FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. -- From new courses to renovations to a new clubhouse restaurant at a stellar resort, there are plenty of fresh golf experiences you can try out in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area for 2017.
Two of those new courses, by the way, aren't regulation courses, but they might represent a trend for golf course development in the future. Both are short courses that are well-conditioned and a blast to play. One is already open, and the second will officially open in February. Back to those in a moment.
A new regulation course is opening at Verrado Golf Club, about 40 miles west of Phoenix in the town of Buckeye in the West Valley. The new Tom Lehman design is called Victory, and it will complement his existing layout at Verrado, which is now referred to as the Founders Course. Lined with beautiful white boulders from an old construction site, the new course promises to cater to golfers of all abilities.
Open for daily-fee play with green fees less than $100 during peak season, you can expect even more generous fairways than the original Founders Course, which is good news for seniors, beginners or anyone who likes to hit it, find it and hit it again. From the tips, it's just over 7,200 yards, so stronger players will enjoy it, too.
And now for a couple of new premium par-3 courses
The new Mountain Shadows hotel opens on Valentine's Day.
The Short Course at Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley right next to Scottsdale will open on Valentine's Day, perfect for a couples retreat (its opening coincides with a new hotel). Although technically there was already a course there by a similar name (Mountain Shadows Golf Club), The Short Course replaces the layout that debuted in the shadows of Camelback Mountain back in 1961. It's a completely new design and bears little resemblance to the original Jack Snyder course, although Phoenix-based architect Forrest Richardson did pay homage to the original look.
The 18-hole premium par 3, with holes between 60 and 200 yards, has already generated a lot of buzz in the area and has been open for preview rounds for some of its local residents. The opening coincides with the debut of the brand new Mountain Shadows Resort, a boutique hotel that replaces the old Marriott resort that had been deteriorating over the past few years. It takes just two to three hours to play the course, which makes it perfect for couples, juniors, families or anyone just wanting to get in a fun round of golf without taking the day to do it.
"Fun golf is defined by presenting puzzles that beckon the player back for more," Richardson said. "At Mountain Shadows we have created just that -- a series of riddles that are demanding, but all the while enjoyable."
The course also has an extra hole to settle bets, and with endless tee options, the layout can play differently each time. The fun, however, is in the greens, which have plenty of movement, a redan feature on one and even a double green.
And finally, the new Li'l Wick at Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club opened a couple of months ago. Like its big brother (now known as Big Wick), it has beautiful mountain scenery as well as bentgrass greens. This flexible nine-hole "golf park" can be played a number of ways (basically you can tee it up where you want) and it is offered before or after a round on Big Wick or as a standalone round. There are even four lighted holes on Li'l Wick. The two courses together certainly make the 45-minute drive northwest of Phoenix worth it.
We-Ko-Pa celebrates 15 years with refresh
The par-5 8th hole at We-Ko-Pa was redesigned to be more player-friendly.
Perhaps the biggest news on the renovation/restoration front was the recent reopening of the original Cholla Course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, where the 36-hole facility just celebrated its 15th anniversary. While the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-designed Saguaro Course at We-Ko-Pa seems to get a little more ink, golfers who venture out to We-Ko-Pa are cheating themselves if they don't play both layouts, especially after the Cholla Course's $1.8 million facelift.
Among the improvements are new, faster and more durable MiniVerde greens to replace the old TifDwarf that was on the original greens. The course also received new sand in all the bunkers as well as a new irrigation system. Also, approximately 8 percent, or six acres, of turf was removed and replaced by native plants.
As for any hole changes, the most dramatic came on the difficult 605-yard par-5 eighth. Before the renovation, the fairway on the hole narrowed as it plunged toward a deep, dry desert arroyo that runs across the front of the green, leaving a small target for a second-shot lay up. The landing area has been widened and part of the arroyo was grassed to create a more realistic risk/reward scenario for golfers.
"We're very pleased with the way the renovation turned out," said Matt Barr, general manager of We-Ko-Pa. "Although the turf reduction and enhancements to No. 8 will be the most obvious features, the new greens, bunkers [and] irrigation infrastructure will positively impact playability and overall golfer satisfaction for years to come."
The renovation comes on the heel of some enhancements to the clubhouse and new cart paths on the Saguaro Course made last year.
"The Cholla renovation is an example of investment in the We-Ko-Pa experience," said Owen Doka, assistant general manager of We-Ko-Pa and former Tribal Councilmember of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, which owns and operates the We-Ko-Pa Resort, Casino and Golf Club. "We're very proud of the honors Cholla has received in the past 15 years, and we're committed to doing what it takes to maintain and improve the overall experience for our guests."
Over at Fountain Hills, SunRidge Canyon Golf Club continued to make improvements with some on- and off-course changes.
A couple of bunkers were removed to make the course more playable, there's a new bridge on No. 11 and new tee boxes on holes 11 and 18. In addition, both the men's and women's locker rooms received makeovers. And the custom club fitter Hot Stix, which recently moved its headquarters to SunRidge Canyon's practice facility, has added 1,000 square feet to its facility there.
Troon North and three other Troon properties have optional caddies now.
Caddies now available at Troon North, other Troon resorts
If you play at the Boulders Resort & Spa, The Phoenician Golf Club, The Westin Kierland Golf Club or Troon North Golf Club, you now have the option of playing with a forecaddie, a double bag carry caddie (available at Boulders, The Phoenician and Kierland) or a single bag carry caddie.
The new program, of course, is optional, but does come with an additional charge. Services range from $30 per player for a forecaddie to $100 per player for a single bag caddie. The recommended gratuity is $20 and up per player for forecaddies and $30 and up for walking caddies. The courses ask that you book your caddie(s) 48 hours in advance.
In case you're not familiar with the difference between caddie services, forecaddies are positioned ahead of the group, track shots for each player, can read greens and rake bunkers. Double bag caddies carry two bags for two players and work with both players. And if you have a single bag caddie, he or she works directly for you.
"If you've ever played golf with a caddie, you know how much more enjoyable it makes a round of golf," said Mike Ryan, division president, Troon Golf. "The new caddie service at these four Scottsdale properties not only elevates the golf experience, but also greatly enhances Scottsdale as a golf destination."
Patriot Course at Wigwam treated like Gold
Like the signature Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Gold Course, the Patriot Course at Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park west of Phoenix has a new look as well. Also designed by Jones, the nifty 6,000-yard course, which doesn't play as easily as the yardage might suggest, received irrigation upgrades to improve turf conditions on this parkland course, as well as bunker renovations and reduction. The irrigation work included the replacement of 880 sprinkler heads throughout the course.
The Wigwam's Gold Course was renovated a year ago by Lehman, but this time around, Key Golf -- a renovation and maintenance firm based in Nevada and specializing in Southwestern-style courses -- took on the Patriot Course.
"The Patriot Course looks and feels like a new golf course," said Leo Simonetta, director of golf at Wigwam. "The new white-sand bunkers set against the emerald green and striped fairways look amazing."
Like the Gold Course, bunkers were removed and renovated. Now, the Patriot Course has 31 fewer bunkers with the remaining 38 modernized with new shapes and white sand. The golf course's bunkering now has a splash-up, flat-top design.
New dining experiences at The Boulders
And finally, one of Arizona's most highly-rated golf resorts, the 36-hole Boulders Resort & Spa in Carefree, has a new clubhouse restaurant. The recently opened Grill Kitchen & Bar is an upscale on-course eatery that not only appeals to golfers, but to resort and outside guests as well. It features an exhibition kitchen, dark wood furnishings, a fireplace and beautiful patio seating with grand views of the 18th-hole fairways on both courses.
Serving breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can get everything from an egg white frittata to fresh fruit and a dry-aged steak for dinner. The clam chowder, by the way, makes for an excellent pick-me-up at the turn during a winter round on one of The Boulder's two outstanding golf courses.
The newest restaurant at the resort joins outstanding dining throughout the resort, which also includes the recently renovated Palo Verde Restaurant. As the resort's signature dining option, Palo Verde offers great views of the Sonoran Desert, overlooking the sixth fairway of the South Course and the resort's Duck Pond.