Private courses that are less than private

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX, Ariz. - There are lots of private golf clubs out there that act as if they were public - at least part of the time.

Sometimes this public play is just for those staying in an adjacent resort; sometimes public play is allowed because clubs haven't completely sold out their memberships and want to keep the revenue coming in. Sometimes they refer to themselves as "semi-private," but often directories call them private.

These are courses that often have a lot to offer - after all there are people out there willing to pay from $25,000 to $100,000 to join them. Here' s your chance to see what it's like to be a member, if only for the day.

Among those private clubs that you can play in the Phoenix area are: Tonto Verde, The Boulders, Gainey Ranch, Seville and Anthem .

Tonto Verde - 36 holes of mountain scenery

Tops on our list is Tonto Verde in Rio Verde, in the mountains east of Scottsdale. Here is a club with two challenging courses designed by noted Scottsdale architect Gary Panks that welcomes public play until the club membership is filled in a few years.

"Right now, play here is 50-50 public and private," says the director of golf David Cox. "We have two golf courses and the members take one course each day and the other is open to the public. We also have 36-hole days on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Eventually when the membership gets large enough, it will be completely private."

You're not going to believe how peaceful and spectacular the scenery is at this club - on the "back" side of the McDowell Mountains here, looking at the Superstition mountains and the Mazatzal Mountains. It's well worth the 20-mile trip from Scottsdale to see these courses, lying on the border of the Tonto National Forest.

It's also a good place to play in July and August. "It's always four to five degrees cooler than in the valley during the summer," Cox says.

The older course is the Peaks Course, designed in 1993 by Panks with his PGA player partner at the time David Graham. True to its name, the course offers views of the Four Peaks. The par-72 course is 6,737 from the back tees (71.8/133) and 4,791 from the forward (67.8/113). "It has 56 acres of grass and it's tighter and the greens are smaller. It's a challenge, but it favors those who hit a straight ball shorter."

The newer course is the Ranch Course, also par-72, designed by Panks alone in 1998. This course, 6,988 from the back tees (72.0/130) and 5,287 from the forward (69.8/123), has more grass - 86 acres of area and "has a lot of room to hit the ball off the tee," says Cox. "They're rated very close together in difficulty, but the Ranch feels bigger."

The Ranch is one of those wonderful hybrids of desert and traditional design for which Panks has become famous: gentle rolling fairways, but some desert areas to deal with. The trickiest hole of all is No. 17, a dogleg left par 5 (531 from the back tees, 442 from the forward), which has two fairways separated by an arroyo. You can try a risky shot from the first fairway of about 230 yards, flying across a desert area and avoiding the second fairway in order to get to the green in two. Although the fairways are more wide open here than on the Peaks, they also feature really deep bunkers that Panks has placed so that the slightest mistake will mean a trip into the sand. There is also plenty of brush to carry from all the tees.

During the high season the green fee was $160, but it recently dropped to the spring rate of $100.

There's also an 18-hole putting course at this club that's fun to try out before or after a round at one of the courses.

Tonto Verde Golf Club is located at 18401 El Circulo Drive, Rio Verde. Take Pima Road north to Dynamite. Travel west on Dynamite to Forrest Road and south to the golf course. Call for tee times.

The Boulders

Another pricey round, but one that offers a very unique perspective on Arizona golf is available at The Boulders, a resort in Carefree, just north of Scottsdale. Besides being a resort, The Boulders is also a private club with two award-winning courses, the North and the South. Most of the holes are the work of famed architect Jay Morrish , former partner of Tom Weiskopf, who designed the courses in the mid 1990s. Some are part of a nine-hole course that was built way back in 1969.

Priority for tee times always goes to resort guests and club members. Public players can call seven days in advance to see what tee times might be available for them. Generally, each day, one course is set aside for members while the other is used by the public and resort patrons. Green fees for the public range from $75 in the summer to $250 in winter. But tips are included. There's a $10 discount for resort guests.

The North Course is more traditional with tighter fairways. The South Course is the most impressive of the two, largely because of the boulders that loom over tees and greens, and it's the course to play first. So try to pick at tee time on a day when the South is available.

On the very first hole of the South, a par-4 (421 yards from the back tees, 309 from the forward), you're aiming your ball down a little throat of rocks toward a cluster of boulders that looks as if it was created in Hollywood. Over and over again on the front nine, you'll find breathtaking balls of stone everywhere. There actually seem to be two signature holes here. The first is the par-5 No. 5 (545 yards from the back tees, 375 from the forward). On your first shot on this hole you can aim for either of two fairways and take any of a variety of shots while trying to get to the green that lies in the shadow of a magnificent pile of boulders. On the par-3 No. 7 (187 from the back tees, 98 from the forward) you tee up next to a six-story high granite ball, sitting on a rock perch that resembles a tee.

Distance and rating/slope for the South Course: 6,726 from the back tees (71.9/140), 4,716 from the forward tees (68.7/120). For the North Course - 6,811 from the back tees (72.6/137), 4,900 from the forward tees (68.5/115).

The Boulders is at 34631 N. Tom Darlington Drive, Carefree. Tom Darlington is a northern extension of Scottsdale Road. Phone numbers: 800-767-3574. Web site:

Anthem Country Club - Del Webb plus superb golf

Anthem Country Club in New River is one of the main attractions at Del Webb' s Anthem home development about 20 miles north of Phoenix. We're talking about a massive, massive subdivision here of 5,800 acres that seems to stretch for miles next to Highway 17. Just seeing this housing project in itself is an experience.

There's one course here now, but a second will open in January 2004. Eventually, both courses will become private, with about 760 members in total, most of them residents of the development. Currently, there are 312 members at the first course - the limit is 380. As long as there are still spaces available, according to Chris Lamberti, the director of golf, 32 members of the public a day can play at the course after 10 a.m. weekdays and after 1 p.m. on weekends. And once the new course opens, there will be even more public play.

Both courses are the work of Arizona designer Greg Nash. "But they're quite different from each other," Lamberti says. "They're both desert golf, but there will be tighter fairways and eight water features on the second course. The second will be two miles to the east."

The current course offers lots of elevation changes of up to 300 feet. There are more than four dozen bunkers and lots of natural washes and canyons that come into play. One-third of the greens are tiered in two or three levels. You'll spot plenty of mountain scenery in the background with more than a few great sunsets. It's a par-72 layout that stretches 7,219 yards from the back tees (74.5/139) to 5,267 from the forward (68.2/120).

High season green fees are $145 Monday through Thursday and $175 on weekends. These prices will drop on May 1 to a fee yet to be announced. Anthem is located at 2708 W. Anthem Club Drive, New River. To reach Anthem, take I-17 north out of Phoenix until you reach the Anthem exit; it's near the town of New River. Follow the signs east to the golf course. Call 800-767-3574 for tee times. Web site:

Head south to Seville Golf & Country Club

Another course that is part of a housing development, but about 30 miles south of Phoenix, is Seville Golf & Country Club in the suburb of Gilbert. Like Anthem, Seville will sell tee times to the public until it sells out.

The theme of the development is Mediterranean: stucco buildings, towers and arches, tile roofs and hundreds of fairly large orange trees everywhere. The trees were actually part of an original grove on the site and were boxed up and moved to new locations when the course was built.

The par-72 course is a very playable layout by architect Gary Panks. This fairly traditional course has lots of desert arroyos and brushy areas that require forced carries. There are also lots of elevated greens and tees and miles of rolling undulating knolls. If you visit often enough, you'll learn the spots to hit to give your ball an extra 20 to 30 yards of roll. No. 17 is one of the most popular holes. It's a short par-3 (145 yards from the back tees, 90 from the forward) that requires hitting onto an island green.

Green fees were $130 in high season, but drop to $95 on April 21.

Seville is located at 6683 S. Clubhouse Drive in Gilbert. The course measures 7,015 yards from the back tees (72.3/126) and 5,350 from the forward (70.2/117). To reach the course take the Power Road exit from I60 and drive south about 12 miles to Riggs Road. Turn right and the entrance to Seville will be a mile or two down the road. Phone (480) 722-7041 for tee times. Web site:

Gainey Ranch - Water features everywhere

Right in the heart of Scottsdale is Gainey Ranch Golf Club, a private place where registered guests of the Hyatt Regency of Scottsdale have access to one-third of the tee times. It's wall-to- wall grass here on what was formerly a cattle ranch. "It's the last of the traditional all-grass courses that was built in the area," says Scott Little, head golf professional. "That's because it was built in 1986 before turf restrictions were imposed."

There are actually three fairly distinctive nine-hole courses here - the Lakes, the Dunes and the Arroyo - all designed by J. Michael Poellot, former chief architect for Robert Trent Jones. You put together two of the nines for a par-72 round. Yardage ranges from 6,786 (75.3/132) to 5,055 (65.9/115).

The Lakes, probably the most popular of the nines, is swimming in water features with water on six holes. The signature hole is the 492-yard, par-5 No. 9 that has a semi-tropical looking waterfall in the background. The Arroyo, despite its name, is a course with lots of water as well. But the Dunes has more of a links style with bunkers and Buffalo grass.

Green fees for Hyatt guests range from $170 in high season to $65 in the summer.

Gainey Ranch is located at 7600 Gainey Club Drive in Scottsdale. The course is just east of Scottsdale Road off Doubltree Ranch Road. Call (480) 951-0022 for information and tee times. Web site:

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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