AZGA Arizona Golf Buzz: Window shopping became a lot more fun for golfers with news in 2009 that The Rim Club, which opened as an exclusive private club in 1999, had opened for public play. Before then, it was like looking at the diamond ring in the jewelry store window that you could never wear. Now, everyone can try on this gem that features breathtaking views of the sprawling Mogollon Rim.
The Rim Club is the last of the 28 courses designed jointly by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, and it clearly demonstrates why they were such a formidable team; they just might have saved their best for last. Both have a knack for routing courses that blend perfectly with nature and there is plenty of nature to enjoy in this enclave that spans 555 acres in the midst of the largest continuous stand of Ponderosa pine in the United States. Unlike the craggy desert landscape you’ll find at most of Arizona’s top courses, this one more closely resembles the endless pine forests of the Rocky Mountains, blended with boulder outcroppings, dramatic elevation changes and dramatic views of the Mogollon Rim, a mountain plateau that extends for 200 miles and would be the state’s defining landmark if not for that little wonder known as the Grand Canyon.
It’s about 75 miles and a gorgeous +4,000-foot climb from Scottsdale to reach the Rim Club, which sits at an elevation over 5,000 feet. The Rim Club emerged from the bankruptcy filed by its developer, Crescent Resources, in December 2010, transferring club property to the member-owned club, and they elected to continue allowing public play on Fridays and Saturdays. Those who take advantage are treated to an uncommon golf experience combining the beauty of the 3-million-acre Tonto National Forest, exceptional service, elegant facilities and a brilliantly designed course.
Several holes at the Rim Club are worthy of signature status, but No.13 has received that designation. The downhill par-5 plays at 581 yards from the back tees with a left dogleg and plenty of trouble on the right. To reach the green in two shots, the second must clear a large boulder and carry about 260 yards to a green backdropped by a small mountain of elephant rocks.
Other memorable holes include the second, an uphill par-4 at 476 yards with a dogleg left to an uphill green; the seventh, a downhill par-4 at 467 yards with a lake on the left and a creek running to the right of the green; and the 11th a 476-yard uphill par-4 with a forced carry over a natural area from the tee to a plateau. Play those three in 3-over or better and you have three reasons to celebrate.
Along with the tough tests, Morrish and Weiskopf also created a few birdie holes and risk-reward holes which add fun to the experience, such as the 16th, a par-4 where a driver off the tee will leave about an 80-yard shot to the green but you need to place the ball in a fairway that narrows to about 20 yards wide in the landing area. With a 3-wood, there’s plenty of room, but that leaves a long or mid-iron shot to the green. The par-71 layout plays at 7,040 yards from the back tees (5,184 from the front) and the scorecard gives you a hint of what you’re facing with hole names such as The Quarry, Balancing Rock, Ironwood Wash, Hell Bunker, The Saddle and Post Card. That last one could apply to many holes on this beauty.
If you’re not fortunate enough to be one of the window shoppers who made The Rim Club their home, the town of Payson offers several hotel and restaurant options. One of the best is Fargo’s Steak House, about five minutes from the course. If you have a little more time to spend, Christopher Creek Lodge is about as comfortable and charming as any place you will find in the high country and Creekside Steakhouse and Tavern is a mouth-watering experience. Its ribs and homemade desserts will keep you coming back for more, just like the golf course.