Carefree Central Arizona

Desert Forest Golf Club

Desert Forest Golf Club: Phil Mickelson, who starred at Arizona State University and made his home for several years in nearby Scottsdale, called this his “favorite” golf course in Arizona, which is about as good an endorsement as any course in the state could receive. When you add that salute to the fact that several of its members maintain memberships at Augusta National, Baltusrol, Crooked Stick, Medinah, Pine Valley and Shinnecock, well that pretty much sums up the stature of Desert Forest.

Yes, the name is a a bit of a contradiction in terms, but like its location in the ultra-chic town of Carefree, those in the know understand what it represents.


In a word, “pure” probably works the best for Desert Forest Golf Club. No swimming pool, no fitness center, no tennis club, just golf. And golf the way the legendary designers envisioned the game being played. In this case, the designer is Robert “Red” Lawrence, who created an absolute gem that earned him the nickname “The Desert Fox” of design, long before Johnny Miller picked up that moniker as a player.

Lawrence worked on fabled Merion Golf Club in the 1920’s along with historic Westchester Country Club and the minimalist design he opened here in 1962 propelled Desert Forest Golf Club into the ranks of the world’s elite private golf clubs, where it remains to this day.

In the early 1960”s, when Lawrence first laid eyes upon the unblemished desert terrain of the Sonoran Foothills in Carefree, Arizona, he decided to build a revolutionary layout, the first of its now familiar kind: a golf course simply laid upon the striking native-desert topography, hewn by eons of wind, rain and erosion.

Golfweek magazine’s take? “A revolutionary landmark of golf architecture.”

Modern day accolytes, think Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska, followed Lawrence’s gospel and relied on the natural landscape, moving virtually no soil during construction. Tom Weiskopf and Jack Snyder have done a little “tweaking,” and David Zinkand from the Coore & Crenshaw school has managed a modernization, but what Lawrence created remains intact.

Desert Forest Golf Club – Sentry watches 11th Green

As you would expect, “pure golf” on this true desert course means Desert Forest has no water hazards in play, unless you are pathetic enough to dribble one sideways into the pond to the left of the tee on the par-3 third hole.

What might surprise you is you’ll find no O.B. stakes, and not a single fairway bunker on the course; zip, zero, nada, none. You’ll learn quite quickly that Lawrence utilized the natural contours to defend the fairways so well, fairway bunkers are unnecessary here.

Instead, Desert Forest presents the pure natural canvas that is its hallmark, and allows its native desert topography to dictate playing angles and shot placement. It’s just you and your clubs against the big three: the course, the elements and your patience.

Zinkand’s recent $3 million modernization recaptured the original profiles and contours of the green complexes and Lawrence’s signature oval-shaped bunkers were updated to a natural rugged-edge profile. More than a million square feet of rough and fairway surfaces were converted to 328 Bermuda turf as well.

Desert Forest offers multiple sets of tees, ranging from 4,763 to 7,201 yards, and the par-72 layout is rated at 74.1 with a slope of 145 from the tips. There are several classic holes, but the par-5’s are particularly outstanding at 551, 553, 594 and 523 yards. As for a signature hole, we’ll take the par-5 seventh, which plays at 551 from the back tee, is the No. 1 handicap and as strategically conceived as any hole in Arizona.


It offers two distinct paths to the green. Left off the tee is easier and safer, but makes it a 3-shotter with a third measuring about 150 yards to the green. The bolder path, and the one Mickelson definitely would take, is down the right side, leaving an approach of 225-250 yards to the green. Key elements of this risk-reward choice are a waste-like scrub area running on a diagonal axis which divides the fairway from the tee, and the right-side’s more dramatic second shot which must carry an arroyo about 20 yards wide crossing the path to the green.

Desert Forest’s 250 members prefer and enjoy the simple elegance of the understatement, as evidenced by the first three entries on the club’s Master Plan Principles:

The golf course is our first priority.
Hire all the necessary experts and follow their advice.
Provide adequate funding to do it right.


Perhaps that’s why Desert Forest, the first desert golf course, is still the best desert golf course. For non-members who appreciate brilliant course design and are fortunate enough to receive the opportunity, tee it up and savor the experience. Everyone else can enjoy a hole-by-hole helicopter fly-over of the course at

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Central Arizona Mesa

Mesa Country Club

Mesa Country Club – Arizona Golf Course Reviews
In its early days, Mesa Country Club didn’t have a lot of wealthy members. But thanks to the founding group’s vision and perseverance, the club now sports a rich history and stands as one of the most popular private country clubs in the Phoenix-metro area.


And following the renovation which took place during the summer months of 2013, the club that dates back to 1948 is better than ever. The golf course, clubhouse and country club amenities all received attention.

Essentially, careful inspection reveals that 12 of the 18 golf course offerings have been modestly enhanced, although all 18 holes were touched in one way or another – but only “soft hands” would do here.

Mesa Country Club’s golf course was designed by the father-son team of William Park “Billy” Bell and William Francis Bell, still considered “California’s first family” of golf course architecture.

Commissioned by the members in 1947, Bell returned with both a 9-hole and an 18-hole layout. The members chose the 18-hole design and immediately acquired an additional 13 acres of property the layout required,

Mesa Country Club embodies the grand golf course style of the mid-1940’s and remains one of the most envied and prominent classic layouts still available to players in the Phoenix area today.

Dick Turner, one of the club’s former head pros, also did some tweaking to the course in 1974, mainly to add length, but all the enhancements maintain the original Bell family trademarks: tight, tree-lined fairways, classic doglegs, smallish greens by modern standards and intimate, elevated tees.

mesa-country-club-tee-photoThere’s nothing tricked up about Mesa Country Club. From the tee, you can clearly see what’s expected of you as you determine your plan of attack.

But executing that plan can be a challenge due to Bell’s traditional strategic design. The course routinely tests the best as the former host of events like the Arizona Open, Arizona Amateur and Southwest Section of the PGA Championship.

A narrow canal winds through the property, coming into play on five holes, and several lakes and ponds bring water into play on three more. The first seven holes, plus Nos. 14 and 15, lie on the top level of a mesa for which the city is named. The other half are located on acreage that members refer to as the “Lower 40.”

A different site, which is now home to Falcon Field Airport, was considered by the founding members, but they settled on the current location in the heart of Mesa.

Those founders, who included Dwight Patterson (known as the “Father of the Cactus League” for Arizona baseball spring training), struggled to maintain the club’s finances in its early years and, legend holds, did so with an assist from some slot machines, which were popular private entertainment during those years.

Today, they’re very public entertainment in Arizona as several Native American nation casino – hotel – golf resorts are scattered all across the state.

mesa-country-club-fairwayMesa Country Club offers six sets of tees stretching to 6,870 yards, with a rating of 72.5 and slope of 131 from the tips. The Bells created several excellent holes, including a three-hole stretch starting at No. 5, a 520-yard par-5 that plays downhill over the canal to an elevated green.

The sixth is a 419-yard uphill par-4 with a slight dogleg left, the canal resides 220 yards out from the tee and fairway bunkers threaten on the right, with a smallish green that slopes sharply from back to front; tough par here.

Capping the stretch is the seventh, one of the best par 3’s in town. The 198-yarder plays downhill, over the canal lying in wait just in front of the green, to a putting surface surrounded by mature eucalyptus trees and four large bunkers. Miss the green here, and you’ll probably find a double on your card.

Highlights on the back-9 include No. 16, another downhill par 3 of 154 yards with deep bunkers surrounding the green, and the two par 5’s – 13 and 18. At 504 and 495 yards, respectively, they appear as birdie opportunities on the card, but both play much longer to uphill green complexes, where a lot of birdies remain just that – opportunities.

Members here also enjoy swimming, tennis, fitness and fine dining facilities. A variety of memberships, for golfers and non-golfers, are available and the price is right.

Read the Arizona Golf Course Review for every golf course in Arizona before you tee it up. You’ll find it’s “All Things Arizona Golf” from the Arizona Golf Authority.

Oro Valley Southern Arizona Tucson

Vistoso Golf Club

Arizona Golf Course Reviews: Located just north of Tucson, the Golf Club at Vistoso marks Tom Weiskopf’s first solo design effort after he parted with architect Jay Morrish and it’s obvious from the get-go that the former PGA Tour pro had a real knack for creating memorable golf holes.

Golf Club at Vistoso

Vistoso is Spanish for “colorful views” and the course offers plenty due to its setting in the picturesque Santa Catalina Mountains, with panoramic views of the nearby Tortolita and Tucson Mountains.

It is a true desert course with all the forced carries one would expect on that style of layout, combined with concepts from classic designers Alister Mackenize, A.W. Tillinghast and Donald Ross including Winged Foot-type finger bunkers and elongated rectangular tee boxes.

The native desert flora and fauna produce a virtual rainbow of colors in cooler months and desert wildlife is abundant here. Little wonder then that after it opened it was nominated by Golf Digest for “Best New Course of the Year” in 1997.

Vistoso has four sets of tees, stretching to 6,932 yards, with a rating of 72.1 and a hefty slope of 147. The front tees play at 5,095 yards.

Head and shoulders above all the great holes here is the signature offering is No. 14, named “Risky.” Every course Weiskopf has designed since features this type of memorable, risk-reward hole but few if any are better than this.

The par-4 measures 350 yards but, because of the dogleg configuration, the green is drivable for long hitters. It has a split fairway and playing to the end of the first portion leaves a 100-yard shot over desert transition to the pin. Hitting to the second portion of fairway leaves a shorter approach but it is to a shallow green with a large bunker in front and three more behind.

No. 8 is memorable as well. The par-4 plays at 389 yards from the tips with a sweeping dogleg left that has a large lake inside the elbow. The lake extends along the left side, wraps behind the green and is backed by a waterfall. Two large bunkers guard the right side of the green and a pot bunker looms on the left side.

The most photographed, however, is the third hole, a 166-yard par-3 named “Tillinghast” in honor of its classic design. The tee shot must find an elevated putting surface featuring two mammoth bunkers on the left side, with the rugged Catalina Mountains serving up a glorious backdrop.

Practice facilities and amenities here are top notch, including the Tortolita Terrace, which is a great spot to relax with wonderful views after the round. The Golf Club at Vistoso is part of the Wildcat Trail network, a local program which offers discounted golf to its members at several of Tucson’s finest courses.

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Casa Grande Central Arizona

Tierra Grande Golf Course

Arizona Golf Course List – Arizona Golf Authority Golf Course Guide

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.

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Central Arizona Phoenix

Vistal Golf Club

Arizona Golf Authority AZGA Golf Course Buzz: Vistal Golf Club takes advantage of its central Phoenix location and offers up great golf and the best views of the city’s skyline from a fairway, anywhere in town.

Vistal Golf Club

Originally designed by Arizona golf legend Johnny Bulla, the golf course opened in 1957 as the Thunderbird Country Club. The course received a major redesign in 2000 by PGA Tour Design Services, who assigned local resident tour player consultants Howard Twitty, Tom Lehman and Billy Mayfair to the job.

The local boys produced a gem that re-opened in November of 2001 as the Vistal Golf Club to accolades all around. Quickly named a “Top 10 New Public Course in the U.S.” by Sports Illustrated, Vistal Golf Club was selected as the host course for two local U.S. Open qualifying tournaments.

Some of Bulla’s original holes remain intact, particularly on the front nine, and the new back nine winds up through the rugged mountain foothills while maintaining a traditional feel. Four sets of tees range from 7,013 to 5,235 yards with a rating of 72.9 and slope of 129 from the tips, 69.4 and 116 from the most forward tees. More than 80 bunkers add to the challenge and three lakes bring water into play on six holes, most notably at the third, the ninth and 18th.

Vistal entertains right from the start and begins with a birdie, a bogey and the anything from a 2 through “I’m in my pocket” third hole.

The 526-yard par-5 first features an elevated tee and fairway-pinching bunkers in the landing area. Negotiate them successfully and make a putt to bag an opening birdie. The second is a classic 440-yard par-4, straightaway; both the yardage and a swale in the center of the generous green produce a lot of bogeys here.

The par-3 third hole at Vistal is a birdie hole when the pin is left; but if the cup is cut in the right half of the green, you can make numbers that won’t fit on your card. Playing just 167 yards from the tips, 108 forward, the right half of the green is a lake-wrapped peninsula that demands precise yardage control from the tee. You can drown several pieces of ammo if you’re a bit short, a bit long or just a little bit right of your intended line of play. Tournament golf; play left and card a two-putt par – recreational golf; have some fun and have a go.

As you would expect, the PGA Tour player’s authored a strong finishing stretch at Vistal Golf Club. The 16th is 438-yard par-4 with an angry green surface devoid of a single flat spot more than 4-feet in diameter; it’s still a lot of fun to putt. The 17th is 597 yards of 5-par golf into the prevailing breeze in these parts; just play for par.

18th Green - Vistal Golf Club

The par-4 18th is a terrific tournament golf closer. Playing at 427 yards, the tee ball must be shaped into a fairway running on a diagonal to the tee, miss a little left and your second will be played from a bunker. A lake runs along the left side of the fairway, and the left side of the green wraps behind it, so depending on pin placement, you may need to carry it on the approach. Two well struck shots produce a routine birdie putt, but miss either shot just a hair and the leader board can change quite dramatically.

Vistal offers full practice facilities, complete with classic rock music piped in. After the round, the Blue Pig Patio is a good place to relax with excellent views of several holes and the Phoenix skyline in the distance.

Originally, some holes on the back-nine holes were located west of 7th Street. As part of the 2000 redesign, that property has been re-crafted as the Thunderbirds Par-3 Course and the official home of the First Tee of Phoenix program. Designed by Tom Fazio, the course plays at about 600 yards and level par of 27.

After golf, as long as you’re in the neighborhood, spend some time and check out two more Phoenix originals. The entrance to South Mountain Park is just down the street, south on Central Avenue, and you can make the short drive up to the 1,000-foot summit for the view; it’s spectacular, day or night.

And if you’re on south Central Avenue, at #8684 you’ll drive right past one of the best meals in town at the family owned and operated restaurant, Los Dos Molinos. Named by Victoria “The Two Grinders” for the chili grinders she and her husband Eddie each received from their grandmothers, this is hand-crafted New Mexico style cuisine presented in a small, homey atmosphere. The food is great because as Victoria says, “There’s no assembly line here, my daughters and I prepare each dish, with one helper at most.”

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