Central Arizona Phoenix

Phoenix Country Club

Arizona Golf Authority AZGA Golf Course Buzz: It isn’t the oldest golf course in Arizona, but most would agree that Phoenix Country Club is the most historic in the state. Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and his brother, Bob, who is known as the “Father of the Phoenix Open,” were instrumental in creating the club. Founded in 1899, the club had modest golf facilities at three sites around the Phoenix area before finding its current downtown Phoenix home in 1919.

Phoenix Country Club hosted its first tournament the next year and later became the host of the Phoenix Open, which stands as one of the oldest events on the PGA Tour. The club hosted the event 40 times between 1932 and 1986 (some years it was played at two other sites) and those who won the title at PCC include Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret, Ben Hogan, Gene Littler, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and the “desert fox”, Johnny Miller.

Englishman Harry Collis designed the parkland-style layout that features tree-lined fairways, big, traditional bunkers and subtle greens that vary in size depending on the difficulty of the hole.

The club retained the design team of Tom Lehman and John Fought to refurbish the course in 2002 and they put a premium on preserving its old-school styling.

“It needed to keep that traditional look with elevated greens and strategic bunkering, and at the same time take advantage of new turf grasses that provide a better playing surface,” Lehman said of the $6 million project. “At the end of the day, the goal was to make the course look and feel old, but make it strategic and keep it fun to play with great conditions. It’s something we need to do with these traditional courses that have wall-to-wall grass because we don’t have very many left in the area.”

Greens were resurfaced after the makeover to complete the project on a course that now sparkles. Phoenix Country Club plays to par 71 with two men’s and two ladies’ tees, and is 6,764 yards from the tips with a rating of 72.4 and slope of 129.

The course features some long par-3 holes, demanding par-4s and a pair of reachable par-5s that bookend the layout. No. 1 is a 511-yard par 5 with a long, slender green that offers a birdie to those who avoid a large pine tree along the right fairway and the right greenside bunker. The 18th, at 527 yards, is a classic risk-reward hole where a long drive up the left-center will allow you to reach the green, but water lurks on the right side and bunkers left; both are bogeys in waiting.

Phoenix Country Club has its own “Amen Corner” version with a three-hole stretch starting at No. 13. The par-3, with a hazard on the right, plays at 207 yards to a two-tiered green. The 14th, a 413-yard par-4, features out of bounds left and right, and the 15th is a 166-yard par-3 with water short and deep bunkers guarding the left and back of the green.

Phoenix Country Club also offers tennis, swimming, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a full-service clubhouse that was named one of the top 100 in the country by Golf World magazine in 2010 (Read Phoenix Country Club Article) and locker rooms with historical photos and artifacts on display.

The club offers several memberships, including those for residents and non-residents, golfers and non-golfers. As always, new members must be sponsored by existing members.

Arizona Golf Authority AZGA “Local Hang” for Phoenix Country Club includes Durant’s, on the east side of Central Avenue, just north of Virginia, and TexAZ, on the northeast corner of 16th Street and Bethany Home Road.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Wildfire – Palmer Course

Wildfire - Palmer Course

The Buzz: Before the JW Marriott Resort sprung up in this northeast part of Phoenix known as Desert Ridge, Arnold Palmer and his design crew sculpted a signature course, which was one of five he designed in Arizona and was selected as one of the “Top 10 Palmer standouts” by golf & travel magazines. It is a stark contrast to the Nick Faldo-designed course that opened five years later, and remains one of the best overall layouts in the Valley of the Sun. The back nine, along with the back nine of the Faldo Course, will be used to create a course for a new LPGA Tour event in March, 2011. Over the years, Palmer has taken some heat for not spending enough time at some of the venues where his courses were created, but he was very hands-on with this one, visiting the site six times during construction. Two years after opening, it played host to the EMC2 Skills Challenge, which was televised by NBC and featured PGA Tour players such as Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Nick Price and winner Billy Andrade. When he attended the 1997 grand opening, Palmer proclaimed, “Wildfire uses the desert very well, and environmentally, I think we did a fantastic job.”

Visually, it is very appealing, with numerous arroyos, backdrops created by the McDowell Mountains, and splendid views of Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak. There are five sets of tees, ranging from 4,915 to 7,145 yards. With a rating of 72.5 and slope of 140, it is a handful if you tackle it from the tips. The Palmer course is a target-oriented layout, yet its fairways are wide enough to allow you to attack with a driver on most tees. There also are some blind shots, split fairways, dense areas of rough and undulating greens that are expansive, with an average size of 7,000 square feet.

The front nine is highlighted by a pair of back-to-back holes. No. 5 is a 530-yard par 5 with a split fairway to a green surrounded by eight bunkers. The par-4 sixth, at 415 yards, is a photo op with Camelback Mountain looming in the distance, where your tee shot needs to carry desert terrain, leading to a green protected by a U-shaped bunker. But the course saves its best for last, with five strong finishing holes. No. 14 is another beautiful hole, a par 5 at 530 yards with a split fairway and a partially blind tee shot divided by desert, leading to a long, narrow green. No. 17, a 450-yard par 4, might be the toughest hole on the course demanding a solid drive and an accurate approach to a two-tiered green guarded on the right by water. As Palmer said when the course was completed, “I enjoy designing golf courses that celebrate the sheer fun of golf, and Wildfire is exactly that.”

The clubhouse and practice facilities also are first rate and deluxe GPS screens on the carts feature flyovers of each hole. Then there is the hotel, which is so elegant you might not want to leave the glass-enclosed lobby that presents splashing fountains, waterways and palm-lined and pathways. In addition to public play, the golf club offers annual memberships with benefits that dwarf those of some country clubs. Along with access to both courses, members enjoy the amenities offered by the resort property, such as spa treatments, tennis courts and a fitness center, as well as stays at other Marriott hotels and reciprocal golf at more than 40 Marriott courses. Be advised, however, that few of those courses will surpass what “The King” created here.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Wildfire – Faldo Course

Wildfire - Faldo Course

The Buzz: The Faldo course is the second of two outstanding designs at the JW Marriott Wildfire Resort and a stark contrast to the first, which was crafted by Arnold Palmer. In fact, the Nick Faldo-designed layout is a departure from just about every other course in the Valley of the Sun. With 108 large, dramatic bunkers, some of which could swallow a Volkswagen bus, high sand and turf flashings, the layout is reminiscent of Australian Sand Belt courses, such as Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath. But don’t let it frighten you too much because, if you think your way around it, the bark is much worse than the bite. Some of the sight lines are intimidating, but it offers generous fairways, few water hazards and transition areas milder than the average desert course, making it playable for all levels of golfers. The back nine, along with the back nine of the Palmer Course, will be used to create a course for a new LPGA Tour event in March, 2011. The surrounding mountains, saguaros and desert flora make it visually appealing as well. “We wanted to create a layout that was unlike anything else in the Phoenix region,” said Faldo, who partnered with the Phoenix design team of Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt, “and I think anyone who plays here will agree that we did.” One of the plusses is the variety, with par-4 holes that range from 314 to 478 yards from the back tees and par-3s ranging from 164 to 220 yards. The par-71 layout has four sets of tees, ranging from 5,245 to 6,846 yards and is rated at 71.6 with a slope of 127 from the back tees.

The bunkering creates the kind of risk/reward style of play Faldo intended, which is evident at the 16th hole. At 316 yards, it is a reachable par-4 for big hitters off the tee, but a desert wash runs along the right side and six steep-faced bunkers surround the green. No. 15 is a 620-yard, par-5 that requires three solid shots to a slender green protected by eight bunkers. But the signature hole might be No. 2, a 408-yard par 4 with a split fairway, forcing you to decide how to avoid a row of steep bunkers right down the middle, leaving a shot to a big green that is well guarded by (you guessed it) sand bunkers. Again, if you don’t try to overpower it, this can be a day at the beach instead of a day stuck in the beach.

Afterward, there is plenty of opportunity to relax at this resort, which has won numerous awards as one of the top golf resorts in the country from Conde Nast and other publications. Wildfire Golf Club opened in 1997 with the Palmer signature course before the hotel was built and the Faldo course debuted in 2002 within a month of the hotel’s grand opening. Along with the two courses, there are two putting greens, chipping green and practice bunker, an expansive driving range, 2,500-square-foot golf shop and deluxe GPS screens on the carts with flyovers of each hole.

If you’re fortunate enough to stay at the resort, be prepared to experience luxury that includes endless recreation, the world-class Revive Spa, five swimming pools, a winding river and waterslide, state-of-the-art fitness center, 24-hour room service and 10 restaurants, ranging from the casual poolside fare at Just a Splash to elegant Italian cuisine at Ristorante Tuscany. Every day at the beach should be this good.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Villa de Paz Golf Course

Arizona Golf Authority AZGA Arizona Golf Course Review: Villa de Paz is a favorite of local veteran players on the west side of Phoenix and has a well-deserved reputation as one of the area’s best value courses.

Villa de Paz Golf Course

Designed by Greg Nash, it opened in 1976 and received a makeover in 2002 that enhanced the traditional, parkland-style layout featuring fairways lined with mature eucalyptus trees. Fairways are fairly tight, greens are well bunkered and water features bring water into play on 10 holes.

Level par is 72 at Villa de Paz; three sets of tees are set at 6,641, 6,146 and 5,458 yards with a rating of 70.1 and slope of 123 from the tips. Birdie opportunities abound with four par-4s playing at less than 345 yards from the tips and a nice variety of par-3s at 160, 225, 172 and 236 yards. But with all the water in play here, precision is the key to scoring; leave the grip it and rip it in the trunk of your car.

The ninth hole, a 559-yard par 5 with a dogleg right, is difficult to reach in two because of its length and the green complex, sporting a small putting surface shaped like a lima bean with a large bunker guarding the front-right corner, is best approached with a short iron.

No. 12 is strong par-4 playing at just 370 yards, but cross bunkers in the primary landing area and a lake that starts near the end of the fairway and wraps around the left and behind the green produce a lot of bogeys here.

Villa de Paz saves what may be the toughest par on the course for last. The 4-par 18th is the signature hole and, from the back tee, the dogleg right is a handful at 470 yards. The tee shot must carry a fairway bunker and the approach needs to carry a lake to reach a three-tiered green guarded by a large bunker along the left side.

Villa de Paz offers full practice facilities with a grassed driving range, putting, chipping and bunker areas, and the clubhouse includes a restaurant that serves up breakfast and lunch. It’s not a country club or luxury resort course, but all things considered, Villa de Paz provides a solid layout with plenty of thrills for one of the most reasonable green fees in the Phoenix area.

Read the Arizona Golf Course List AZGA Player’s Arizona Golf Course Review for every golf course in Arizona at

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Central Arizona Phoenix

Lookout Mountain Golf Club

The Buzz: Welcome to the course that almost became the first Tournament Players Club in PGA Tour history and host site of the annual Phoenix Open, but still turned out to be one of Arizona’s best resort layouts. This course, part of the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs resort, combines stunning scenery with challenging play and a glimpse of wildlife, including coyote and quail. Bordering the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, with excellent views of Lookout Mountain and Piestewa Peak, it has received a Golf Digest Four Star award for nine consecutive years, and with good reason. In the mid 1980s, PGA Tour commissioner Dean Beman toured the property with legendary designer Pete Dye in search of a TPC home, but then-Phoenix mayor Margaret Hance and a group of environmentalists objected, effectively killing the project. Instead, the TPC course was built in north Scottsdale, becoming the tournament’s home.

Hole #10 at Lookout Mountain Golf Course at the Pointe Tapatio Cliffs Hilton Resort in Phoenix
Hole #10 at Lookout Mountain

Lookout Mountain, which was designed by local architect Bill Johnston, has hosted a Champions Tour event and was the host course of the made-for-TV Skills Challenge for its first three years. Arnold Palmer, Chi Chi Rodriguez, John Daly, Hale Irwin and David Duval are among those who have competed here. Holes are characterized by dramatic elevation changes and golfers are treated to a memorable risk-reward finishing hole with a 510-yard, par-5 to a shallow, island green, where the only entrance point is a 10-yard-wide alley along the left side. If the course isn’t enough to fit your fancy, the resort certainly will. It offers fine dining, lodging, shopping, hiking and horseback riding without leaving the grounds.

The 19th hole actually is the Pointe in Tyme Bar and Grill, a steakhouse with homemade marinades and rubs and seasonal entrees. The short rib pot roast and grilled Atlantic salmon are excellent. Dinner is a special treat with upscale cuisine at the renowned Different Pointe of View, which sits on a mountain top and offers views from the restaurant and fireplace overlook of desert landscape and city lights that are unmatched in the Phoenix area.