Kierland Golf Club in Scottsdale, AZ
Tee Time: December 9, 2012, 9:55, 68 F, Light Wind
Designer: Scott Miller (1996)
Playing Partners: Steve Walker, Rick and Ingrid (Calgary couple)
Tees: Ironwood/Acacia Gold, Par 72 (69.3 rating/122 slope/6,337 yards)
Course Handicap: 14 (12.7 index)
Stats: 90 (48-42)
Well I originally had no plans to write a review of Kierland Golf Club at the Westin in Scottsdale. Nothing against them, I’ve just logged a lot of rounds and written many words already in 2012. I figured I’d go enjoy a nice round of golf at a course I’d heard good things about and relax after a month of moving, sickness and puppy chaos. I didn’t even bother bringing a camera (these are cell phone shots, I apologize for the poor quality). Around the fifth hole of the round, beginning on the Acacia nine, it hit me that this golf course stands up there as one of the prettiest in the state. A resort course that winds through homes and office buildings near Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, the scenery is nothing stunning like that of Troon or Eagle Mountain, but from inside the ropes it rivals any I’ve played lately. It’s a team effort, too. This eye candy is partially thanks to the smooth layout, partially the large resort building that dominates landscape and partially the always-excellent Troon greenskeeping. This is the 10th Troon managed golf course I’ve played and I have yet to find even one blade of grass out of place. Even overseeding can’t put a damper on things. Whether it’s 110-degrees of Arizona summer or a frigid Utah morning in Heber, the one constant I’ve noticed throughout all this traveling is that Troon always offers pristine conditions and friendly staff. If you can’t have fun playing golf at their facilities, then maybe golf isn’t for you.
Anyways, off to the golf course. We were sent out on the Acacia nine and finished up with the Ironwood set, leaving the Mesquite nine sadly unplayed as of this writing. To me, the Acacia nine is the reason I loved this course so much. It opens with a par-5 (always fun) and immediately brings course management into play. The hole plays straight and is a reachable length, but sand traps dot the approach in and will swallow up any balls rolling by. The second and third holes are par-4’s that shouldn’t be too hard to navigate. Like most holes at Kierland, they feature large, receptive greens. That’s good. The greens are all surrounded by multiple deep bunkers. That’s bad. I like this layout. The greens hold good shots and even reward decent ones, but with all that leniency there is a price to pay for really missing. The 5th, a par-5 named “Choke Points”, features just that. Shrubs and brush jut into play from 100 yards and in, forcing you to rethink a 3-wood attempt to reach this 542-yard hole in two. The most fun par-3 is the 6th, 162 yards over a funky looking tree grove that hides the two-tiered green. The front slopes off quite a bit and a tough bunker shot is waiting there for anything that misses right. The par-3 8th is a 189-yard downhill shot to a green that looks much slicker than it actually played with the back to front tilt. The 9th is the prettiest on the course, and one of the nicest in Scottsdale. Through a narrow chute off the tee box, the finishing hole on Acacia opens up to the fairway fifty feet below with an impressively blue lake on the left bordered by a fairway bunker running up the side. The green may be the largest at Kierland and just being on the green could still mean an eighty-foot putt remains. The atmosphere on the green is what impressed me most. Even with a large resort so close, there was no noise, the large metal statue in the middle of the lake was interesting to look at and the green area presents a challenge to your short game.
The second nine we played was Ironwood, 3,179 yards of gentle dog legs and tricky greens to navigate. This side isn’t as challenging as Acacia, but it’s no cakewalk. With no par 5’s until the 7th, accuracy is at a premium on both par 3’s and the four par-4’s up to that point. Then the 7th comes and you can finally go bombs away, although those homes on the left side sure seem to come into play rather quickly. The 1st and 2nd, both par-4’s playing around 400 yards, have the only desert wash areas I noticed during the round. It is much nicer to play out of the soft sand the bunkers offer than that of the pebbly desert. If there’s a birdie to be had on a par-3 at Kierland, #3 would be your best shot. Heck, our whole foursome played it at 1-under. And we were the group that took 24 combined holes to finally make a par… The 8th, a short par-4, presents the most accessible green at the resort. There is a rather large bunker at the pin’s eight o’clock, but shallow rough and lots of fairway mean you’d really have to try to put a crater in it. The closing 9th is a unique hole. Beginning 50 yards or so off the gold tee box is a long, skinny lake that runs all the way to the green and widens around the back where there are ducks aplenty. And the water is always a threat, especially because this hole is reachable in two, but a long iron or fairway wood is not the easiest to keep dry with a lake so close.
There’s a lot to like about Kierland Golf Club. The grass is as lush and green as a Major League outfield and the lakes are as fresh and clean as they appear on the brochure. It is a track that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels. There aren’t any holes that will leave you begging for mercy, but there are subtle things that add some difficulty. The greens can be a tricky read. The fairways all have some undulation which messes with your stance. The bunkers are consistent, but deep. Play it, and from what Steve was telling me about the conference he went to at the Westin, stay here too.
#7 (Acacia), Par 4, 339 yards, 10-handicap, My Score: 5
The shortest par-4 of the Ironwood/Acacia circuit, it’s easy to think a fairway wood and wedge will be all you need for a par here. Yet somehow, even without featuring any severe elevation change, this hole feels like it plays longer than the yardage. Maybe the wind or the lake affects the carry, because even a 100-yard shot played about 110. And the bunkers, so many bunkers. I lost count at 7. I think there’s a couple on the left side of the fairway, but I was told there’d be no math during this round. A relatively small green places a premium on approach shot accuracy with the numerous greenside perils awaiting. I made bogey, the second shot played longer than I originally guessed. But Steve snap hooked a 5-wood into the water, so at least I won the hole.
Amenities: A-; I loved the atmosphere of the clubhouse and restaurant. The carts featured powered misters, something that I didn’t even know existed. But now that I do, I’ve already written my Congressman asking him to write in a law requiring these at all Arizona golf courses. Too chilly this day to use them though, every time I tried to test them (for blog research…) Steve quickly shut them off. The only thing keeping this from being an “A” is that a hot dog ($8) and Powerade ($3.75) cost $11.75! It was a damn good hot dog, but eight bucks for a wiener of meat trimmings, fat and preservatives seems excessive.
Difficulty: B-; not hard, the trouble is there but it can be avoided with a bit of extra effort.
Scenery: B; the surrounding landscape was nothing to boast about. But the course was amazing. I found myself taking an extra second or two to take in every hole, they were that excellent.
Value: C+; it’s always the most expensive rate in the east valley, regardless of temperature or time of day.
Overall: 3.0 (B); play it. Even on a Sunday morning the pace of play was brisk and the course offers a lot of enjoyment. I’m pretty sure this was my first round of 2012 (30 rounds in or so) where I didn’t lose a ball.