Phoenix's Wildfire Golf Club at Desert Ridge captures Sonoran Desert beauty

By Joan C. Fudala, Contributtor

PHOENIX - Arnold Palmer's Wildfire at Desert Ridge in north Phoenix gives golfers a good contest as well as a striking view of the natural Sonoran Desert.

Wildfire Golf Club
Wildfire Golf Club is superbly maintained, with fairways that, in places, seem more like greens.
Wildfire Golf Club
If you go

Opened in 1997, Wildfire is one of only five Palmer designs in the course-rich metro Phoenix area. True to his design philosophy, it is a top quality, 18-hole, par 72, daily fee golf course which challenges, but does not overwhelm players of all skill levels.

Wildfire is located in north Phoenix just west of the border of Scottsdale. Its layout is situated among the upscale homes of the new and growing Desert Ridge master-planned community. Access to the course is off of Tatum Boulevard, on Pathfinder Drive.

The course will become even easier to get to when the Loop 101 freeway is completed in the next few years (located approximately one mile south of the course).

Check in at the attractively-appointed and well-merchandised Wildfire pro shop, then head to the all grass driving range, putting and chipping greens, or the practice fairway bunker, all located immediately adjacent to the pro shop.

A desert-style course of championship length, Wildfire offers golfers a choice of four to six tee markers on every hole. The tournament tees (black) play 7,170 yards with a 73.3/135 course rating/slope. The championship tees (blue) play 6,715 yards with a 70.8 course rating/slope. The regular tees (white) play 6,095 yards with a 67.9/119 course rating/slope.

The forward, or ladies, tees (red) play 5,500 yards with a 70.1/116 course rating/slope. Most holes also have a "further forward" set for junior and senior players.

The course is superbly maintained, with fairways that, in places, seem more like greens - giving a surprisingly nice roll and extra yardage to your shots. Although nearly every fairway is bordered on right and left by natural wash corridors; unless marked otherwise, these are playable for errant shots.

Each hole has a series of bunker challenges. A large lake comes into play on holes two, eight, and possibly hole number one, if you overshoot the green with a long shot.

The par four first hole gives golfers a taste of what will become a pleasant pattern: a wide, rolling fairway that narrows at the green. Greens are large, undulating and well guarded by bunkers; they also play fast.

The forward, ladies tees give yardage advantage, but still keep the challenge in each hole. Mid-fairway washes on several holes require lay-ups or long shots for those who are not power hitters.

The fairway on the par four third hole is an interesting series of small mounds and valleys, making you wonder: if you don't hit over them, where in the world will your ball roll? From the tee on this dogleg left, there is also an unseen wash on the left and a deep ravine to the right. Did we mention accuracy? The four three-par holes on the course - four, six, fourteen and seventeen -- are target golf all the way. They have washes to carry and very tricky greens.

Ironwood, mesquite, and palo verde trees mix with tall saguaros throughout the course. Palmer took every advantage of the natural desert in his design. Even the rattlesnake warning signs throughout the course add something to the natural atmosphere. This "out-in-the-middle-of-the-desert" feeling is contrasted on many holes by the homes of Desert Ridge, whose back yards parallel the fairways.

Although the houses sometimes appear to be close, we never felt in danger of breaking a window or splashing a pool, due to well-planned set-backs.

A relief stop is available between holes five and six; take advantage of it - the beverage cart comes around frequently and carts are equipped with water jugs.

The par five fifth hole definitely has "signature" status. Your fairway shot is straight at the McDowell Mountains, and to your left is a wide expanse of desert. The divided fairway gives you two routes to the green, further challenged by an arroyo to carry and bunkers to avoid.

The dogleg right eighth hole can get to you from every direction - deep washes on both sides of the fairway, a mid-fairway wash to carry and a lake to confound you if you approach to the right side of the green. High mounds also protect the left side of the green.

If you want to grab a bite at the turn, there is a phone to the snack bar at the ninth tee.

Hole twelve, as the longest hole on the course, is a very playable par five. The hole plays dogleg right, uphill, and requires a lengthy carry over a deep arroyo that runs along the right side of the undulating fairway. Although the green is huge, it is divided in the middle by a small ridge.

The fifteenth hole also is of signature quality, based on the dramatic view of Squaw Peak in the background and the natural landscaping. This par four is pretty straight forward, but playing slightly right will help you avoid a sizable bunker protecting the front and left side of the smallish green. The forgiving, sloping fairway provides a funnel-to-the-middle effect - thanks Arnie! Home hole number eighteen doesn't let you put your guard down. A dogleg left par five, there is a wide arroyo dividing the tee area from the fairway, leaving 150 yards yet to go to the green. The green offers the final challenge - it slopes dramatically back to front and has a center ridge.

The club house is a welcome post-game respite. On its outdoor patio snack Bar, you can add up your score, then see if you should consider one of Wildfire's instruction programs, ranging from clinics to private instruction from PGA and LPGA instructors on staff.

Greens fees range from a high of $155 (weekends January - April, made 30 days in advance), to a middle range of $125 (Monday - Thursday, January - April made seven days or less in advance), to a low of $50 (Monday - Thursday, May - September, seven days or less in advance).

Club rentals are available for $40. Tee times can be made by calling 480-473-00205, outside the area via 888-705-7775 or on line at The Wildfire Golf Club "Round Up" card allows the cardholder plus one guest the opportunity to play the course at greatly reduced prices when booking starting times one to two days in advance. The program is limited to 150 participants.

Wildfire has league play and is available for tournaments, group, and corporate outings. It was the site of the November 1999 EMC Golf Skills Challenge. Director of Golf is Doc Belitz, Head Golf Professional is Bob Jennings, and Golf Course Superintendent is Tony Romero. It is managed by Crown Golf Properties.

Wildfire Golf Club at Desert Ridge
5225 East Pathfinder
Phoenix, AZ 85054
Phone: 480.473.0205
Toll-free 888-705-7775
Fax: 480.473.0128

Joan C. Fudala, Contributtor

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