Aguila Golf Course: Price is Right at New Phoenix Muni

By Shannon Gazze, Contributor

PHOENIX - It's dawn in the South Valley and finger-numbingly cold. A smattering of cars sit parked beside a modest trailer in an otherwise desolate lot on a Wednesday morning. Inside, head pro Diane Escobedo and her staff prepare for the day's activities, which for the first time since the Aguila Golf Course project was included in the city master plan more than 20 years ago, includes a little public golf.

Aguila Golf Course
Aguila Golf Course is the most modern of the Phoenix municipal golf courses.
Aguila Golf Course
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Escobedo, formerly the pro at the city's Cave Creek facility, has been looking forward to this moment for a long time. Outside, the golfers seem to share her excitement. A buzz of anticipation is in the air, along with a scent carried over from the nearby stables.

It's an odd juxtaposition. The sun peaks out over the crest of South Mountain in the Eastern sky while the full moon stays its ground to the West. Park land runs up to freshly laid swatches of concrete, which in turn gives way to the rolling mounds of the golf course.

The foundations of a club house, or perhaps a cart shed, have been left in mid-stage by builders, equipment seemingly abandoned all around. The rising sun begins to warm the hands of the early-bird golfers as they stretch out and take inventory of their clubs and muscles.

At 8:10, after a brief frost delay, a caravan of about a dozen golf carts sets out onto the course for a shotgun start. Ready or not, Aguila is now officially open for business.

Actually, it's not quite ready. The course, an 18-hole championship layout designed by Gary Panks and accompanied by a nine-hole par-3 course, is in its final stages of completion. Nine championship holes (not the front or back, just nine) and the nine par-3 holes are currently open and all 27 should be at full capacity after Christmas. The rest of the plan will take a little longer.

"In April, when everything is completed, we're going to be a full-service golfing facility," Escobedo says. "We'll offer a challenging par-3 course, a great practice facility and a quality teaching staff. Janet Anderson just retired off the LPGA Tour. She'll be doing a lot of our teaching. She's very good. The superintendent (Jerry Didow) is top-notch, too. And the Championship Course is obviously a great design."

Like all the municipal courses, Aguila will accept Arizona resident cards.

Aguila becomes the fifth course owned and operated by the Phoenix Parks, Recreation and Library Department and the first municipal course to open since Cave Creek in 1984. It is located on the grounds of César Chávez Park at the corner of Dobbins Road and 35th avenue, about 10 miles southwest of downtown Phoenix.

The facility was built with quality in mind. For Panks, Aguila is his 25th layout in Arizona and he's already busy on two more - FireRock Country Club in Fountain Hills and Whirlwind on the Gila River Reservation. Aguila is said to have a feel similar to his recent design at The Legacy Resort. The biggest difference, peak greens fees at The Legacy run $125 a pop.

The Aguila facility was built at a price tag of almost $7 million. All those funds came from the profits of the other four municipal courses - Papago, Cave Creek, Encanto and Maryvale. That's part of the reason it took so long to get built.
"The big issue has always been funding," says Jerry Fife, the Parks Department's golf administrative supervisor. "We used no tax dollars to build Aguila, so the revenue had to come from other places."

Fife expects the course to make some of that money back right away. Rivaling Papago in terms of quality and design, he thinks Aguila will soon rival the heavy traffic that Papago and Cave Creek currently receive.

"It's a booming area," he says. "There are thousands of new homes, as well as two new schools near the course. Especially at the peak times of the season, there aren't enough courses people can play for $19.

"It's out a ways for a lot of people in the Valley, so it will be interesting to see if they will travel out there. Once they do, they will come back."

Paul Alberts of Union Hills thinks it was worth the drive to be one of the first to tee it up at Aguila.

"We heard how good the course was and we wanted to play it," Alberts says. "We know Diane and Janet from Cave Creek, so we're excited to see a new public course in the Valley. It looks like it's going to be quite a facility."

Paul's wife, Cindy, adds that the couple passed up early tee times at Cave Creek and Papago to make Aguila's grand opening.

"We probably could have sold that 9:15 tee time at Papago, so that shows what we think of the new course," she says.

While golfers didn't exactly flood the course on Wednesday, Escobedo expects much more traffic over Aguila's first weekend.

"I've already been swamped with calls about Friday," she says.

For her, opening day was simply a milestone she was happy to pass.

"I've been working with the city for 15 years, and I've had an interest in this since the outset," she says. "It's exciting to get to this point where we can have some people come out and play. The golf course has always been a snag. There have been challenges right and left. We got through them. It's hindsight now, and I'm just looking ahead. I don't want to remember some of the things we had to get through to be here."

Escobedo is hopeful that the course doesn't take too much of a beating from the public this winter. The crew decided not to overseed most of the holes with winter Rye grass in order to protect the young Bermuda.

"We didn't want the Rye to hinder any growth next season," Escobedo says.

Like all the municipal courses, Aguila will accept Arizona resident cards and will charge residents $19 and non-residents $28 through the peak season. Carts are an additional $10. Until the entire 18 holes opens, however, anyone can play for the resident rate.

The par-3 course is also a bargain at $7.50. Seniors play for $5.50 and juniors for $4.50. Replays are $4.50 as well.

For more information on Aguila Golf Course or to make tee times, call the pro shop at (602) 237-9601.

Shannon Gazze, Contributor

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