Arizona Golf Authority AZGA Golf Course Buzz: Vistal Golf Club takes advantage of its central Phoenix location and offers up great golf and the best views of the city’s skyline from a fairway, anywhere in town.
Originally designed by Arizona golf legend Johnny Bulla, the golf course opened in 1957 as the Thunderbird Country Club. The course received a major redesign in 2000 by PGA Tour Design Services, who assigned local resident tour player consultants Howard Twitty, Tom Lehman and Billy Mayfair to the job.
The local boys produced a gem that re-opened in November of 2001 as the Vistal Golf Club to accolades all around. Quickly named a “Top 10 New Public Course in the U.S.” by Sports Illustrated, Vistal Golf Club was selected as the host course for two local U.S. Open qualifying tournaments.
Some of Bulla’s original holes remain intact, particularly on the front nine, and the new back nine winds up through the rugged mountain foothills while maintaining a traditional feel. Four sets of tees range from 7,013 to 5,235 yards with a rating of 72.9 and slope of 129 from the tips, 69.4 and 116 from the most forward tees. More than 80 bunkers add to the challenge and three lakes bring water into play on six holes, most notably at the third, the ninth and 18th.
Vistal entertains right from the start and begins with a birdie, a bogey and the anything from a 2 through “I’m in my pocket” third hole.
The 526-yard par-5 first features an elevated tee and fairway-pinching bunkers in the landing area. Negotiate them successfully and make a putt to bag an opening birdie. The second is a classic 440-yard par-4, straightaway; both the yardage and a swale in the center of the generous green produce a lot of bogeys here.
The par-3 third hole at Vistal is a birdie hole when the pin is left; but if the cup is cut in the right half of the green, you can make numbers that won’t fit on your card. Playing just 167 yards from the tips, 108 forward, the right half of the green is a lake-wrapped peninsula that demands precise yardage control from the tee. You can drown several pieces of ammo if you’re a bit short, a bit long or just a little bit right of your intended line of play. Tournament golf; play left and card a two-putt par – recreational golf; have some fun and have a go.
As you would expect, the PGA Tour player’s authored a strong finishing stretch at Vistal Golf Club. The 16th is 438-yard par-4 with an angry green surface devoid of a single flat spot more than 4-feet in diameter; it’s still a lot of fun to putt. The 17th is 597 yards of 5-par golf into the prevailing breeze in these parts; just play for par.
The par-4 18th is a terrific tournament golf closer. Playing at 427 yards, the tee ball must be shaped into a fairway running on a diagonal to the tee, miss a little left and your second will be played from a bunker. A lake runs along the left side of the fairway, and the left side of the green wraps behind it, so depending on pin placement, you may need to carry it on the approach. Two well struck shots produce a routine birdie putt, but miss either shot just a hair and the leader board can change quite dramatically.
Vistal offers full practice facilities, complete with classic rock music piped in. After the round, the Blue Pig Patio is a good place to relax with excellent views of several holes and the Phoenix skyline in the distance.
Originally, some holes on the back-nine holes were located west of 7th Street. As part of the 2000 redesign, that property has been re-crafted as the Thunderbirds Par-3 Course and the official home of the First Tee of Phoenix program. Designed by Tom Fazio, the course plays at about 600 yards and level par of 27.
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.”
Read the Arizona Golf Authority AZGA Arizona Golf Course Review for every golf course in Arizona at www.arizonagolfauthority.com/coursedirectory.
It’s “All Things Arizona Golf” from the Arizona Golf Authority.