The golf course at Tierra Grande, located just west of Casa Grande, about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, recently underwent a major makeover.
Originally designed by Arthur “Jack” Snyder, it opened in 1978 as a nine-hole course and has now expanded to 18, with nine new holes interspersed with the existing nine. The course boasts level par of 67 shots, which is generous considering the modest length of the course; new slope and course rating figures are due for assignment in 2012.
From the back tees it plays at 4,433 yards, 3,990 yards from the forward set. Water comes into play on two holes – the par-4 third at 261 yards and the par-3 seventh at 126 yards. Tierra Grande has a putting green available but no driving range and has a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch. This is a budget play with rates below $25 most of the year.
Every so often the essence of an epic golf course style from a by-gone era is captured, nurtured and kept fresh so players can turn back the clock and enjoy it all over again.
Orange Tree Golf Club has preserved one of Arizona’s grand parkland-style golf courses and elevated the classic layout by adding today’s modern conveniences. And under the watchful eye of Shelby Futch and his Scottsdale Golf Group, you can be sure Orange Tree will continue to flourish far into the future.
The course is the product of a grand age of golf course design in Phoenix from one of professional golf’s early ambassadors. Designed by Arizona golf legend Johnny Bulla, Orange Tree was originally called Century Country Club and opened in 1957 near the edge of town, on the site of a former orange grove at 56th Street and Shea Boulevard. It’s surrounded by residences now, as the city’s grown a bit since Dwight left the White House.
Bulla traveled and played the tour with his close friend, Sam Snead, and after placing third on the money list in 1941, moved to in Arizona in 1946. Bulla had 16 professional wins and finished, with Lloyd Mangrum, T-2 behind Snead at the ’49 Masters, the first year a green jacket was awarded to the tournament champion at Augusta National.
Bulla still holds the course record, 61, at Phoenix’s local Papago Municipal layout and legend holds he accomplished the feat twice, once playing right-handed and a second time playing from the left side – only the first score made the newspaper.
But long before designers were saddled with government imposed water-restriction mandates and golf course developers tossed around terms like “signature holes” and built $1 million dollar waterfalls, Phoenix golf courses of this era promised players a wall-to-wall lush, green respite from the surrounding arid desert environment.
The allure of a green all-turf oasis wasn’t a mirage on the horizon, but rather, defined the high-design style of the time and Bulla’s layout followed suit, as did an update by Lawrence Hughes some 20 years later.
A visit to Orange Tree Golf Club is a refreshing walk-in-the-park day playing a traditional all-turf Bermuda grass golf course on wide and shady tree-lined fairways. Camelback and Mummy Mountain backdrops on several holes, together with accents of tropical foliage, water features and swaying palm trees produces an overall desert-oasis ambiance throughout the day.
Orange Tree Golf Club tips out at 6,775 yards, common for courses of this era, and plays to a rating of 70.7, slope 121. Several tee combinations are in play, the most forward are set at 5,704 yards. But be advised, the challenge is not about length at Orange Tree, it’s about controlling your golf ball.
You see, those same stately shade trees which produce the pleasant ambiance at Orange Tree also define the line of play. If you plan to grip it and rip it here, you must be able to shape your tee ball at-will, both to the right and to the left. Launch it on the wrong line and you’ll either catch a tree at lift-off, end up raking one of several strategically placed fairway bunkers, or be stymied by trees when your tee ball comes to rest.
Second shots at Orange Tree must be precise; these are not today’s subdivision-size greens. Orange Tree’s green complexes remain true to their heritage; smallish, well-bunkered and modestly elevated for drainage. The predominate slope in the surface, as expected, is down from back to front so they’re highly receptive to your second shot. However, within their modest confines they provide plenty of opposing-undulation in various tiers which can present you with a 12-footer that asks for a full foot of break. They’re Bermuda too, so pay attention to the grain and make your opponent for the day putt the short ones.
The front-9 plays the shorter of the two and finishes with a traditional 3-hole stretch. No. 7 is pure 3-par golf; 216-yard straight away all-turf carry, bunker front right and back left, elevated green pitched toward you glistening in the sunshine, shady tee box; it’s a great setting to just relax and hit a proper golf shot.
No. 8 defines 4-pars of the era; 414 yards bending right to left around bunkers in the left-hand side of the fairway landing area. The second shot must find a rather narrow green that’s plenty deep but angling away from you, front-right to back-left. The narrow green is protected by a bunker front right and the first water hazard of the day, artfully tucked along the left side of the green; it produces a visually inviting and nerve-testing stage for a well executed second shot.
The par-4 9th is all about strategy, your choices and your execution. It’s only 376 yards and there’s not a fairway bunker in sight, but water shimmers in the distance. It’s reachable from the tee and extends up the right side of the left-to-right sweeping fairway to guard the entire right side of the green. Successfully challenge the water with a driver and you’re left with a gap-wedge approach, the lake is just pretty window-dressing for your enjoyment. Play short of the water off the tee and now your second must carry the lake to reach the green – Your choice.
The back-9 is a bit longer and offers similar strategic choices as water features threaten four holes. At the 408-yard par-4 11th the water protects the front right side of the green. It’s hidden from view if you’re well back in the fairway so before you play your second, take a quick moment to go up and have a look, you’ll be glad you did.
Water lurks short and to the left of the green at the par-3 12th and another lake must be carried with your tee ball at the par-5 13th. On one hand, it takes a fairly significant misfire to find these two hazards, but on the other hand, this is golf and such things do happen from time to time.
The 403-yard par-4 18th at Orange Tree is a strong finisher and one of the best tests of the day. The left-half of the tree-lined fairway ends at a lake approximately 265-yards from the tee, the right-half continues unimpeded to the green, producing a peninsula-style green-complex wrapped by water front, left and rear.
If you choose to play “long ball” off the tee you must fit your drive in the right-half of the fairway and clear of the trees lining that side of the landing area; a short-iron second is your reward. Lay back, to avoid the threat of water on your drive, and you’re left with a much more demanding mid-iron to the modest-sized green surrounded on three sides by a whole lot of water. Many unblemished scorecards are irrevocably scarred right here, so close, yet so far from posting an attractive total.
Orange Tree is a complete test for the highly skilled, supremely playable for all and a genuine chance to savor the grand style of golf course design in Phoenix from days gone by. These are artful golf holes that appear harmless at first look. Upon closer inspection you’ll find that precise lines of play and carefully controlled yardages are required to score well, proving once again that, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Arizona Golf Authority “Local Hang” for Orange Tree includes the expansive patio at the club’s Grove Grille and Lounge, as well as Z-Tejas, at the northeast corner of Shea Boulevard and 32nd Street, and Ernie’s Inn, located in the retail complex on the southeast corner of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road.
Arizona Golf Authority AZGA Buzz: There’s a good reason national magazines rank Forest Highlands’ Canyon Course as one of the best courses in Arizona every year. When it comes to top quality golf, it simply doesn’t get any better than the Canyon Course – and the club’s other course, Meadow, is northern Arizona ponderosa pine forest perfection as well.
The Canyon Course, designed by then-partners Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, was created in 1988 as part of a 1,100-acre enclave in the midst of majestic pine trees and groves of matures oaks and aspens in the cool forests of northern Arizona at 7,200-feet of elevation. As beautiful and serene as the Canyon’s setting is, it presented something of a design challenge, with Morrish fearing that the topography lent itself to too many driver-and-wedge par-4 holes, so he and Weiskopf folded, spindled and mutilated the lineup card and produced a revolutionary new batting order.
Far from the norm, they created a unique combination of six par-3 holes, five par-5s and seven par-4s; the back nine has three of each. The routing works so well that many golfers don’t notice that every other hole between the fourth and 14th is a par-3.
That all translates to a par-71 challenge, with four sets of tees at 7,007, 6,647, 6,225 and 5,004 yards. From the tips, it is rated at an over-par 72.6 with a stern slope of 139.
This course has hosted the U.S. Mid-Amateur and Junior Amateur, Canon Cup and numerous other USGA and Arizona Golf Association events.
Gorgeous canyon vistas, free-flowing streams and upwardly sweeping walls of Ponderosa pines frame the layout that is loaded with memorable holes, including the par-3 fourth, considered the signature hole, which plays across a lake at 182 yards with a second smaller pond, up at green level, guarding the front-left side of the green; the waterfall tells you it’s there. Two pine trees pinch access from the front-right of the green so the baby-draw the hole sets up for must be precisely flighted.
Our vote is cast for the ninth, though. The par-4 plays at 466 yards, starting on a wildflower-covered hillside, with a tee shot that hangs in the air for several seconds before landing in a low-lying meadow defined by a mountainside brook, which bisects the fairway near the landing area and spills into a pond along the right side of the green, part of a large green complex shared with the eighteenth. Your approach shot must carry the pond to the elevated green; bunkers right and left look appealing when compared to “short, in the pond”. Tricky green, stunning setting; fun golf hole.
Another standout par-3 is the 165-yard 14th, which offers no option except an accurate, full-carry over a lake protecting the front and complete right side of a deep, but quite narrow, green. Once on the dance floor, you will find an undulating putting surface that mimics the surface of an angry body of water, captured and reproduced in bent grass; you won’t find a flat putt here.
When it opened for play in 1988, the Canyon Course was ranked in second position by Golf Digest on their list of the best new golf courses in the country, just behind Shadow Glen in Kansas City, which also was also designed by Weiskopf and Morrish. That layout has faded from the rankings while Forest Highlands’ Canyon Course has stood the test of time.
Snagging a tee time is the tough part because this is an exclusive, equity club. Membership to both courses comes with property ownership, although in recent years, Forest Highlands has sold a limited number of “special memberships.” Each course has its own clubhouse and championship caliber practice facilities. The Canyon clubhouse presents an elegant, traditional look and serves as the gated community’s social center with fine dining, a lounge, locker rooms and administrative offices.
Read the Arizona Golf Authority AZGA Buzz for Forest Highlands’ Meadow Course.
This is one of Arizona’s oldest and most treasured private country clubs with a rich history that operates on a seasonal basis from May through October. The golf course is built near the spectacular Mogollon Rim on property once owned by the U.S. Forest Service and leased by members when it opened as a nine-hole layout in 1956.
The second nine opened a year later and by 1967, the 1,800-acre parcel had been traded to the members. In exchange, the Forest Service received 16 acres of land near McNary for every acre it gave up.
The club becomes a second home for many private club members from the Phoenix area during the valley’s hot summer months and remained their No. 1 choice until Forest Highlands opened in Flagstaff in 1987. The original nine, which now is the back nine, was designed by Arizona golf legend Milt Coggins and developer Gray Madison. They, along with Arthur “Jack” Snyder, created the second nine.
White Mountain isn’t particularly long but demands accuracy to negotiate the thick pine forest lining most fairways. You’ll find five sets of tees, with the tips playing at 6,523 yards and the forward tees at 5,561. From the back tees, it is rated at 68.3 with a slope of 122.
The terrain is defined by rolling hills, rugged outcroppings of lava and malapai rock formations, excellent views of the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine in North America, and you’ll love the smooth bent-grass greens that can be nurtured in this climate. Constant elevation changes add to the character and there is no out of bounds. If you can find it on White Mountain, you can play it.
White Mountain starts off tamely but the fun starts at the fourth hole, a 414-yard par 4 with an uphill dogleg left over a lily pond. Three of the next four holes are excellent par 5s with plenty of variety, playing at 613, 503 and 527 yards.
The back nine, which is a little more open than the front, heats up at the 12th hole, a 178-yard par 3, followed by a short par 4 of 330 yards. Big hitters who dare cut the corner can drive the green, but plenty of trouble awaits those who try and fail.
The signature hole is the 18th, a 440-yard par 4 over water to a severely sloping green, where three-putting is the norm. That provides plenty of chuckles for other golfers relaxing on the spacious clubhouse patio.
White Mountain offers active, junior and social memberships, but all are by invitation only. While that might sound a bit stuffy, much of the club’s charm is its casual, laid-back approach to golf and life far from the trappings of a big city.
If you were tasked with choosing the best piece of property in Arizona for a pair of golf courses, the site at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club would be one of your finalists. Both courses, Cholla and Saguaro, provide native-natural terrain and boast spectacular views.
The team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw laid the Saguaro Course in place with their distinctively delicate hand about five years after the Cholla Course opened for play. It made WeKoPa Golf Club “the” place to play in Arizona and with the addition of Saguaro, it still is!
One of golf’s red-hot design teams of the past decade, Coore-Crenshaw did not disappoint with their stellar effort at We-Ko-Pa Saguaro, even if a few holes did turn out rather unique, like the super-short uphill par-3 ninth and super-challenging par-4 finish at the eighteenth.
Course conditioning and incredible desert-mountain views don’t get much better than here at We-Ko-Pa and the Saguaro Course offers up an entertaining mix of of short par 4s and long par 4s right in the middle of the surrounding natural splendor.
The golf course plays firm and fast throughout so don’t be frightened by the 469-yard par-4 first hole; your tee ball is going to run forever. Just remember that’s just as true at the 336-yard par-4 second or your tee-ball will run-out and find a fairway bunker you thought you were playing short of.
The signature 14th, a 538-yard uphill par 5, presents a different dilemma: a tempting split fairway and fantastic mountain views both vie for your attention. Here’s a tip: highly skilled players go right, the rest of us play to the left-side fairway – your choice.
The par-3 fifteenth is another favorite. The elevated tee tempers it’s 255-yard length, reducing your club selection by at least two clubs. The green complex below offers an open door for the baby-draw shot we all see ourselves playing from time to time. Go ahead and author one, the forgiving slope on the right-hand side of the green will collect those shots that stay straight.
One thing to definitely smile about is that We-Ko-Pa’s slightly shorter Saguaro Course (a little over 6,900 yards) allows walking and that’s a good thing. This is no level stroll through your local parkland muni though, you’ll be up and down through the natural arroyos that give this course it’s desert character.
True to form, Messrs. Coore-Crenshaw left the fairway and green sites completely natural. Or as Crenshaw spun it:
“We just kind of draped the grass over what was already there.’’
It’s the less is more, minimalist philosophy the dynamic-duo adheres to and it’s perfect for property this stunning. Another thing to like is the old-style bunkering, which undoubtedly is a Coore-Crenshaw strength. Not only are there several gaping pot bunkers on the Saguaro, there also are plenty of elongated fairway bunkers known as “furrowed brows’’ with a touch of wispy grass hanging over the edges strictly for effect.
Add it all up and Saguaro is pure, compelling golf in the desert. Also featured are a cool, rustic half-way house that looks like it was built in the days of yesteryear, and We-Ko-Pa’s striking clubhouse – it’s first-rate and ultra-chic in a new-age Native American way.
Arizona Golf Authority AZGA “Local Hang” for We-Ko-Pa Golf Club is the club’s panoramic patio, especially if you indulge in the magnificent mahi-mahi sliders with zesty Pico de Gallo and a draught of Drop Top amber ale. No wonder We-Ko-Pa markets the final moments of a day of golf as “good food with a view.’’
Click We-Ko-Pa Cholla Course to check out Saguaro’s sister course; these two pair for a world-class 36-hole day of Arizona golf.