Warming Up and Cooling Down on Phoenix’s Westside

Yesterday, I took a day trip out to Arizona. I did this a couple times last year with fun days in Wickenburg and Buckeye. The westside of Phoenix is a little easier to access coming from California (compared to Scottsdale or Mesa on the other side of the valley), so it’s a good place to plan a day trip.

When all was said and done, I played from dawn to dusk and got in three rounds of golf. The main course for the day was Golf Club of Estrella, but I will review that in a separate post. This article will highlight the warm-up and cool-down rounds I played before and after.

I hopped in the car around 2:30 am and hit the road, arriving in Goodyear around 6:00. It was still dark out, but the first course was pretty much ready for me…

Tres Rios Golf Course at Estrella Mountain Park • Goodyear, AZ • 3/15/18

I booked a 6:30 tee time online. As I arrived, a few morning regulars showed up but I had the first time out and nobody was slated to play with me. That was exactly what I wanted because I had a pre-paid 9:50 tee time already booked over at Golf Club of Estrella. The price was a reasonable $35 with the cart included, which is about as good a weekday morning rate as you’ll find anywhere in the Phoenix area in March.

I teed off once there was just enough light around 6:20. I ran into maintenance a few times, but was rarely slowed down. There isn’t really much trouble to get into on this course and the layout is tightly compacted on the property. I was putting out on the 18th at 8:00, so it was a very quick round.

I believe this course was once simply known as Estrella Mountain Golf Course. I assume there must be three rivers near here for the “Tres Rios” name to be applied. It is part of the Estrella Mountain Park property, though the golf course is separated with its own isolated plot of land. Really, other than the streets along a few holes, there are very few signs of civilization around here. I enjoyed the secluded setting on a somewhat chilly and beautiful morning with a few clouds and a gentle breeze that would turn into strong winds later in the day.

Tres Rios was opened in 1962 and designed by Red Lawrence, who is responsible for several of the older courses throughout the Phoenix area. It feels like a pretty traditional and, at times, somewhat quirky old course. It’s a parkland style with tree-lined fairways and no significant changes in elevation.

There are some dogleg holes that can be a little tricky and the fairways are relatively tight. The course itself is pretty forgiving off the tee with ample room for error on most holes. However, the fairways are cut rather narrow and show how proper positioning can be helpful when navigating some of the dogleg angles. Because the fairways were overseeded and the rough was not, the course looked extra narrow at times.

I’m not sure what would be considered the signature hole here. It would probably be the par-3 4th and 15th holes over water or perhaps the par-4 3rd, which is a sharp dogleg right with water guarding the green. The 18th is also kind of a fun short par-5 that has a unique upward step that essentially splits the fairway and makes for a fun approach toward the clubhouse.

The course was in decent shape. The overseeded tee boxes were generally fine. The fairways also had a nice overseed. The grass had great coverage, though the ground underneath was not always level so the lies weren’t always necessarily consistent under the ball. The rough was dormant and shaved down to almost nothing—basically hardpan. I wasn’t in any bunkers. However, I took a look in a few and the sand actually looked quite good (as in freshly dragged/raked and not all full of pebbles like so many AZ courses). The greens were firm and slow with a lot of grain with the overseeded turf. They were a tad bumpy here and there.

Tres Rios is certainly not a destination course and won’t be found on any Top 100 lists (unless that list is relegated to only Goodyear, Arizona). However, the people there were super friendly, the layout was decent, the conditions were adequate and the price was just right. I’d say it was a little better than I expected it to be.

Some pictures from Tres Rios Golf Course at Estrella Mountain Park (3/15/18):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

After playing my mid-day round at Golf Club of Estrella, I headed up and over toward Avondale for my third round of the day…

Coldwater Golf Club • Avondale, AZ • 3/15/18

This seemed like the best option for a third round because it was relatively close to Estrella and the late afternoon pricing was acceptable. I arrived around 2:30 and I was able to get out right away as a single. Their late twilight rates start at 3:00, but the guy in the pro shop was nice enough to give me a good deal when I mentioned it was my third round of the day!

The course was rather busy, so I joined a twosome ahead on the 3rd hole. We were later joined by another single. They all left after nine, though. Another single caught up to me on the 11th and we played out the rest together behind the backlog of groups. The front nine moved along decently, but the first few holes of the back nine seemed to take forever and we worried we might not finish. Thankfully, things picked up just enough and we finished before dark. The total pace was around 4 hours and 10 minutes for me.

Coldwater was designed by Forrest Richardson, who is an architect I’m just starting to learn more about. His name is on a number of other Phoenix area courses and he was the principal designer for the excellent renovation of Olivas Links up in Ventura, which is a SoCal course I know well.

In many ways, the design of Coldwater is very straightforward. In other ways, there are a lot of subtleties that make it more interesting than it first appears. Most holes play very straight from tee to green as the course works its way through a residential area. Some holes play alongside homes while others are right along busy streets. There is a lot of mounding on this course and that definitely adds much-needed character throughout the rough and around the greens.

For the most part, this is a course where you can feel free to grip it and rip it on most tee shots. There are a few tricky holes with trouble cutting across the fairways in the form of sandy washes, so you do have to be careful at times. Most times, any drop-offs you see in the fairways are just natural dips and undulations that you don’t need to be scared of. There are only a couple water hazards on the course and very few sand traps. You can tell some have been filled in over the years as some of the dips and undulations around the greens kind of serve as grass bunkers now.

The two water holes (the very short par-3 8th and fun par-5 18th) certainly stand out as two of the more memorable holes. The 12th and 15th are two of the par-4s I will remember. The 12th has a wash cutting across diagonally that is reachable for longer hitters and affects your strategy for the hole. The 15th is one of the more undulated fairways with some big dips along the way. Then, the green is guarded by the only real menacing bunker on the entire course. It’s nothing that frightening, but it’s a big circular crater that offers just enough intimidation on your approach shot.

The course was in pretty good condition and in some respects, actually the best of the day. The overseeded tee boxes were decent. The par-3s were a bit chewed up and not always level, but never had too much trouble finding a flat spot to tee it up. The overseeded fairways were really nice overall with just some inconsistent spots here and there. The rough was interesting. A handful of holes were completely overseeded and had really nice rough. Almost all holes had overseeded rough around the greens that looked and played great. Then, a majority of holes had completely dormant/hardpan rough along the fairways that bled into bare dirt areas on the outer edges of the course. It was interestingly inconsistent because the overseeded areas were so nice and the dormant/dead areas were so less-than-appealing.

I wasn’t in any bunkers, but they looked okay. Couldn’t tell from afar if they were loaded with those pesky Arizona pebbles or not. As I mentioned, there really aren’t many sand traps on this course at all anyway. The greens were firm, yet moderately receptive and rolling pretty well at medium speeds. They were a tad bumpy/grainy at times, but probably the best surfaces of the day.

I’d put Coldwater as a slight notch above Tres Rios when it comes to the lower/middle-end tracks on Phoenix’s westside, but it’s in a similar class. It’s more of a locals’ course that clearly gets plenty of play throughout the year. Good overall conditions and reasonable rates depending on what time of day you play.

Some pictures from Coldwater Golf Club (3/15/18):

 

 

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