Central Arizona Phoenix

Arizona Biltmore Country Club – Links Course

The Buzz: The idea of this project was to create a course that would contrast that of the Adobe Course, built 51 years earlier, but fit with its surrounds just like its big sister at the Arizona Biltmore Resort. Architect Bill Johnston accomplished that with a design that has been alternately described as “wild, fresh, enjoyable, unconventional and a bit quirky.” Unlike the classic, parkland design of Adobe, the Links Course presents rolling fairways, desert ravines, scenic elevation drops, five lakes and deep bunkers set close to the greens. Those aren’t characteristics you might expect to find on a course in the heart of the fifth largest city in the United States, but it is part of what makes the Biltmore property the “Jewel of the Desert.”

Johnston’s design is a combination of desert golf mixed with more traditional landscape with grass running from tees to greens, but few rugged transition areas and plenty of variety built in. No two holes are alike and each day they seem to play different, placing a premium on strategy and shot-making with accuracy on a course with challenging fairways and large, undulating greens, where avoiding three-putts is at a premium. Although it plays nearly 200 yards shorter from the tips than Adobe, many golfers consider Links to be the harder of the two.

The par-71 course has three sets of tees at 6,300, 5,726 and 4,747 yards and from the back tee is rated at 69.5 with a slope of 125. It wraps around the outer edges of the 39-acre property and is tucked under Piestewa Peak with Camelback Mountain in the distance, both which provide picturesque backdrops for various holes. Johnston built some fun, in the form of risk-reward holes, into the layout, including three par-5 holes that all are reachable in two shots. It might best be described as “enjoyably quirky,” with some very sharp doglegs, including one on a short par-3 where you can’t see the green from the tee, and surprises waiting around the bends.

The signature hole is the 15th, a par 3 with a teeing area at the highest point on the property. It plays at 183 yards from the tips, with a drop of 75 feet from tee to a bunkered green, and offers excellent views of the Phoenix metro skyline and distant mountains. Another scenic viewpoint awaits at the tee on 17, which is the longest par 4 on the course at 451 yards.

A well-adorned clubhouse serves both courses and includes the Adobe Restaurant, which prepares traditional southwest cuisine that is served inside or on a veranda that overlooks an 18-hole putting green. Arizona Biltmore, created by the Wrigley chewing gum family, might be the most famous resort in the state. It offers uncommon amenities and a stately hotel inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, which has hosted many U.S. presidents and celebrities, from Fred Astaire to Bob Hope to Marilyn Monroe to Steven Spielberg. Many were repeat guests and, in that regard, the Links Course fits right in. Unlike the Adobe Course, where you have a good idea of the challenge at first glance, the Links is one that should become much friendlier on the second visit.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Arizona Biltmore Country Club – Adobe Course

The Buzz: In a word, “timeless” might be the one that best describes this classic course that opened in 1928 and was designed by the highly regarded architect William P. Bell. Located in the heart of Phoenix, yet secluded in a valley of craggy hillside and desert landscape, the Adobe Course at the Arizona Biltmore Resort is one of Arizona’s oldest courses and truly one of the state’s golf treasures. It sets in the shadows of Piestewa Peak, which provides distant backdrops for several holes on a course that is relatively flat but offers numerous challenges created by its strategic bunkering, mature citrus and three formidable water hazards.

Bell might be best known for his work on California’s Riviera and Bel-Air Country Clubs and that approach is reflected on several holes of Adobe, which underwent a major renovation project in 2003 under the direction of Phoenix architect Forrest Richardson, who is well-versed in Bell’s design techniques. Due to new construction on the Biltmore resort property, some holes had to be re-routed, but much of Richardson’s focus was on restoring what Bell had created, and the bunkering in particular. “The course is not only being given new life, but to me it’s being given what’s most appropriate and that is something that truly pays homage to its roots,” Richardson said after starting the project. “We’re not trying to do things that golf course architects do in 2003. We’re trying to do things that would be indicative of what was done when this course was first built.”

It is a course defined by wide fairways and classic cross bunkers that force the golfer to take the gamble of hitting over them or negotiating around them. Plenty of birdie opportunities await for golfers who think their way around this course and choose their gambles wisely.

The par-71 layout has three sets of tees at 6,478, 6,075 and 5,417 yards. There is another course at the resort, the Links Course, which opened in 1979 and wraps around the outside of the 39-acre property. A well-adorned clubhouse serves both courses and includes the Adobe Restaurant, which prepares traditional southwest cuisine that is served inside or on a veranda that overlooks an 18-hole putting green designed by David Graham and Gary Panks.

Arizona Biltmore, created by the Wrigley chewing gum family, might be the most famous resort in the state. Known as the “Jewel of the Desert,” it offers uncommon amenities and a stately hotel inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, who consulted on its masonry, using indigenous materials that led to the creation of the “Biltmore Block,” which has the look of a freshly cut palm tree. The hotel hosted every American president during its existence up to George W. Bush, and it is the venue where Sen. John McCain made his concession speech to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. Celebrities who stayed here include Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin, James Cagney, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Spencer Tracy and Steven Spielberg. Berlin, in fact, penned “White Christmas” and several other songs while sitting at the Biltmore swimming pool.

Not surprisingly, several celebrities are among the owners of the eye-catching mansions around the outer edges of the Adobe Course. Combine those elegant homes and landscape with the classic, parkland-style course design, and you might feel like you’re playing golf where time stood still. Knickers and argyle socks could be in order.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Ahwatukee Country Club

The Buzz: Johnny Bulla, who died in 2003, was a legend in these parts, dominating golf in Arizona for many years. He was one of the world’s few ambidextrous golfers and a true pioneer of the game. And, as this layout shows, he also knew a little something about course design. Ahwatukee CC, which opened in 1974, mixes the beauty of its desert landscape with a fair but challenging layout along the edges of Phoenix South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the world, spanning 16,000 acres.

The course presents wide fairways but several have out-of-bounds stakes on both sides of the house-lined layout. Terrain is fairly level with some modest mounding and the course winds through a residential community, offering a good test for mid- to high-handicappers and beginners. It also is female-friendly. The green complexes are medium in size and mostly flat, with open fronts that invite low running pitches and chip shots. Greens are well guarded by 32 bunkers and lakes bring water into play on six holes. The par-72 layout has three sets of tees at 5,506, 6,103 and 6,713 yards. From the back tees it is rated at 70.8 with a slope of 120. Ahwatukee CC is one of four courses that comprise Ahwatukee Golf Properties, which offers discount cards to golfers who play the quartet frequently. The adjacent Lakes at Ahwatukee course is considered one of the best executive courses in the state and annually hosts the Arizona Golf Association’s Short Course Championship.

This one is a tribute to Bulla, a former PGA Tour player who was known for having one of the sweetest swings in the game but one of the poorest putting strokes, which prevented him from winning more worldwide titles. He dominated in Arizona, however, winning the Arizona Open 14 times and 42 Southwest Section of the PGA events.

He was a natural left-hander who was taught to play right-handed since they were the only clubs available to him, but could shoot lights out from either side. At nearby Papago Golf Course, where Bulla played often, his best scores were 61 right-handed and 65 left-handed. He also was a pioneer in many ways and convinced the manager of the Tam O’Shanter tournament in Chicago to allow a black golfer to play in a PGA Tour event for the first time in 1944.

Ahwatukee’s signature hole is the fourth, a 184-yard par 3 with a tee shot over water. Water hazards also are a daunting obstacle on the sixth, a 406-yard par 4, and the 14th, a 192-yard par 3, which are among the more memorable holes. Ahwatukee CC has a comfortable clubhouse with a popular restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch, locker rooms for men and women, a full driving range and two putting greens. The club has daily happy hours and its all-you-can-eat fish fry is particularly popular.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Aguila Golf Course

aguila-golf-course-photoThe Buzz: This was the last of the municipal courses built by the city of Phoenix and has become the favorite of many “muny” players. Designed by Gary Panks, who created several of Arizona’s best course layouts, Aguila opened in 1999 to much acclaim and gets its name from the Aztec word for “eagle.” The $6.5 million project includes an 18-hole championship and a nine-hole executive course on a 210-acre plot that was the former site of the Alvord family farm. It nestles up to South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the country, spanning 17,000 acres, and offers excellent views, with the Estrella Mountains and South Mountain in two directions and the Phoenix skyline in another.

In the fall of 2010, Aguila underwent a three-month renovation project in which some bunkers were re-shaped and all were renovated. Greenside bunkering provides numerous challenges on the course that has four sets of tees, ranging from 5,442 to 6,962 yards. It is rated at 72.4, with a slope of 129, from the back tees.

The layout has a sort of links feel with gently rolling fairways, transition areas that meander through the property, supporting native grasses and desert flora. Three lakes bring water into play on five holes. Raised green complexes and generous fairways make it player friendly, but the fairway bunkers can be very penal. Being a municipal course, Panks allowed for recovery shots around the greens. There are plenty of birdie opportunities, but in most cases, you need to hit good drives to take advantage. Panks enjoys creating risk-reward holes and he did that here on Nos. 8 and 17. Both are short par 4s, at 309 and 321 yards, but both have prominent water hazards you must avoid. Both nines have strong finishing holes, which are rated the second and third handicap holes. The ninth plays at 441 yards and the 18th is the longest par 4 on the course at 471. A lake separates the two holes, running nearly their full length and there are some treacherous bunkers on each.

The nine-hole course is your basic pitch-and-putt which works great for kids. It has two sets of tees at 763 and 1,081 yards and just three holes over 100 yards, with 141 being the longest. Aguila has an excellent youth golf program, including a state-of-the-art learning center, complete with classroom, reading and reference materials plus computers. There also are extensive practice facilities and The Eagles Nest Café serves up breakfast and lunch. Being a municipal course, it offers some of the lowest green fees in the state and golfers who buy a discount card through the city of Phoenix receive even lower rates on the five 18-hole and three nine-hole courses in the city stable.

One more thing Aguila offers that you might not find at any other “muny” course is a head pro who has won the U.S. Women’s Open. That’s right, Janet Anderson, who won the title by 6 shots in 1982, heads up the staff here. She had 52 top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour and still has plenty of game, playing on the Women’s Senior Golf Tour when her schedule allows.