The Buzz: This short, player-friendly course is located among the pure beauty that makes north-central Arizona a wonderful place to live and visit. The area that captivated legendary author Zane Grey serves up towering ponderosa pine trees and rolling hills, backdropped by the majestic Mogollon Rim and that makes for a soothing and scenic golf experience. The area is filled with wildlife ranging from elk herds to black bear to migrating geese.
When visitors take a break from nature’s playground, many like to tee it up at Payson Golf Course, which plays to par 71 at 5,854 yards, placing an emphasis on accuracy rather than length. Rated at 66.9 with a slope of 114, it isn’t the type of course that is going to “beat up” the average golfer, but that doesn’t mean it is without challenges. Pine tree forests that create narrow fairways and a brook that wraps through the layout are among the obstacles on this course, which opened in 1959. Designed by Frank Hughes and Russell Zakariasen, it also features bentgrass greens and golfers appreciate the fact that the course places an emphasis on shot placement and good shots are rewarded.
It was built originally by Bill Miller as a nine-hole course and the second nine opened in the mid-70s, when Zakariasen owned the course, which accounts for a difference in topography. An open, flatter front nine plays longer than the back, where nature and wildlife are more prominent. “For whatever reason, our golfers seem to have a love-hate relationship with the back nine,” owner Harry Parsons said. “Some absolutely love it, others won’t even play it.” The course begins and each nine ends with a par-5 hole, with the ninth at 519 yards being the No. 1 handicap hole. The finishing hole, at 531 yards, is the longest on the course. Perhaps the best stretch is 13-16 where a creek winds through, bringing strategy and accuracy more into play on each of the holes. The 14th provides an unusual shot, being a par 3 with an obstructed view of the green. It plays at just 123 yards but has an elevated tee with an 80-feet drop to the green, and the golfer can only see the top of the flagstick because of tall trees blocking the view. This layout has a reputation of being well-conditioned, and Parsons like to say, “We take care of the course, but Mother Nature makes the rules.”
The surrounding area has made this one of the most popular second-home and retirement communities in the country with its hiking, hunting, fishing, camping and birding, along with its wonders of nature. Grey, who first came to the area in 1918, was captivated by the Mogollon Rim, a 200-mile long escarpment at 7,000 feet, writing, “For wild rugged beauty, I had not seen its equal.” He would be happy to know that this little golf course blends in nicely.