To our readers: Immediately upon hearing that Gary Van Sickle had taken a coveted first prize in the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual writing contest, our founder and CEO stormed out of Catch Basin, leaving this note on his office door: “Mr. Hot-Shot Golf Writer can handle the posts until further notice.” Here, then, is a recent course evaluation from the Top 50’s popular executive vice-president and chief course rater:
Mesa, Ariz.—You can tell a great golf course by its scorecard. Fiftieth-ranked Fiesta Lakes Golf Club’s card is on pale blue, non-glossy, sturdy paper with black ink. It’s a 3-by-4 card, probably because 3-by-5 would be a cliché.
All nine holes are listed with yardage and par, totaling a massive 1,533 yards and par 29. There are lined blanks for four players’ scores, in case you have any friends (though I kind of doubt it). There, beneath the last line, is what makes FLGC (as insiders at the adjacent Mesa Hilton know it) a must-stop. Three helpful tips: Tee off between markers. Let faster players pass. Replace divots.
Thanks to the card’s message, I avoided the common first-tee mistake of teeing off outside the markers, in front of the markers or, even worse, diagonal to the markers. Also, I walked up to the tee past a lone gazebo—the course’s signature hole, except for the fact that it’s just a gazebo, not a hole. I was a single, having just signed in at the fabulous clubhouse… trailer… shack. A gentleman and his young son were lollygagging on the first tee, looking like total beginners. Maybe they weren’t, though, or maybe they read the scorecard because they invited me to play through on the opening tee ball.
I’m pretty sure they were impressed when I teed off between the markers, depositing a 9-iron shot just off the right fringe on a monstrous 130-yard hole that was mostly wide open. It could be that getting the ball airborne was what impressed them because as I watched them from the second tee, after two-putting for an easy par, airborne shots weren’t really their strong suits. But I was glad they were there. This is what golf is all about, bringing your kid to a course and introducing him or her to the game. No better place for that than an easy par-3 track.
The second hole cleverly went back by the first tee, but a devilish pin position on the kitchen-table-sized green cost me a bogey. The third hole, also in keeping with the ingenious back-and-forth routing, was the strongest thus far, 168 yards, kind of downhill and guarded by some trees on the right. Fiesta Lakes is all grass and trees, a nice shady respite from the typical Phoenix-area desert golf. I holed a nice par-saving eight-foot putt while a waiting threesome watched from the fourth tee.
Probably impressed by my repeated airborne shots, they, too, waved me through. It was three college-aged players, two guys and a girl. Those scorecard instructions really work! Four holes on a par 3 course, and I’ve already played through two groups. Veteran golfers at real clubs aren’t this agreeable. I bumped a 4-iron down the right side of the fairway, since this was a 274-yard par 4, dogleg right, and without a rangefinder a large pond beyond the fairway’s bend looked like it might be in play. A wedge and two putts and I was off to the fifth.
The blue card said 155, but it didn’t appear that long, and apparently wasn’t because my choked-down 8-iron flew the green, hit some firm ground and bounded up onto the next tee box beneath some towering trees. A stupid-lucky bump-and-run chip led to an undeserved par.
The fourth through seventh holes play counterclockwise around the lake. The eighth, like the arm on the letter G played back toward it and is the most dangerous on the course for those of us who play the game from the air. I’m sure that fifth hole, with its forced carry over the lake, claims a lot of victims. A tee shot just right of the green looked usable. Upon arrival, no ball. The ground was firm and (a first time Fiesta Lakester learned) the water sneaked in around the green’s right side. My ball wasn’t on the fringe, it was under water. Well, at least I’d had the good sense to tee off between the markers. So call me crazy. That was a bogey.
The eighth hole was a secretive little bitch, but the ninth, ah, now here was a signature hole (unlike the gazebo) that actually came with a hole included. The card said it was 255 yards, par 4. Drivable? Yes, especially if you’ve got the red-ass after hitting the fringe and finding the lake on the previous hole. The problem was, it was a dogleg right, toward the clubhouse, and several huge trees on the dogleg corner blocked the angle of attack.
Well, I wasn’t going to let a little thing like common sense keep me from my only chance to hit driver at Fiesta Lakes. I had to tee up near the left tee marker (still between them, being the rules-stickler that I am) and stand off to the side of the tee box, lower than the ball, to have a go. This is not conducive to hitting the fade I need. Neither is my swing. I see draws and hit draws. My fade usually turns out to be a straight ball, if I’m lucky. No matter the odds, though, I wait for another threesome I’ve caught to clear the green, which I can barely make out behind the trees. I’ve got the ball teed up as high as I dare and I make sure to feel like I’m swinging up at it and—whack. The ball barely clears the big trees and looks to be on a pretty good line. That’s all I can see. I hit another one, just for practice and to increase the value I got for my $14 greens fee. This one fades (that’s the polite word for it) and sails over the eighth tee, across the seventh fairway and ends up near the fence that guards the FLGC practice range (and I use that term loosely).
My first ball is 12 feet from the hole. I play the second one, too, because it’s dead, blocked by some smaller trees. I chip a 7-iron low and hard, it bounces left and finds a gap in the trees, runs up the bank and onto the green… to a foot. It’s a ludicrous birdie. The eagle putt breaks sharply at the cup and lips out. It’s a well-earned birdie.
As I head to the parking lot, one of the guys from the group ahead asks, “Did you drive that last green?” I confess that I did. “From the tee?” he wonders. Right between the markers, I said. “Well, I couldn’t believe how soft it landed,” he said. “We didn’t know where it came from.”
I told him I was glad to have a witness for my shot of the day. But where did it come from? From between the markers, man. It says so right on the scorecard. [GVS]
Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but our founder and CEO was spotted on the short-game practice green at the spanking-new Sewailo Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz. He was later seen, with his wife, in the magnificent PY Steakhouse at the adjoining Casino Del Sol Resort. Sewailo, if you missed our earlier accounts, was co-designed by four-time tour-winner Notah Begay and is the new home course for the University of Arizona Wildcats. Garrity’s original review describes it as “17 picturesque, challenging, and surprisingly-water-featured desert holes, along with one over-the-top, freaky-hard par 5 (the tenth), where you can make a desert snowman in less time than it takes a roadrunner to race to the airport.” (The tenth, we’re told by Van Sickle, is where our Founder and CEO scored a hard-earned 8.)