Northern Arizona Payson

Rim Golf Club

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.

Hole #13 at The Rim Club in Payson, Arizona
Hole #13 The Rim Club

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.

Northern Arizona Payson

Payson Golf Course

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.

Picturesque #9 green at the Payson Golf Course in Payson, Arizona
#9 Green at Payson Golf Course

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.

Northern Arizona Payson

Chaparral Pines Golf Club

Chaparral Pines - Green Complex Hole No. 7

The Buzz: It was created, of course, as a golf club, but many visitors to this gem in Arizona’s high country prefer to view it as the endless photo op. They stand on a tee and wonder how a golf hole could be more beautiful, then get the answer when they reach the next one. Chaparral Pines is that stunning. Created by former design partners David Graham and Gary Panks, it’s set among the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine in the United States and is back-dropped by the sprawling Tonto National Forest and the wondrous Mogollon Rim and Granite Dells. Various magazines have rated it among the best private clubs in the country.

Panks and Graham took full advantage of the surroundings, adding some intrinsic man-made lakes, streams and washes, while preserving rock outcroppings and other natural landmarks. Chaparral Pines serves as an escape from the blistering heat for residents of the Phoenix and Tucson areas during summer months but offers year-round play. The club experienced lengthy financial troubles, which resulted in developers selling it to Buffalo Golf LLC in November, 2010. The new ownership group includes long-time member Steve Loy, the CEO of Gaylord Sports Management, whose primary client is Phil Mickelson. OB Sports, whose portfolio includes 40 courses, took over operation of the facility when the sale was completed. It remains a private club, but in 2011 began offering memberships to non-residents for the first time. Built in 1997, it has five sets of tees ranging from 5,197 to 7,019 yards, with a rating of 73.4 and slope of 142 from the back tees.

Among the many memorable holes is the par-5 seventh, the No. 1 handicap at 624 yards called “Canyon Creek,” which zigzags downhill like an elk descending from the Mogollon Rim, and those impressive, antlered creatures are commonly seen around this course. Ideally, you need to play three different shots to set up a birdie attempt – a fade off the tee, a draw on the second shot and a straight approach with a wedge or short iron. A winding creek protects the front of the green, so if there’s any question about club selection, pick the longer of the two.

Chaparral Pines - Tee Box at No. 3

Among the many scenic holes, the two most impressive might be the third and 12th, a pair of excellent par 4s. No. 3, called “Diamond Point,” is a great risk-reward hole with gorgeous views of pine forests and mountain peaks (including Diamond Peak) and surrounding wilderness. The 12th, called “Rim View,” offers one of the most dramatic tee shots in the state with a 150-foot drop to the fairway. The 475-yard hole also has a risk-reward element due to a collection area among pine trees around the green waiting for errant approach shots. Along with its impressive golf course, Chaparral Pines offers members myriad activities, including swimming, tennis and a state-of-the-art fitness center. Dining and clubhouse amenities also are first rate. The tough part, if you’re not a member, is landing an invitation to play, and groveling in this case is well worth the effort.