Mesa Country Club Renovation Lives Up To Club’s History

From “Huff’s Stuff” Arizona Golf Blog by Bill Huffman at the Arizona Golf Authority

Mesa Country Club always has had a storied history, laced with tradition and ingenuity. Now, thanks to some new ideas and renovation efforts of its members and management team, the club that dates back to 1948 is adding another chapter.


Over the summer, MCC closed its doors and went to work on the golf course, which holds the distinction of being a William P. “Billy” Bell original. Maybe that name is familiar, as Bell’s work in Arizona includes the Adobe Course at the Arizona Biltmore and Encanto Golf Course in Phoenix, and Randolph Park North in Tucson.

This time around, noted Texas architect Tripp Davis and his team of associates oversaw some $300,000 to $400,000 in changes, many of which were made by the members themselves. Among other things, Davis & Co. specializes in renovations, and more recently redid prestigious Preston Trail Golf Club in Dallas, Wichita Country Club and the OU Course in Norman.

Among the many upgrades that greeted MCC’s members when they opened the doors in late October after a spectacular overseed:

*Several greens were reshaped and enlarged to their original specs to bring the bunkers back into play as well as to provide more cup locations. Additionally, all greens received new grass, with Tiff Dwarf Bermuda being the choice in order to ensure perfect putting surfaces in all weather.

*About 150 yards was added to the golf course through five new tee boxes to bring it more up to date and to counter advances in technology. The par-72 layout now stretches 6,900 yards with five par 3s, five par 5s and eight par 4s. And just to keep “teeing it forward,” several new forward tees also were added.

*Five new fairway bunkers were added and one new greenside bunker, while several other bunkers were moved. Additionally, all bunkers were filled with new sand.

*Lakes the guard the entrance to the club’s signature ninth hole were enlarged and reshaped, with new stacked stone replacing old worn-out-looking boulders. The cart path also was reworked on that hole, and just for good measure, a fountain that lights up at night was added for ambience.

*The clubhouse was remodeled from the lobby to the restaurant, as well as the patio, which was increased in size and spruced up with a new “blue” fire pit. New accordian-styled doors bring in the Arizona evening.

Among the other changes, the club named a well-known club operations director in Jeff Lessig. The head pro remains Scott Wright, who has been at the club for the past six years.

Lessig, who has a long legacy of his own in Arizona, had been the general manager at such clubs as We-Ko-Pa and most recently SunRidge Canyon. But asked if he was ready for the jump from public to private golf, he never hesitated, probably because his roots go back to Ohio’s famed Canterbury Club, where he once served as an assistant pro under the legendary Duff Lawrence.

“My first job here in the Valley was under Duff at Desert Highlands,” Lessig pointed out, noting that Lawrence, who holds the distinction of being Arizona State’s first All-American in golf, also was the GM at Paradise Valley Country Club.

“To date, I’ve only been here a couple of months, so it’s a little premature to know how it will all work out. But I’m feeling at home. The club has such a great history that (the job) just feels right.”

mesa-country-club-fairway-photoAccording to Ben Keilholtz, a member at the club who works for Scottsdale-based Bluestar Golf and Resort, and who served as a consultant for the renovation, the reaction to the changes have been just shy of off the charts.

“Essentially, we changed 12 of the 18 holes, although all 18 were touched in some way or another,” Keilholtz explained. “The goal was to modernize the club, to update the clubhouse, and to get it to 300 golfing members, because the charm of the club is you never worry about a tee time.”

By comparison, 300 members would be bare minimum at places like Phoenix, Arizona or Paradise Valley Country Club. And you would definitely pay much, much more to belong to those other clubs considering MCC is just $4,000 up front with $300 monthly dues.

How can they do it? Well, it doesn’t hurt to have a five-figure water bill that is probably the lowest of its kind in Arizona golf. That’s right, because of a grandfather-type deal with the City of Mesa, and the fact it still only irrigates 85 acres despite being a parkland-style golf course (aka, lots of trees), MCC really can hold down the expenses compared to its peers in the private sector.

“(The membership drive) is going really well,” Keilholtz added. “And every new member means more cool stuff. And when you consider we need about 50 more new members, well that’s a LOT of cool stuff.”

MCC has a wonderful past, as is sits on the corner of Country Club and Fairway drives on what once was the site of a former Hohokam Indian settlement. Through the years, it grew from the dream shared by the late Lyle Stevens and Dwight Patterson, the father of the Cactus League, to be “thee golf club” in Mesa, rivaling Arizona, Phoenix and Paradise Valley in terms of the elite private golf experience in Arizona.

Personally, I’ve always loved to play the golf course, which is traditional in every sense with a lot of interesting par 3s and par 5s that roam up and down the club’s two distinct elevations. And the membership at MCC could not be more easygoing and yet highly tuned in to golfing their balls.

They play a two-man “Derby” over the back nine every week that generates some nice pots, and there’s also a two-man scramble called “Little Mesa” that is played over the last three holes. The MCC “culture” also includes three member guests – the Joe Bartko Honors tournament, named after the long-time pro who led the membership for 33 years (1974-2007); the Pow-Wow, a tribute to the Hohokams that has been played for 32 years; and the season-ending Invitational, which next year will celebrate its 60th anniversary. Plus, the ladies have a tournament called the Sweet Swinger that brings in over 200 entries every year.

mesa-country-club-starter-photoCertainly some big hitters have teed it up at MCC over the years, like former presidents Dwight Eisenhauer and Gerald Ford. And current Champions Tour Michael Allen has been a member and a “player” in those club games for the past 10 years.

But these days, those bankers and real estate barons of Mesa no longer make up the membership at MCC. They have been replaced by families, which love to play golf, and the younger the better. According to Wright, who also played a key role in the renovation, the club can’t have enough young members if its future is to remain bright.

“That’s our biggest goal at the moment, to bring in younger as many younger members as we can,” said Wright, who once was an assistant pro at famed Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania before working at both Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club and San Marcos Golf Resort here in the Valley.

“And to that end, Jeff and I have already started doing that, as our membership offer to members under 45 has to be the best deal of its kind in the Valley.”

No kidding. If you’re 45 or under, you can have your $4,000 initiation divided into 60 payments over the next five years with no interest. That means for $57 a month plus the $300 monthly you can afford to belong to a private club. If you and your wife each played five times a month, that’s $36 per round.

Plus you get great accessibility from not only Mesa but Tempe and Scottsdale, too, as well as complete practice areas for your game, three dining options, a junior Olympic-sized pool, six lighted tennis courts, and a fitness center. That’s right, for $357 a month!

“Affordability has never been an issue. It’s more a matter of awareness,” Keilholtz explained. “Once the word gets out, that Mesa Country Club is back, I think a lot of people are going to realize that this truly is the best deal for private golf in the Valley.”

I’d have to agree. Even though it’s all brand new, MCC’s message goes back to the early days, when ingenuity led to tradition and, ultimately, a great history that continues to unfold.

Click “Huff’s Stuff” Arizona Golf Blog to visit Bill’s complete archive at the Arizona Golf Authority.

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