Wildfire Golf Club: One of the Best in Phoenix

By Henrik Berezin, Contributor

PHOENIX - Wildfire doesn't really look like much as I drive onto the property in Northeast Phoenix just south of the corner of Pinnacle Peak and Tatum, right on the border of Scottsdale. From the entrance on Pathfinder Road, I have to go through about 500 yards of construction on a dirt road before I hit the parking lot. Once I found the place and had a chance to talk to some of the friendly outside service staff, I found out that the construction by the entrance will later become a new course, as part of the Wildfire golf community, planned to be completed in a couple of years.

Wildfire Golf Club
The fairways are lush at Wildfire Golf Club
Wildfire Golf Club
If you go

You really couldn't ask for a better location for a golf course. While situated in the rugged Sonoran desert, with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, it's only 16 miles from downtown Phoenix and 10 miles from downtown Scottsdale. The proximity to other great courses in the area, along with a warm climate year round, also contribute to the value of Wildfire.

Wildfire Golf Course was designed by Arnold Palmer and built in 1987. "The King" knows how to design courses almost as well as he played the game.

In his prime, Palmer hit the ball a long way, but not always straight. He hit a low ball and liked to work the ball from right to left. If these are also the characteristics of your game, then you should be in good shape, as this is exactly what the course is set up for.

At over 7,000 yards from the back tees and a slope rating of 135, Wildfire can provide a stern test even for the pros, although the great variety of tee boxes (usually six per hole) allows any category of player to have an enjoyable round. I know this from experience as I played with three gentlemen of various handicaps and experience.

In fact, one of them had just taken up the game and had played less than a handful of rounds in his life. I'd be lying to you if I said that he did well, but at least he finished with enough balls left in his bag to play another nine holes.

The greens at Wildfire are fairly big and very receptive. And more importantly, they're in great shape.

The lush fairways which feature rolling hills, are fairly generous in width and are in terrific condition as well. "Wildfire provides a great value for the public", says Bob Jennings, the head pro at Wildfire. "The great conditioning and playability of the course makes for a great experience. It's fairly close to Grayhawk and Troon North, but much cheaper than both".

Wildfire has a classic design and really doesn't provide any big surprises.

The one hole that kind of separates itself from the rest is the par 5 fifth. Halfway through the hole, the fairway is divided with a transition area in the middle. I've never liked these types of holes as it always seems like the architect is trying to do too much with a hole to make it look special or exciting. It's really the only hole on the course that didn't appeal to me.

While the course itself is enough reason to pay Wildfire a visit, the practice facility and clubhouse certainly add to your experience.

The driving range is an all grass area with fairway practice bunkers at the end. The putting green is huge and undulating, perfect to sharpen your stroke for the upcoming round, with a practice bunker adjacent to it. The clubhouse includes a pro shop with a large selection of merchandise and helpful, friendly staff. Outside the shop, on the Wildfire grill patio, breakfast and lunch is served daily and I strongly recommend the breakfast burrito.

The new course that I talked about in the beginning, is scheduled to be completed in 2002 and will bring some major changes to the facility.

"It all started with Marriott (hotels) purchasing us. Their plans are to build a hotel on the property with 950 rooms," says Jennings. "The course will be a Nick Faldo design and will be a desert course similar to the original course." Not only will the number of holes increase from 18 to 36, the practice range will be enlarged, as well as the parking lot, to allow for the increased number of players. A new, larger clubhouse with more carts is also planned, along with a restaurant.

Jennings says that the intentions are for Wildfire to become as popular and well known as its more famous neighbors, Grayhawk, Troon North and the TPC.

While Wildfire hasn't hosted any real big events yet, the course received some attention when the AMC Skills Challenge was held here in 1999. The competition, which was aired on NBC, was between eight well known touring pros, including Peter Jacobsen, Tom Kite, Brad Faxon and Craig Stadler, where one player was eliminated on each hole.

Currently the rates for playing a round at Wildfire are understandably at their highest. From January until April you can expect to pay $140 - $155, depending on what time of day you play.

In the summertime, however, like most courses in the valley, you can get by with about $50 for a round. Wildfire also has special twilight rates all year round starting at 1-2 p.m. These rates are approximately 25 percent lower than the usual rates.

Wildfire Golf Club
5225 East Pathfinder
Phoenix, AZ, 85054
Phone: (888) 705-7775

Call for reservations (888) 705-7775 or (480) 473-0205
Reservations may be made up to 30 days in advance.

Henrik Berezin, Contributor

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