Gold Canyon's Dinosaur Mountain: Treasure of the Superstitions

By Ray Bangs, Contributor

GOLD CANYON, AZ - As much of the country is getting hit hard with blustery blizzards and finger-freezing cold, I am happy to report that Arizona's prime golf season is rolling into the full swing of things. The mornings are still a bit chilly for wearing shorts, but later in the day, with the sun shining and the beautiful blue skies welcoming you to the desert, it's hard to argue that there is any better place in the world to be zooming around in a golf cart.

Gold Canyon Golf Resort is located approximately forty five minutes east of Phoenix and with the views, the drive flies by. The Superstition Mountains paint a striking portrait against the horizon and the landscape grows more spectacular with each passing mile. Upon making the turn into the resort, the bleached white casitas speckling the landscape might even trick you into thinking you've found yourself in the French Riviera! Très magnifique!

After a healthy warm-up at the practice tee to fend off the late morning chill, I was feeling pretty good. Even the driving range is outrageously scenic, but I guess that's what you get when three talented people come together to add their personal touches. However, with the extreme landscapes, it still took Ken Kavanaugh, Greg Nash, and Stuart Penge nearly 20 years to complete the 36 holes, with the front nine of the Sidewinder course finally finishing up in 1998. Dinosaur Mountain, however, gets most of the press.

"The setting is so beautiful, all I was trying to do is uncover it," says Tucson-based architect Kavanaugh of Dinosaur Mountain's back nine. "I wanted to make simple, sweeping shapes that wouldn't conflict with the dramatic backdrops."

As a better than scratch golfer, Kavanaugh has, among other accolades, won the Pima County Amateur and even made it to the semifinal round of the Arizona State Amateur Tournament. Apparently, his design talents complement his game. Of course, it could be the other way around!

The current crew in charge of keeping the course up to par shows no signs of letting down the designers; Dinosaur Mountain gets better every time I play it. Like most great art, sometimes it takes some time to soak in and truly appreciate all its magnificence. When it comes down to those first impressions though, even the condition of the putting green is better than the regular greens on most courses in Arizona.

The father and son duo from South Dakota we were paired with both said by the end of the first hole that this was by far the best-conditioned and all-around best course they had ever played. It was hard to disagree - Dinosaur Mountain is incredible. Just be careful when choosing which of the four tee boxes you are playing from… shooting par from the tips is biting off more than 99.9% of golfers can chew.

To add an interesting twist to the rugged beauty of the region, legend has it that in the 1870's, gold was discovered somewhere in the nearby mountains. The miner who found the stash kept the location a secret, so whether the mines exist or not continues to be the subject of much speculation, but even today prospectors still search for the fabled lost riches of the Superstitions. All I know is that the real treasure is the golf.

You have probably heard that the elevation changes on the Dinosaur Mountain course are dramatic. Sure, everybody can duff a shot (and that can create a little drama!) but when your normally average 9-iron shot flies 200 yards, dramatic is an understatement. This is definitely one course where carts are mandatory - only those who have been up and down Everest a couple times would enjoy lugging the clubs around Dinosaur Mountain. Even then I'm not so sure.

Gold Canyon Golf Resort makes it difficult to be disappointed. The drive is a little farther from Phoenix, but the scenery is worth it three times over. As another reward for the ride out, you'll be greeted by reasonable rates - $135 weekdays and $165 for a prime season weekend round is hard to beat for this caliber of a course. I think a true testament to the quality is the lack of a signature hole, because with all the wide-reaching views of the various canyons and mountains, at least half the holes are strong contenders. The par-five third hole is quite possibly the most frequently photographed, but you must actually stand on that tee box to realize the grandeur. A camera just can't do it justice.

To add to the visual excitement, pristine desert washes abound with wildlife to remind you that golf courses are natural habitats for many creatures, including those in plaid pants and pink shirts. Jackrabbits, coyotes, and roadrunners are all quite plentiful and easy to spot especially in the earlier and later hours of the day. Locals find the twilight rates even more incentive to duck out of work early.

Gold Canyon Golf Resort is indeed the perfect way to escape all the congestion and noise of the city, but if I had to find a flaw, it has to be the few houses found along several fairways. Don't worry though… for most of the round, you are out in the wild country of the Superstition wilderness. Besides, it's no surprise people want to live with this mountain golf paradise as their backyard. Luckily, with the rugged terrain making development so difficult, there won't be too many more houses for me to bounce golf balls off of!

Perhaps the most understated aspect of the Gold Canyon Golf Resort, however, is the service. Everyone you encounter at the course possesses a relaxed professionalism, a very appreciated part of a truly outstanding golf experience that many other establishments unfortunately miss. (And I feel it needs repeating once again… the golf isn't too shabby either!)

The Dinosaur Mountain course consistently contends for the #1 Public Golf Course in Arizona ranking in various publications, but because of the sheer number of great golf courses in Arizona, even making the top ten is an honor and means serious quality. Whatever the ranking, your #1 New Year's resolution should be to go to Gold Canyon Golf Resort and play Dinosaur Mountain. You might not find the lost gold, and if you are anything like me, you won't be coming in under par, but however your Titleist flies, you'll certainly treasure the experience.

Gold Canyon Golf Resort
6100 S. Kings Ranch Road
Gold Canyon, AZ 85218
Phone: 800-767-3574.

Driving Directions
From Phoenix, take US 60 east towards Globe. Approximately 35 miles later, you will see a large sign for the resort. Additional signs show you the turn on King's Ranch Road and lead you all the way to the bag drop.

Course Stats
Diamondback: 6,584 / 71.1 / 140
Bobcat: 6,008 / 67.9 / 125
Coyote: 5,498 / 65.5 / 115
Roadrunner: 4,921 / 67.4 / 115
Par: 70

Ray BangsRay Bangs, Contributor

In addition to being a frequent contributor to several publications, Ray Bangs is the author of "52 Great Weekend Escapes in Arizona." He is also the co-publisher and senior editor of Arizona Explorer Magazine, a regional publication focusing on active travel, leisure, and recreation. Ray's motto is simple. "If you're way too busy to go fishing and golfing once in a while, you're way too busy!"

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