Arizona Golf Course Guide’s AZGA Arizona Golf Course Review: When the Raven Golf Club opened for play in 1995, the tectonic plates of the golf landscape in Phoenix shifted forever. Sure, high-quality golf course designs were already scattered around North Scottsdale’s foothills back then, but most were private country clubs designed for the exclusive enjoyment of the members and their lucky guests.
The Raven boldly placed a first-class David Graham – Gary Panks layout right in the heart of Phoenix, added all the customer service the private places had, and then offered the same experience to daily-fee public players – Home Run.
Not only did the locals flock to the course, but due to its location near Sky Harbor International airport, avid traveling golfers always scheduled it for play on the day they arrived, or the day they were leaving town. Many outfits have copied the formula over the years, but no one in Phoenix does it better than the Raven – for two reasons: the golf course, and the staff.
First, the golf course. Wow!
Messrs. Graham and Panks were given a site along Baseline Road in a longstanding agricultural area near South Mountain historically cultivated as flower nurseries; the fields are directly adjacent to a major irrigation canal. They moved some earth, imported 6,000 Georgia Pine trees and produced a spectacular golf course that the editors at GolfWorld included on their 2009 List of the Top 50 Public Courses in the U.S.A and Golf Digest awarded 4.5 of the 5 possible stars they hand out. Trust us; you don’t buy your way into the rankings issued by those two groups.
The Raven – Phoenix is an ever entertaining and playable golf course from the middle tees, while providing a championship caliber test from the tips. At its full 7,078 yardage, the course rating is a healthy 72.8 and slope is 130. Two sets of middle tees offer a more comfortable rating of 70.5/125 from 6,722 yards and 68.1/119 from 6,264. The forward tees are set at 5,759 and the rating creeps back over par at 73/129.
Raven Golf Club – Phoenix is the model for the “member for a day” mantra you hear so often these days. Visit the expansive practice ground to loosen up and don’t be offended if you find the surfaces are better than the fairways you play on at home. Take plenty of time to prepare and be ready to play from the start because a stern 3-hole test appears early on the front-9.
Standing on the 3rd tee you’ll notice two things, a generous pine tree-lined fairway and not a single fairway bunker. You know what that means, and a glance at the tee marker will confirm your suspicion; it’s the strongest par-4 you’ll see all day and, at 477 yards, the No.1 handicap hole on the course. Resign yourself to a longish second and take solace in the fact that the Graham-Nash team provided a bunker-free green complex that accepts a long iron or hybrid shot-trajectory.
Now that your long game has been stretched out, No. 4, a 596-yard par-5 provides another chance to use it. The AZGA staff recommends we amateurs play this one as a three-shotter due to the elevated green complex. Approaching this green with a short iron ensures a more reliable result as deep bunkers menace the right half of this tiered green, both front and rear – sandy birdies are rare here.
The early 3-hole workout culminates at the 6th tee where the designers test another part of your game: your judgment. You’ve just played two holes that suggest “long ball is good” and now they tempt you with their 324-yard drivable par-4. The fairway doglegs sharply left-to-right around a menacing family of bunkers and the multi-tiered green sits just beyond them, tantalizingly exposing its wide but shallow-depth side to you from the tee; the deep long-axis of the green is angled some 60-degrees away from you, in line with the safer, dogleg fairway approach. Carry the bunkers and you’re home free, miss a bit and well, you know the drill. It’s your choice, and therein lies the fun.
The back-9 is a bit shorter and the layout offers several more choices about what shot to hit. Standouts are the 11th and the 15th. Tee boxes at the par-3 11th are placed from 195 to 112 yards and it’s one of the few golf holes where an amateur player might actually, consciously, genuinely reach the following conclusion – “You know, if I miss this green, after looking at the angry ocean-like undulating chipping area over there on the right, that bunker on the left doesn’t look so bad.” They’d be correct, too.
No. 15, a par-4 playing a modest 366 yards, is an elegant eye-candy golf hole disguising an intriguing choice about your tee shot. Challenge and stay short of the bunker, located just 250 yards from the tee and defining the gently sweeping left-to-right dogleg, and you’re left with a level lie and the full depth of a two-tiered, elevated green for your second. Drive your tee ball longer into the generous fairway left of the bunker and you’ll find everything but a level lie, and the green, now diagonal to your line of play, is a very shallow one-club target.
The Raven Golf Club – Phoenix is home to one of those rare golf courses where even if you did reach the milestone of playing every day, you would always be entertained by the course. Each day would bring a little different lie, a different shot angle, or a change in strategy off the tee; that’s the mark of thoughtful design and careful course routing.
And if you do show up every day, rest assured you’ll be in good hands. O.B Sports’ General Manager at the Raven – Phoenix, Derek Crawford, has been doing this for 30-years and he’s distilled the art and science of customer service to its essence.
“It’s simple really; my staff and I do whatever we can to enhance a guest’s experience today. It’s not hard to get over there and open a door for someone whose hands are full, or take a moment to smile and thank them for choosing to come over and play our course. We just believe that, in a world which seems a bit less civil today, the little things we do have a big impact on our guests”
The Raven Golf Club – Phoenix also offers a well appointed Pro Shop and great food and beverage ambiance in the Raven Grill, as well as complete banquet services in their Event Pavilion overlooking the 18th hole.
After golf, as long as you’re in the neighborhood, spend some time and check out two more Phoenix originals. The entrance to South Mountain Park is just down the street, south on Central Avenue, and you can make the short drive up to the 1,000-foot summit for the view; it’s spectacular, day or night.
And if you’re on south Central Avenue, at #8684 you’ll drive right past one of the best meals in town at the family owned and operated restaurant, Los Dos Molinos. Named by Victoria “The Two Grinders” for the chili grinders she and her husband Eddie each received from their grandmothers, this is hand-crafted New Mexico style cuisine presented in a small, homey atmosphere. The food is great because as Victoria says, “There’s no assembly line here, my daughters and I prepare each dish, with one helper at most.”
Visit our Arizona Golf Course Directory List and read the AZGA Player’s Review for every golf course in Arizona at www.arizonagolfauthority.com/coursedirectory/; it’s “All Things Arizona Golf” from the Arizona Golf Authority.