wigwam Resort's  Blue golf course
Wigwam was one of the first golf resorts in the West Phoenix Valley.
Wigwam Resort's  Blue golf courseTrilogy Golf Club at Vistancia - Hole 9
If you go

No matter how many maps and newspaper coupons smoke signals you send out.

This is the dilemma courses in the West Phoenix Valley have long faced.

"From the moment I got out here, I knew our No. 1 issue would be location," said Doug Foss, director of sales at the Raven Golf Club at Verrado. "People are used to going North and South from Phoenix. They're not used to West."

That could be changing. The long forgotten West is quickly emerging as the biggest growth zone in Phoenix-Scottsdale golf. Longtime community linchpin Wigwam Resort just completed a $5 million makeover on its two Robert Trent Jones Sr. tracks.

New kids on the block Raven at Verrado and Trilogy at Vistancia are attracting headlines and golfers. With most other sections of the greater Phoenix-Scottsdale area already built beyond max and packed with golfers, the West is likely one of the only areas where new courses can rise.

You can almost see it getting a little more duffer trendy by the day.

"I never would have been out here even two years ago," golfer Ryan Bullock said, while getting in nine at Triology at Vistancia. "And I'm local. You just didn't think about driving out here."

Here is only about 30-35 minutes from Sky Harbor Airport or 35-40 minutes from Scottsdale. The ride is easy. But it seems a whole lot farther when you arrive.

Wide open spaces and endless views abound. Staring off into the horizon can be an endless proposition in this largely flat land.

Trilogy at Vistancia has Restless Spirits (that's what local Native American tribes call the desert whirlwinds) whistling across the plains. Raven at Verrado showcases desert climbs, makes you forget any thought of a Home Depot being around.

Even the Wigwam Resort, in the heart of one of the most built up West areas, is so quiet at night that it's hard to believe you're still near the Scottsdale bustle.

This is the West Phoenix Valley. It's growing. It's not quite there yet. It's more connected than ever. It can still seem isolated.

If you're sick and tired of the usual Phoenix-Scottsdale golf vacation, going West Valley just might be your elixir. Everything's a little different here. For one thing, the golfer's still clearly king.

"You can see the area growing with new courses like the Raven going in," Wigwam Director of Golf Craig Allen said. "But you can still get some pretty good deals out here."

The greens fees are a little lower West. The perks are a little bigger (Raven Verrado gives golfers two gourmet meals with every greens fee). It's a hacker's market.

For now.

Population experts are forecasting that in 15 years the West Valley will be the geographical center of the greater Phoenix area. Things could soon be growing at a rabbit rate in the West.

The Phoenix Coyotes are already playing hockey here, a good stretch from downtown. The Arizona Cardinals will follow in 2006, with their state-of-the-art stadium built in a huge expanse of desert. Golf will surely continue to come as more buildings do.

"We were pretty much the only West Valley course only 10 years ago" said Lance Burton, marketing director at the Wigwam, which traces its history back to 1918. "Now you're seeing new housing developments all the time.

"This part of town is gaining a lot of notoriety."

So much so that it's now possible to spend an entire Phoenix-Scottsdale golf vacation in the West Valley. And never leave disappointed about the golf.

West Phoenix Valley golf courses

Raven Golf Club at Verrado: This year-old Tom Lehman and John Fought design is fast gaining a reputation as Troon North on a budget. That means you're neither that poor (greens fees average around $99 in season) nor that lacking in golf payoff.

Raven at Verrado delivers scenery that borders on spectacular and several inventive holes. It is a fun play that's a little less punishing than Troon North.

Trilogy at Vistancia: Out in the desert plains with not too many houses around (yet), this Gary Panks design challenges with some pretty tight fairways and some pretty formidable desert clears. Trilogy Vistancia provides an open look with the mountains in the far background while its long, tall, distinctive native grasses make it anything but a spray-it-anywhere play.

Just a few months ago, Trilogy Vistancia was one of the great hidden finds in Phoenix-Scottsdale area golf. The secret's out though with it being rated a 25 out of 30 in the new Zagat public survey of America's Top Courses.

That's the same rating vaunted, PGA Tour-site TPC Scottsdale received. It's no big stretch to argue that Trilogy Vistancia actually offers the better of the two playing experience values, reputations aside.

Wigwam Resort: The two Robert Trent Jones Sr. courses (the Blue and the Gold) may be better plays now than when Jones designed them in his heyday. This wasn't the legend's best work and restoration/renovation architect Forrest Richardson made Wigwam's Blue course much more interesting in particular.

Now there's a dramatic island green (No. 15) and a risk-reward finishing hole with two palm trees very much in play.

On Wigwam Gold course, Richardson faithfully restored and even toughened up some already mammoth Jones bunkers. The right-side trap on No. 10 could apply for statehood.

The Legend At Arrowhead: Located in Glendale, the town where all the new high-tech sports arenas are going up, this Arnold Palmer course gave golfers a reason to hit the West Valley before anyone thought it was up and coming.

"I play at Legends Arrowhead when I've got some out of town buddies in," local golfer Jason Beemis said. "It's not as expensive as some of the other courses and it's good golf. A lot of my friends end up saying, 'That's the best course we played.'"

The Phoenix-Scottsdale West Valley can surprise you like that. It might even change your view of geography.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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