Week 1 – Arizona

View from CopperWynd

View from CopperWynd

The natural place to start my 50-week, 50-state golf tour was Arizona. It was going to be a relatively short drive compared to ones that would come in the future, and it would be over a highway I had driven many times. A mere six hour drive from my home in Vista, California including a stop for lunch would start me on a journey I had been eagerly awaiting. My first stop on my projected 345 days away from home, was Fountain Hills, Arizona, a lovely community only minutes away from Scottsdale and Phoenix. Thanks to the Fountain Hills Convention and Visitor’s Bureau my first two nights on the road were spent at the ultra luxurious CopperWynd Resort and Club. It had been a long time since I had the opportunity to enjoy a fireplace in my bedroom or the type of luxury that CopperWynd offers its guests. It was one hell of a start. CopperWynd is an intimate luxury resort located on a 99 acre hilltop location. Guests that stay in one of its 40 rooms and villas can combine desert serenity with world-class service and have the opportunity to swim, play tennis, dine and take advantage of the outstanding golf courses just minutes away. I felt very fortunate to be able to start my golf odyssey in such an elegant manner.
SunRidge Canyon

SunRidge Canyon

My week in Arizona was jammed packed. After a marvellously restful night at CopperWynd, I got up early to get ready to play SunRidge Canyon which is located just minutes down the hill from the resort. I was teamed up with three Canadians who were in the Phoenix area for eight rounds of golf during their seven day trip. We had a ball. SunRidge Canyon was similar to most desert courses in the winter...the grass on the fairways was pretty much in a dormant stage. This was good news/bad news for me as it helped make my drives run farther but made my fairway shots a bit more difficult because of the tight lies. Fortunately my home course, Shadowridge Country Club in Vista, has somewhat similar winter conditions so I didn’t have to adjust my game very much.....as if I could adjust it. SunRidge played downhill for most of the front nine, and then headed back up the canyon on the back nine. Playing the White Tees at 6004 yards I found the relatively wide fairways receptive but the hard fast greens quite a challenge. My adjusted 92 was disappointing especially since I went 10 over par on SunRidge’s last six holes, known affectionately as “The Wicked Six”. The six holes, two par 3’s, two par 4’s and two par 5’s, were a true test...particularly since they were pretty much uphill and into the wind. Water was not a factor on the course as there were only two holes, the short par 4 10th, 308 yards from the tips and 285 from the Whites, and the par 3 14th , 181 from the tips and 157 from the whites. But, the numerous fairway and greenside bunkers, both left and right dog legs and hard fast greens definitely made up for a lack of concern over water.
Eagle Mountain

Eagle Mountain

The second round of golf I played in Fountain Hills was at Eagle Mountain. I had played there once before during a media event for golf writers and was looking forward to playing it again. I wasn’t disappointed. Like SunRidge Canyon it also has wide receptive fairways, carved through and around canyons but unlike SunRidge Canyon, Eagle Mountain’s fairways seemed to feed errant shots toward the middle of the fairway. For someone like myself who seldom drives the middle of the fairway, this made for pleasant surprises. Eagle Mountain has only two holes where water comes into play, the par 5 10th and the par 4 18th. For some reason I am drawn to water holes as to me they are more scenic and more challenging, particularly when water comes up close to the green and the pin placements leave little room for error. Unfortunately my golf balls are more often than not drawn to the water on these types of holes. The third course I played was the Point Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort’s Lookout Mountain in Phoenix. In my weekly report on Real Golf Radio, I characterized Lookout Mountain as a “hybrid course”. The first six holes were more of a parkland course with trees lining both sides of the fairways. The remaining twelve holes combined both a parkland and desert setting.
Lookout Mountain

Lookout Mountain

Lookout Mountain, which just recently became affiliated with Troon Golf, has long been a favorite of locals and guests of the Point Hilton. It weaves its way through rugged terrain and from some of its higher elevations has delightful views of Lookout Mountain. Because water is scarce in the desert climate, lakes and ponds are really a non factor on the course. However, ten dog legs and lots of native grasses make it imperative to have good course management when playing the course. My favorite hole was the shortest and what I was told, at 105 yards from the White tees was “the hardest par 3 in Phoenix”. A quick look at the yardage book didn’t tell the story. To hit the green and stay on it provided the test. Tee shots from the elevated tee box had to clear a gully of desert and cactus, avoid the severe slope in front of the green which would more often than not would allow the ball to roll back to the gully, and then be hit high enough to hold on the narrow back to front green, I hit a gap wedge to about eight feet above the hole and was told that I would be lucky to have my severe downhill putt stay on the green. On that cheery note, I barely, and I mean barely, tapped my ball and then nervously watched it pick up speed on it short journey toward the hole. As it was about to speed merrily bye, it caught the left edge, did a 360 and dropped into the cup for a birdie. I was ecstatic. My playing partners said it was a good thing my ball went into the hole or I probably would have been chipping back up the hill to save par. Anytime I get a birdie I’m thrilled. To realize I had just birdied “the hardest par 3 in Phoenix” made me pleased that Lookout Mountain was a course I had chosen to play. When you combine the Point Hilton’s all suites concept with the fact that the golf shop is just a wedge shot away from the resort’s nearest rooms, you have a winning combination for a fun golf vacation. The resort also looks to be a great place for a family vacation. It has a very large pool and pool area where you can listen to water tumbling down the multi-tiered water fall adjacent to the pool; a water slide for the kids, a spa, tennis courts, casual and fine dining, etc. etc.
El Conquistador

El Conquistador

The fourth course I played during my week in Arizona was Conquistador, one of two championship courses at the Hilton El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort just north of Tucson. Conquistador and its sister course Canada, along with its nine-hole Pusch Ridge Course, are the three courses that make up Tucson’s largest golf resort. I had the pleasure of playing with a long time golf buddy, Bill Jones, his wife Helen and Jack Rickard, a retired golf writer and former sports editor from Tucson that I had met at a media event in Mesquite, Nevada. Golf to me is really a game to be played with friends and such was the day at Conquistador. Bill, Helen, Jack and I thoroughly enjoyed playing the wide fairways, avoiding the few lakes on the course, hitting to elevated greens and staying out of the desert while playing Conquistador. Since Bill was recovering from shoulder surgery and had played only a few rounds over a period of months, and Jack and I prefer the White Tees, we let Bill join us. Bad decision. Bill shot a three over 38 on the front nine and had me in deep trouble until he tired on the last few holes of the back nine. Jack and Helen watched and laughed as Bill and I did our usual needling of each other after almost every shot, something we had done for the more than 20 we had golfed together. It was a fun day.. All the courses I played in Arizona were to the most part still wearing their winter tan. Once the grass turns and gets a little longer, all four will be just as you see them on their websites... beautifully green. Green or dormant didn’t matter, they were all excellent and enjoyable courses to play. The next time you head to Arizona and its more than 325 days of sunshine a year, be sure to include SunRidge Canyon and Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills, Lookout Mountain in Phoenix and Conquistador and Canada in Tucson in your golf plans.
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