Quintero Golf Club in Peoria, AZ
Tee Time: May 24, 2015, 10:46, 84 F, breezy
Designer: Rees Jones, 2000
Playing Partners: Bob, Bud and Jim
Tees: Gold/Silver Combo, Par 72 (72.0 rating/140 slope/6,655 yards)
Course Handicap: 10 (8.1 index)
Stats: 89 (43-46); 30 putts; 8/13 fairways; 3/18 greens; 3 penalty strokes
Long weekend and the need to get away from the house led me an hour northwest to the highly-recommended Quintero Golf Club. It’s a long trek from Scottsdale, especially considering there are about 300 golf courses closer than this joint in Peoria. So instead of going through the tedious process of getting someone to drive with me to check it out, I just booked it on a 3-day weekend before the heat comes in. It all worked out, and I had the pleasure of playing with Bob, Bud and John Flanagan of New Jersey. They were as Jersey as they come. Not Jersey Shore, thankfully, but more Sopranos. Fun guys, though. They had no idea the battle they were about to put themselves through.
Quintero really is a spectacular golf course; it’s designed by the renowned Rees Jones, whose name is all over the country at some of the most revered courses in golf. The man clearly knows how to keep you on your toes. I’m pretty sure this is my first course of his. It’s well worth the drive. Once you get off the I-17 (if you’re coming from Phoenix or anywhere east of there), the scenery gets prettier by the mile as you pass by Lake Pleasant and head into the craggy hills. However, it’s remote. Quintero is as much a part of the Greater Phoenix area as Pluto is part of the solar system. Even the drive from the clubhouse to the first tee is 5-10 minutes in the golf cart, depending on how many volts you’ve got. On the first tee, my tips from the starter were “the fairways are wider than you think” and “the greens are stimping at 11.” That’s pretty damn fast; even the USGA only recommends 10.5 for the US Open.
Quintero opens with a straight par 4 of 388 yards and one of its widest fairways. Might as well take advantage while you’re still loose off the range. The snaking, 545-yard 2nd is the most fun par 5 here. The tee shot is to the small patch of visible fairway, then another blind shot before it opens up to an impressive view of the distant mountains framing a large green. One of the prettiest spots on any golf course in Arizona is the tee at the 3rd. Framed by a lake on the left, it’s important to obviously stay dry, but also to leave as short an approach shot as possible over the wash to this dogleg-left par 4.
The 4th is a straight par 4 of 438 yards without much trouble. Just stay away from the bunkers to the left and hit a long drive. The 5th is an uphill par 4 framed beautifully by two peaks on either side of the hole. And everything funnels to the center, making this 352-yard hole even simpler, except the deep bunker up front. The 7th is a 410-yard, straight par 4 to an elevated green. A deep bunker guards the right of the flag. The 8th is a par 5 where the right tee shot still leaves 350 long, very uphill yards to the green. So your goal is turn a par 5 into a par 4 with a 250 yard shot. And then get to the green and try to two-putt one of the slickest, slopiest surfaces here. The scenic 9th is downhill with a pond right up against the front, so make sure to carry all the water at this 188-yard beauty.
The 10th is by a wide margin the shortest par 5 on the course, 30 yards. Stay straight and take advantage. Do as I say, not as I do, because I made an 8. The 11th is a longer par 4 playing straight, with sand along the left side of its 435 yards. The par-4 12th is similar to the 11th, but heading in the opposite direction and to a green sitting on a higher tabletop. A long carry over water and sand to a wide green waits at the 176-yard 13th. There’s also at least one giant catfish in that water, in case you wanna do any noodling. The 14th feels like the narrowest drive, with desert to the right and a large hill with a bunker on the left that pinch together in the landing zone. Then there’s a downhill lie on an uphill approach of the 541-yard beast.
The 15th is a target-golf par 4 of 358 yards. After hitting down, the hole elevates back to a wide, back-to-front sloping green. At 16 -a clone of the 6th but a much gentler descent- there is lots of desert vegetation waiting to swallow any ball that misses left. Best to risk the quartet of bunkers on the right of this 201-yard par 3. The 17th is a short, dogleg-right 363-yard par 4 again to an elevated green guarded by a front bunker. At least this is the last time you have to deal with that kind of shot. The closing 18th, a shorter par 4 and relatively flat, is actually the most boring hole at Quintero. Don’t get too upset though; by then you’ll be so eager to get a cold beer in your hands that you wouldn’t have remembered much about the finale anyway.
There isn’t really a simple rating system for golf course difficulty. Obviously every track in America is given a player rating and slope by the USGA. The higher the respective numbers, the tougher the course. And the longer sets of tees also rate harder. But this doesn’t really give an accurate picture. Shorter tees help players who can’t carry a driver 280-plus yards and let them hit more 100-150 yard approach shots. But everything evens out around the greens, where more than half of strokes are made. So when a place has greens slicker than the ice at the Honda Center, your 18-plus handicapper is probably going to roll over 40 putts while the single-digit player has enough feel to manage a decent showing. Same goes for the area around the greens. Elevated greens mean tougher up-and-downs, and slick greens make sand blasts more difficult to stop. A skilled player might land a sand shot softly, while a lesser player -who just worries about getting out of the sand- can see his escape run right off into another bunker. My point with this wandering paragraph is that there needs to be a more plainly visible gauge of how a golf course is going to play. There are some very, very hard places to play golf, especially in the deserts of Arizona where accuracy and touch are required. Troon North and Poppy Hills come to mind right away. And add to that Quintero, an enjoyable challenge to me. But after watching some weekend guys go from excited to utterly defeated in a matter of moments, usually littered with triple bogeys, unplayable lies and balls pocketed, there should be something alerting would-be players.
I’m going to propose a system like that used at ski resorts worldwide. Sure, anyone can theoretically try to take on a black diamond slope. Novices would be better served, and less likely to leave on a sled, taking on something a little easier. Now, golfers aren’t taking as close to the same physical risk on the first tee of a course like Quintero as they are at the top of a double-black diamond run at Squaw Valley. But in terms of enjoyment, it’s similar. By all means, if you want to test your game here, go for it. And I’m not asking higher handicaps to stay off of these gorgeous courses. I realized after watching my group struggle mightily to try to enjoy a course that is one of the prettiest, nastiest and most talked about places in the Phoenix area that they had no idea that it would be this rough. Maybe a couple black diamonds visible on the tee time booking page would at least give players a fair warning. If you’ve got the game, test it here. If you don’t, save the box of balls and try one of the many, many easier, just-as-lovely golf courses in Arizona.
#6, Par 3, 190 yards, 17-handicap, My Score: 3
The 6th goes about a mile downhill and you’re at the mercy of whichever way the wind is blowing. You can almost see all the way to the Grand Canyon from the tee box. It is without a doubt the nicest view from a tee I’ve witnessed in Arizona. Just look at that huge expanse of Sonoran desert visible off to the northwest. Saguaro after saguaro after saguaro as far as the eye can see.
Layout: A; elevation changes, doglegs and anything else you could want in a golf course.
Amenities: B; the grilled hot dogs from the portable BBQ at the turn are as good as any.
Staff: A-; I asked if the cart girl had any Coke and the ranger thought I meant cocaine… maybe they know the trick to getting around here.
Difficulty: A; double black diamond.
Scenery: A; if you like the vistas of the high desert, the kind you’d see in a John Wayne western, then this is the course to play.
Value: A-; $46+tax for AZ residents is a bargain for an oasis like this. But there is an untold premium: the extra sleeves of balls that you’ll need to buy after the round to replenish.
Overall GPA: 3.73 (A-); my new favorite in Arizona. Sorry, Troon North.