Under-rated in the Valley of the Sun: Four Phoenix-area golf courses you should be playing
Any Web site or travel brochure can pick the most recognizable golf courses in Phoenix.
But it takes the more discerning golfer to find courses that fly under the radar but are standouts nonetheless.
Here are four under-rated, Phoenix-area courses that fit that criteria. Even without the glossy-golf-mag accolades, they're definitely worth your time and your green fee.
Because it's on the far west side of the Valley -- technically it's in Litchfield Park but given its proximity to Interstate 10, we'll consider it Phoenix -- the Wigwam Resort often is overlooked by the travel golfer.
It shouldn't be.
Wigwam has three 18-hole layouts: the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Patriot Course and Gold Course, and the Heritage Course. These are the antithesis of desert layouts; they're nestled among rolling hills, canals and streams, and every fairway is lined so many trees Wigwam has more of a Midwestern feel.
Like much of Trent Jones Sr.'s work, Wigwam is straightforward golf. Players can see what's in front of them; there are few blind shots or forced carries. The best course of the three is the Gold, which checks in at a monstrous 7,430 yards and features well-placed bunkers and sloping, elevated greens.
For an easier challenge, try the Patriot, a 6,000-yard par 70 that features humpback greens reminiscent of Pinehurst No. 2.
Stonecreek Golf Club
Because of its proximity to north Scottsdale, Stonecreek Golf Club often is overlooked when players are scheduling their annual Valley golf trip. That's a mistake.
The 6,871-yard, par-71 layout, designed by Pete Dye and then redesigned by Arthur Hills, is one of the Valley's best-kept secrets. Stonecreek is a shot-maker's delight; it requires accuracy and smart decisions off the tee -- the creek that meanders throughout the course forces players to keep their drivers in the bag on many of the par 4s.
Also, there is so much water around the greens that even short-iron approaches become tricky.
Stonecreek's best attribute is its final five holes. They're a beast. No. 14 is a 378-yard par 4 with water right of the green and a large bunker to the left. No. 15 is a 227-yard par 3 with water to the right. No. 16? A 609-yard par 5 with water protecting the front of the green.
By comparison, the two finishing holes are benign, and they're par 4s that play into the prevailing wind and feature water hazards.
Welcome to one of the strangest -- and most fun -- tracks in the Valley.
The Arizona Grand golf course, located at the base of South Mountain, is a par 71 that measures only 6,288 yards. It has three par 5s and five par 3s. The front nine features rolling hills and water. The back nine is a desert course. Plastic balls are used on the range, which runs alongside the freeway.
Oh, and no. 18 is a downhill, 202-yard par 3.
As you can see, it's not Augusta.
Arizona Grand is perfect for the casual golfer who wants to enjoy a few hours yet it's also challenging enough for the low-handicapper. The desert back nine, for example, has narrow fairways and several blind shots off the tee. Bagging your driver and taking irons off the tee is recommended.
The Legacy Golf Club
Golfers who make their way to south Phoenix often do so to play the Raven Golf Club. That's understandable. The Raven is one of the Valley's best courses.
But just a couple of blocks away, The Legacy Golf Club can stand on its own as well. The 6,946-yard, par-71 layout was designed by Gary Panks and has some of the best rates in the state. Green fees in the summer can be had for less than $20.
How much bang do players get for their buck? Well, the fairways are incredibly generous -- a small airplane could land on most of them -- and the greens roll as pure as any of the higher-priced clubs in the Valley.
They're also incredibly severe; it's not uncommon for a four-foot putt to break more than two cups.
April 17, 2013