Memorial Weekend in Arizona, Part 1…

I’m spending this Memorial Day weekend in the Phoenix area. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to keep up with the blog while on the road, but I’ve got some time in my hotel room to try and catch up tonight.

I actually hit the road yesterday afternoon on my way to Arizona, but I had to make one “quick” stop just before crossing the state border…

Blythe Municipal Golf Course • Blythe, CA • 5/24/13

I really didn’t know what to expect from this course that’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere (about halfway between Palm Springs and Phoenix). I couldn’t find many pictures or reviews online and until I had Johnny add it recently, it wasn’t even in the comprehensive Greenskeeper.org database. I really didn’t expect anything special, but as the Golf Nomad is one to do, I had to check it out and check it off my Southern California “to do” list. Hitting it up for a late afternoon round on the way to Arizona was the perfect excuse.

It’s a few miles north of the freeway, which makes you feel even further out in the middle of nowhere. Most of the land out there is pretty flat with a lot of agricultural properties sprawling across the desert landscape along the Colorado River. But as I neared the course, I started heading up a small hill to a little plateau sticking out in the valley and I could see that this course might have a few tricks up its sleeve.

As I started driving past a few holes on the way to the clubhouse, I saw much more green on the fairways than I expected this time of year. The temperature gauge on my car read in the high-90s, so I would have expected the course to be pretty dried out. It was pretty dry still, but the fairways were quite nice and definitely a fantastic green color. More on the conditions later.

As for the course, I also found it to be more interesting than expected—the front nine especially. It was hilly terrain built along the edge of the aforementioned plateau overlooking Arizona to the east. None of the changes in elevation were severe, but there’s a nice mix of downhill, uphill and side-hill shots to be experienced and there are some nice views. The 2nd hole is a great, but tough, par-3 straight down a hill to a double green (the other half of which is for the par-5 6th).

The front nine was a pleasant surprise, but the back nine was a little more what I was expecting. It’s more flat and wide open. The landscape is a bit more “desolate” feeling and it’s surrounded by small homes (mostly mobile homes). However, the layout is still relatively good on the back as it brings water into play a few times. The most notable hole on the back is the 16th, which is a really tough par-4 that curls around a big pond forcing uncomfortable shots off the tee and then from the fairway depending on how brave you are on the tee.

Regarding the conditions, they were solid all around. The fairways were a little dry and did have some thin areas, but for the most part I found them to be great. The tee boxes were excellently cut and level. The rough was dried out and brown, but it was cut consistently so most lies were nice. The bunkers were a little crunchy with more coarse desert style sand, but decent enough. The greens were a tad firm, but smooth on top and rolled true. Though the greens here appear very simple, there are some hidden breaks and things tend to turn more than you expect.

Blythe Municipal Golf Course was a pleasant surprise, but it still isn’t anything too special. I wouldn’t drive three hours of my way just to play it. But if you are getting antsy on your drive between Arizona and California, it’s not a bad stop for a quick and enjoyable round. It cost me $22 with cart. There were a few people out there and I played through a couple groups, but I walked on about 2:30. I was teeing it up just a few minutes later and I was finished by 4:20. It couldn’t have worked out better, so in that sense it was well worth the stop.

Some pictures from Blythe Municipal Golf Course (5/24/13):

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I stayed in Scottsdale last night and will be here a couple more nights to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend in the Valley of the Sun. Saturday afternoon was the main reason I had an excuse to come out here, but more on that later. After all, there was a Saturday morning for me to take advantage of!

Eagle Mountain Golf Club • Fountain Hills, AZ • 5/25/13

Last month, I had won an OB Sports discount card at a GK event, so this was my first chance to utilize it. It’s good for discounts at a bunch of Las Vegas and Phoenix area courses, as well as a handful throughout other western states.

I had to get out early, so of all the courses on the card, Eagle Mountain was the only one I could find an early enough available time. Even though it gets light here in the desert well before 5:00am, most courses don’t start play until 6:30 or 7:00 for whatever reason. I’d think since most golfers want to get out early and “beat the heat” this time of year, courses would want to take advantage of that early morning demand at first light. Oh well.

I was in the first group off at 6:30, paired with another single and a twosome. Thankfully, they were quick players and we enjoyed a fantastic pace of about 3 hours and 30 minutes. It couldn’t have worked out better as I had to drive across the Valley afterward for my afternoon round. The round cost me $59 (plus tax) with the OB card, which was a good savings compared to weekend rack rates here.

Fountain Hills is a community just east of Scottsdale that sits up in the foothills. Eagle Mountain uses this natural scenery and hilly, rugged desert terrain to its advantage. It’s a very visually pleasing course with big saguaros all over the place, a lot of very nice hillside homes and dramatic vistas of the entire valley below.

The layout is enjoyable. I tend to love hilly courses with a lot of changes in elevation, and Eagle Mountain offers that in abundance. Though visually intimidating at times, the course is mostly pretty forgiving from tee to green. You can spray drives into the desert, but it usually will take a pretty poor shot. There’s a few small forced carries, but nothing brutal. Several of the holes (mostly the par-5s) have a “bowl” like design around the fairways, so even wayward drives can catch the right slopes and end up back in the middle.

Design-wise, I think the greens are the most challenging aspect of Eagle Mountain. There are generous bail-out areas around most greens and the bunkers aren’t too diabolical, but the greens themselves feature a lot of undulation. There are all sorts of big shelves, sidewalls and backboards that can sometimes be played to your advantage and sometimes cause you fits as you stand over some really awkward chipping and putting angles.

There’s a good mix of hole layouts and lengths. No holes really blew me away, so I’ll remember the course more as a whole than any particular signature holes that are etched in my memory banks.

The conditions were very nice overall. This is kind of the beginning of the “transitional” season at some courses here as the summer grasses start to come in. Eagle Mountain is still mostly quite green with some bad patches here and there. The fairways had good grass, but they were very soggy in some areas in the early morning. I appreciate them heavily watering the course, but it kind of sucks when you stripe a drive right down the middle and find yourself in a mushy patch of fairway. In fact, I believe that it was ironically often the areas immediately around the aiming poles that were worst!

The rough was cut down a lot, so it wasn’t much of a factor. The bunkers don’t have deep sand, but enough to get the job done. The greens were receptive and mostly in very good shape. They were a tad slower than they looked, but that’s probably a good thing when there’s such undulation to deal with.

I’ve still only played a handful of courses in Arizona, so Eagle Mountain was a nice choice to get a real scenic desert/mountain feel in this area on this particular trip. I found it to be enjoyable and well worth the price I paid, but I have a feeling the more I play out here in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area it won’t be one that sticks out as much in the long run.

Some pictures from Eagle Mountain Golf Club (5/25/13):

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Bear with me, because I have one more round to cover today. After I finished at Eagle Mountain on the east side of town, I headed all the way across the valley to Sun City West to meet up with a group of Greenskeeper.org members for a small “skins” game at the Trail Ridge Golf Course in this large retirement community.

Sun City West (Trail Ridge Golf Course) • Sun City West, AZ • 5/25/13

There are actually seven courses that are a part of this Del Webb community. We were set up to play Trail Ridge based on a special invite for our group. We paid $39 a player, $14 of which went to a small cash prize pool for any skins won. Turns out only three skins were won all day (not me unfortunately), so the winners each got a decent sum.

I didn’t know much about any of the courses at Sun City West, but to be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much. Other than enjoying some camaraderie with the GK guys, this was the round I was looking least forward to all weekend. I was envisioning a course built for seniors with short hole lengths, generous fairways and minimal trouble to get into. In other words, “easy.”

When I pulled up to the small clubhouse, it appeared to be exactly what I had in mind. But once we got out on the course, I was pleasantly surprised to find a much more interesting and challenging layout than I expected. Though this course doesn’t deliver any real “wow” factor, it’s a solid course on all levels.

All of the Sun City West courses were recently opened to the public. It still seems most play is by residents, but the prices are reasonable year-round and you could do much worse. I don’t know how Trail Ridge compares to any of the other tracks, but it was good enough to keep us on our toes. We played the blue tees, which top out at 6,566 yards with a number of pretty long and tough holes. All the par-3s are fairly challenging with two of them over 200 yards.

The terrain is flat and there are some desert waste areas throughout the course that offer the biggest element of challenge. As they told me in the clubhouse, if you stay out of desert you’ll be okay. Easier said than done. There is some water on the course, too, with a number of intimidating forced carries that I definitely wasn’t expecting.

There isn’t much scenery to speak of at Trail Ridge. The course is surrounded by homes and you don’t get any real dramatic views from anywhere out there.

Because of the flat landscape, there are a few areas where local knowledge will help. Our group got caught up in some water hazards and waste areas that we didn’t know were there. I did keep in mind these courses were not designed for public play, but with some time and effort put in by management, they can definitely improve the appeal for non-residents by providing hole maps, yardage books or GPS to help avoid these kinds of frustrations.

The conditions were good overall. A bit dry throughout, but nice fairways and shallow rough that was easy to hit from. The greens were very nice I thought. Very smooth and rolled true. The bunkers had thin sand, but that seems common for desert courses like this and they were fine to hit from because they didn’t have any big lips to contend with.

We enjoyed a nice pace at under four hours and there was enough breeze to keep things from being too hot. In both rounds today, I couldn’t have asked for much better weather this time of year in Arizona!

Would I recommend Trail Ridge? Yes and no. If I lived locally, I would come out here in a heartbeat. With great pricing, good conditioning and a solid layout, it’s nice for a relaxing weekend round with the fellows. For an out-of-towner like me on vacation, it wouldn’t be a top choice. Personally, I look for something more dramatic and scenic (like Eagle Mountain) when I am away from home, and I don’t think any of the Sun City West courses will quite cut it in that sense.

Some pictures from Sun City West (Trail Ridge Golf Course) (5/25/13):

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