When you plan a trip to one of the larger golf destinations out there, how do you narrow down dozens of courses to a rota of four or five?
Of course, there are lots of different answers - location, design and value being up at the top.
But what else? Based on playing with and talking to thousands of golfers throughout my life, it's clear to me that course conditions have a massive effect on how golfers choose courses.
This can be tricky, though. Hearsay and online reviews can only go so far (and fall out-of-date quickly), and while calling the courses outright and asking the big question - "What kind of shape is the course in right now?" - will usually yield an honest answer, there are examples galore of golfers getting burned by not-quite-honest responses to this question.
If you want to increase the chances of finding a course that's going to be in great shape when you visit, here's a simple rule of thumb:
Seek out courses that host big-time junior, amateur, college and professional golf tournaments throughout the year.
And if you're going to be visiting the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, the course that fits that description is Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club.
Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club was designed by Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley, with Fred Couples consulting. Don't let the fact that the course hosts tournaments convince you it's excessively difficult. In fact, it's extremely playable, with broad fairways, big greens and only a couple holes where water comes into play. There are a few forced carries off tee boxes, but they vary greatly based on the set of tee boxes players select.
Of particular note to the traveling golfer is that because Ak-Chin Southern Dunes hosts a steady stream of tournaments throughout the year, it means their maintenance staff constantly has the course in excellent shape. As a member of the Troon Golf family, it benefits from the vast knowledge of the company's network of agronomists and superintendents.
To take full advantage of this excellence in conditioning, we recommend you time your visit for the days just before or after one of their events.
Here's their schedule for 2017:
- January 1-4: Saguaro Amateur (one of the most prestigious events on the amateur calendar; won this year by Tanner Hughes at -9)
- April 6-7: Wyoming Cowgirl Classic (annual tournament hosted by the University of Wyoming women's team)
- May 18: U.S. Open Local Qualifier (being played at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes for the 11th consecutive year)
- May 30-31: Pacific Coast Amateur Qualifier (prestigious amateur event held along the West Coast annually)
- June 4-5: Arizona State PGA Junior Championship Qualifier
- September 11-13: Ping Southwest PGA Section Championship (Ak-Chin Southern Dunes will host this event for regional PGA professionals through 2020)
- September 26-29: Web.com Tour Qualifying - First Stage (Ak-Chin Southern Dunes has hosted Web.com Tour Q-school since 2013)
- October 13-15: University of Wyoming Cowboy Southern Dunes Invitational (annual tournament hosted by the University of Wyoming men's team)
Whereas some tournament-hosting golf courses can end up in crummy shape as soon as their big event for the year is over, the spread-out schedule at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is a real boon for visiting golfers. It means that you will see tournament-quality conditions whenever you choose to visit.
Finally, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes' tournament pedigree, combined with the fact that it originally opened as a private golf club, indicates that it's a fun course to play multiple times in a row. If you'd like to spend at least a couple days of your trip getting to know it, packages through Harrah's Ak-Chin Resort & Casino are available, and popular.
So the question remains: when will you choose to visit?