Sanctuary Golf Course a desert tussle amongst all the WestWorld glamour

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — WestWorld carries much more cache than you'd expect from what's basically a big tent structure complex out on the fringe of town.

Sanctuary Golf Course - No.14
The chance to cut the corner on the desert with a shot on No. 14 is one of the big thrills of Sanctuary.
Sanctuary Golf Course - No.14Sanctuary Golf Course - Forced CarriesSanctuary Golf Course - DesertSanctuary Golf Course - Rabbits
If you go

Millionaires go to WestWorld to splurge on classic cars in a Barrett-Jackson auction that's become so renowned that it's broadcast on the Speed Network.

Arabian horse devotees fly in from around the globe to bid on the show animals here. One of the larger rodeos in the country descends on the complex every year, bringing in bulls and bull-headed riders.

Cirque du Soleil's even coming this year, sending flying acrobats through the North Scottsdale air.

WestWorld would seem pretty set on attractions. But this being Scottsdale, they found one thing it desperately needed to be complete. Golf.

There must be some hidden clause in the city charter about not being able to go more than 500 feet without stumbling across a golf course. For this city with a population of slightly less than 300,000 people has almost 200 golf courses.

You'll be happy they added another one at WestWorld, though. At least wallet happy.

Opened in 1999, Sanctuary at WestWorld remains one of Scottsdale's best values for your golfing dollar. Maybe, it's being out there in North Scottsdale (which really isn't far out there at all these days despite WestWorld's tent dirt), but Sanctuary is the rare Scottsdale course that believes in green fees slashing promotions.

It frequently offers a $29 morning nine pancake special (nine holes on the more scenic back nine and breakfast as long as you tee off between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m.). Show up for a super twilight rate around 3 p.m. and you'll get on for around $42 in high season and have plenty to time to finish 18 with Arizona's late winter sunsets. Even prime times in prime season can often be had for $89.

Try making any of those requests at Sanctuary's haughty neighbors Troon North or Grayhawk and see what response you get.

"They really seems to look out for the golfers here," said Michigan duffer Otto Campbell, who'd just finished off 18 with the clock ticking towards 6:30 p.m. on a Friday night, without any of staff rushing him in the least. "That's what I like about this place. All the guys are gentlemen."

Somebody has to be nice to you after the course beats you up.

Sanctuary is designer Randy Heckenkemper's take on tight, desert golf. It's about as relaxing as falling into a bed of cactuses and then getting a swift kick in the ribs. You'll feel the pain here, especially if you start spraying the ball. And this is one of the last places you want to come down with some driver yips.

Say hello to the land of multiple forced carries off the tee.

Heckenkemper is golf architect who relishes endless forced carries, often to the detriment of other aspects of a course. See Prescott's canyon carry StoneRidge for an even more extreme, showy example.

Not that Heckenkemper takes it easy on Sanctuary. Every set of tee boxes can mean an additional forced carry.

No. 8 is typical. From the back black tees, there are four desert brush areas that must be cleared. From the blue tees, it's three. From the whites, two.

Forget the yardages (from 6,624 yards on the blacks to 5,573 on the whites). When selecting a tee at Sanctuary, you should base it on how many gaping desert chunks you're comfortable shooting over. That 139 slope rating on the blacks is no joke.

You might think the size of some of the fairways is. The miss margin can be as slim as Kate Moss, particularly on the front nine, where desert expanses on either side beckon for your ball. Sanctuary's status as the first golf course in Arizona and 17th in the world to obtain Audubon Signature Status for its environmental care only adds to this effect.

Audubon approval sounds like a great thing. But it also means that entire sections of desert waste on the sides of the fairways are deemed unplayable lies, restricting you from tromping in to search for that Pro V1. The good news is you probably couldn't find it anyways.

Sanctuary's desert is the real thing, anything but picturesque wonder. It's dirty looking sand and snarly bushes. The desert you see on the side of the highways when you get out into Arizona or Nevada countryside? That's here.

Of course seeing all the little jackrabbits camped out on the tees, politely stepping aside when you step up, might give a newfound appreciation for its charm.

"My girlfriend would think these things are cute," local John Harley said, sounding not so convinced himself.

The verdict

Once you get to Sanctuary's No. 14, you'll likely forget any little quibbles. You may even forgive Heckenkemper for the extra sleeves of balls he necessitated you buy. It's simply a cool hole, arguably one of the better ones in golf overflowing Scottsdale.

It's a dogleg left 402-yard par 4, which lets you try to cut the desert on the corner. Sending a ball flying over all that ugly brush that's been tormenting all day and putting yourself in position to go for a birdie on a green framed by the McDowell Mountains offers some tantalizingly sweet revenge.

This is just the start of a great closing run, the best of Sanctuary by far. There's a very drivable dogleg par 4 with one of Sanctuary's huge speeding greens on a ridge (the 319-yard 15th).

There's a par 5 18th exclamation point dogleg that makes you feel like you're shooting at the mountains and puts the forced desert carries in the fairway where they're more interesting. Everything's a little quieter in this finish, a little better framed, a lot more exhilarating.

Is Sanctuary worth playing to get to this end run? At these prices with this service in Scottsdale, absolutely.

Just go in knowing your driver isn't necessarily your best option on these narrow fairways and that some of your best struck irons are going to fly off those speeding greens into the desert, and you'll be fine.

You may even feel like bidding against a millionaire for one of those classic cars or attempting to stay on a bucking bull post round.

After all, you've already been through a dirty desert tussle. What do those car collectors or cowboys have on you?

Dining out

The greater Old Town Scottsdale area is home to many of the best restaurants in Arizona. Chef Nobuo Fukuda works wonders with his counter side tasting menus at Sea Saw (480-481-9463), producing dishes every bit the equal of New York's more famous Nobu at a third of the cost.

For a happening, mingling spot, you only have to go down the alley behind Sea Saw and open the unmarked door to the Kazimierz World Wine Bar (480-946-3004). Sure, this forced, faux mysteriousness is a little cheesy, but once you get inside the comfortable place where the Phoenix area's thirty-somethings relax with a selection of 1,800 wines to choose from, you'll forgive it. Make sure you try the Country Pate.

Stay and play

Your nearby high-end accommodations escape palace is the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (1-800-257-7544). This sprawling AAA Five Diamond resort offers huge pool complexes that are open 24 hours a day. No more fitting your schedule around the pool schedule.

Add a spa that just may take pampering to new heights with its own private waterfall pool and this is real luxury in a town with too many pretender hotels claiming that distinction.

The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort (602-997-2626) is far enough away from the hustle and bustle to provide a relaxing getaway retreat and close enough to easily reach all the areas you want to visit. This sprawling complex includes a meandering, slow-raft-lounging pool and a putting practice course. There are a good half dozen golf courses easy within a 10-minute drive.

Fast Fact

Sanctuary only has one par 5 on its front nine (No. 4) and two on its back nine. It has 11 par 4s, ranging from 319 yards to 438 yards.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • More Like Purgatory than a Sanctuary

    Jay wrote on: Mar 19, 2009

    Skip this place. A rude staff and a 5 or more hour round wait you. The place is over-booked so your tee time might very well be a half an hour to 45 minutes later. "What ya gonna do?" asks the ranger. "We're crowded."