Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa, AZ
Tee Time: July 7, 2012, 9:10, 108 F, Gusty
Designer: Fred Couples/Schmidt-Curley Design (2002)
Playing Partners: Sean Cohan
Tees: Blue, Par 72 (70.6 rating/126 slope/6,493 yards)
Course Handicap: 12 (10.5 index)
Stats: 85 (46-39); 31 putts; 5/14 fairways; 6/18 greens; 2 penalty strokes
I’ve been an Arizona resident for about 9 months, and had never really found a reason to go to Maricopa. Now I’ll definitely be going back and hopefully soon, thanks to Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club. I finally got to put my Troon Golf Card to use on this blistering hot day in Arizona (as opposed to all those cool summer days the state’s known for). I’ll get the round details out of the way early because I could go on about them all day. It started on the driving range. At the end of a quick ten-swing warmup I had a sand wedge in my hands and the ball cart closing in. I hit a perfect sixty-yard pitch that was tracking right into the windshield. I stood there admiring my shot like Jose Bautista taking in one of his long home runs. Twenty feet, fifteen feet, ten feet, five feet… And then nothing. The driver swerved at the last minute (apparently they’re picking up balls with Mini Coopers out there) and my ball fell harmlessly to the grass. I raised my hands in disappointment and saluted the driver for his evasive maneuvers. He smiled and laughed. I was a cart boy for a couple years and I remember golf balls rattling the steel cage of the cart that made it sound like World War III had just erupted on the Round Hill driving range. But I wasn’t letting him get away with that. He was driving away when I swung at one last ball with him about 80 yards out. Like a perfectly led wide receiver streaking down the sideline, my ball floated through the air and smacked the top of the cart roof a hundred yards away. If only I could snipe like that on the ice rink…
That was the highlight of my day until 507-yard par 5 13th hole. After a fifteen minute wait with 4 groups on the hole (we played pretty fast, a couple of the last holes we had to wait just because we were a twosome behind a threesome and foursome), I hit a straight drive and had, according to the GPS in the cart, 206 yards to the stick. Low five wood that ran up and reached the green and I had an eagle putt. Sean was in for a birdie, and I step up and drain a 25-footer for my FIRST eagle, ever. The ball has since been placed in the hall of fame. The crazy part was I played well on the back 9, shooting a 39 and playing the 2 par 5’s at -3. Sean played them at -2, and shot a 36 (his first 9, front or back, at par or better in his life) so I went from down 4 strokes at the turn to losing by 7. We both had to keep a scorecard, it was a historic round of golf.
The front side of this golf course is the tougher nine, especially on your first time around. It does take a little while to adjust to the extreme target golf Southern Dunes requires. Not only are the greens well guarded, the fairways require precise placement. This is not one of those friendly tracks where you can swing hard and not have to worry about the consequences. Sand traps dot the fairways as densely as acne on a teenaged Wendy’s burger cook. Long, narrow bunkers run down the sides of the fairways and make missing the short grass much more punishing than simply going into the rough. And mid-fairway traps also wait to swallow tee shots, forcing you to really think off the tee about placement and whether to try to carry a certain hazard or lay up short with a fairway wood. It is really a testament to how well this course was designed that on all 18 tee boxes you have to have a game plan or snowmen will start littering your scorecard. The traps guarding the green also present unique challenges. They are deep, and I, having hit about 15 bunkers during the round, noticed that every trap had a different feel to the sand. The putting surfaces were in great condition even with the seeding going on. Slower than is normal for this time of the year, they rolled fairly and good putts went in, which is all I ask for. The course was also in good form. It really looks like the maintenance crew knows how to keep this place playable in the summer when dead spots can pop up anywhere, the fairways were firm but always allowed for good lies.
The back nine is the real reason to play this course. These holes really display the risk-reward options that face you everywhere. Obviously the 13th will remain fondly in my memory for years to come. There also is the snaking 515-yard par 5 16th, another very tough hole to navigate. I reached this green in two and missed a 12-footer for eagle no. 2, but it is not that easy. Fairway bunkers wait for short shots and shots that go long, meaning you really need to throw a dart into the fairway off the tee. To play it as three shots you go back to the left to keep in the fairway and hopefully have the least dangerous angle into the green. I miraculously carried all of the trouble, but next time who knows how I’ll have to play this hole. The same can be said about many of these back nine holes. You could play this course 50 times and never take the same route. A yard off here or there and the ball can go anywhere, but the kicks even out. Bad shots can be turned into birdie opportunities and great shots can turn into bogeys, you just can never let your guard down with this course. The par 3’s feature mild elevation changes that are not seen on this flatter course and, with the stiff desert breezes that kick up in the afternoon, can really throw your club selection off.
Southern Dunes really is an oasis in the desert of Maricopa, well worth the 45-minute drive from the Phoenix area. The staff is as friendly as you’ll find anywhere and they really go above and beyond to make your day a fun one. 108-degree days normally shouldn’t be spent outside at all, and a 4-hour round of golf can be miserable in that heat. But the cooling stations, complete with scented ice towels for your pleasure, and even the free Otter Pops distributed by the marshall are the little things that stand out above and beyond what most clubs would do for their guests. The starter on the first tee gave such a thorough introduction to our round I felt like I’d already seen the course. He not only listed the various tees you can play, but also what challenges and carries they each have, helping you to make an informed decision. Seriously, I’ve had jobs where they gave me less training to start with than this. The on-board GPS ran smoothly, aside from the pop-up ads that started appearing near the end. Go at any time of the year and enjoy a challenging round at a great course.
#14, Par 4, 283 yards, 18-handicap, My Score: 4
I know the 16th gets all the love, even getting into the Golf Hole Hall of Fame. But #14 is the most enticing hole to play. You could go the easy route: a mid-iron into the fairway and a wedge into another well-guarded green. Though with more fairway bunkers, a poor lay-up shot still could lead to big numbers. Or you could go for it, bomb a driver long and straight and see where that leaves you. In my case I hit the very top of the mound bunker in front of the green. If you do carry that trap, your risks are still not avoided. The hill kicks into a small dip and another greenside bunker. It takes a perfect shot to even have a chance of getting on, and the very idea of trying to reach off the tee is probably not smart, but it’s too tempting to ignore. Plus I wanted to have not only my first eagle ever, but then go right into my first eagle-eagle stretch of holes. Didn’t work, but still a fun hole nonetheless.
Amenities: A-; the clubhouse is very nice and the practice facilities are great. I’m always a little wary of these GPS carts, but these worked great and provided a ton of information for every shot.
Staff: A; the staff really made this place stand out, they are very sincere about their passion for golf and want to share that with their guests.
Difficulty: B+; this course would create a disastrous scorecard if you’re not careful. You really must pick your targets and use every club in the bag at least once (including the pitching wedge that I desperately am missing). The greens are relatively easy, but getting there is the challenge.
Scenery: C; I loved the look of the course and it was in top condition even in July. But outside of Southern Dunes there just is not much in Maricopa to send home on a post-card unless you need a Death Valley look-alike.
Value: A-; these summer rates start at $35.00 and are worth every dollar. Combined with a 2-for-1 deal and Troon Card discount that left only $16.50 a person, this place felt like a steal for the quality of the facility.
Overall: 3.45 (B+); the scenery weighed down the score, but that is a minor setback. This place is a golf course where you enjoy the round and take in a unique challenge. Go and you’ll want to go back, possibly several more times.