The Buzz: Over the past 20 years, Jim Engh has emerged as one of golf’s most prominent course architects and gained quite a following among golfers who appreciate his knack for creating layouts that blend seamlessly with their surroundings.
But, if you’re going to play one of his designs in Arizona, your only choice is Blackstone Country Club, a private course that is part of the acclaimed Vistancia Community northwest of Phoenix. Engh, whose other credits include The Club at Black Rock in Idaho, Tullymore in Michigan, and Sanctuary in Colorado, worked some more magic with Blackstone, which is named after the onyx-colored volcanic rock indigenous to the area.
The course winds through cavernous ravines, around sheer rock faces and over broad rolling washes, blending desert terrain with a more traditional design reminiscent of Irish links golf. “Most definitely it has an Irish feel,” Engh said of the course that opened in 2005.
“I am a huge fan of Irish golf courses and there are ways to make it work very well in a desert setting. In a lot of cases there seems to be a book on how a course should be designed to fit a certain area and I don’t agree with that. There are challenges, but those challenges invite some interesting design concepts. To me, the most fun thing in golf is to hit a shot you’ve never hit before, so we need to think outside the box a little bit in terms of design.”
Maybe that’s why his courses have been named No. 1 on Golfweek’s list of “America’s Best New Courses” four times and he is the only designer to achieve that three consecutive years. The par-72 layout has four sets of tees at 7,089, 6,363, 5,535 and 4,738 yards and is rated at 73.9 with slope of 143 from back tees, with water in play on three holes. Those four sets can be played in seven combinations. It has the nuances and semi-blind shots that lend themselves to home-course knowledge but its mounding produces “member’s bounces,” especially around the greens, that make it a fun and player-friendly layout with plenty of options on approach shots.
With its rock outcroppings, mountain backdrops, serpentine bunkers and towering rock walls, several holes are distinctive. Engh’s favorite, not surprisingly, is the par-5 ninth, which plays at 555 yards from the tips to an awe-inspiring green. That green complex is set on a sharp right angle to the fairway, where golfers must stay clear of an arroyo that runs along the right side and crosses in front of a shallow, elevated putting surface set in a natural amphitheater with vertical rock faces on three sides. It is one of the most memorable approach shots in the state.
Blackstone offers both Equity and Non-Equity Golf and Social Family Memberships with privileges for extended family. It also features one of the state’s most impressive clubhouses, designed by famed architect Bing Hu. Known as the Hacienda, the 30,000-square-foot clubhouse combines natural materials, Southwest architecture and modern design to create an Old World ambiance with a Mediterranean flair. It includes a formal dining room, contemporary restaurant, wine room and outdoor cantina, as well as a 3,000-square-foot fitness center, tennis facilities, resort pool with private cabanas, lap pool and children’s play area.
Blackstone is part of the Vistancia master-planned community, which spans 7,100 acres of gently sloping flatlands in Peoria and boasts a 900-acre mountain preserve and nearly 1,700 acres of open space.