Cover photo: The 75-yard #7 “Jutty” at The Short Course at Mountain Shadows offers the course’s best views of Mummy Mountain.
Left: #1, The Short Course at Mountain Shadows
Middle: #7, The Short Course at Mountain Shadows
Right: The 9-hole Li’l Wick at Wickenburg Ranch features four lighted holes for play well into the evening.
Writer Greg Granillo
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s one of the PGA Tour’s most exciting events descends on the Valley, bringing hundreds of thousands of spectators and general revelers to the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course, it’s hard to imagine that the game of golf is waning in popularity.
The truth is, while attendance has been breaking records at the Waste Management Phoenix Open year after year, the total number of golf rounds played nationwide is down. This decline has experts scrambling to come up with anything to get people to play more golf, from shortening the course to just 12 holes to offering foot golf, which is played with a soccer ball and oversized holes.
But for a lot of traditional golfers, a round of golf isn’t a round unless you play 18 holes. The problem is, most people just don’t have the time for a five- or six-hour round anymore.
A new twosome of high-end, par-3 courses hopes to shake up the Valley golf scene.
“The knock on golf has always been that it takes too long, it’s too expensive and it’s too difficult,” says renowned golf course architect Forrest Richardson.
Richardson’s latest project, The Short Course at Mountain Shadows, aims to address all of the above. The course is scheduled to open in early March in conjunction with the highly anticipated Mountain Shadows resort.
Redefining the Short Course
The Short Course at Mountain Shadows is among a handful of high-end, 18-hole par-3 golf courses that have begun popping up across the country, along with Li’l Wick at Wickenburg Ranch, just north of the Valley.
For Richardson, who has designed several resort courses throughout the Valley, including Phantom Horse Golf Club at Arizona Grand, Lookout Mountain, Wigwam and The Phoenician, the latest endeavor was more than simply revitalizing an existing executive course. He wanted to set a new standard for the par-3 golf experience.
“Most short courses are not at the level of traditional 18-hole courses,” he says. “The greens are usually not high quality, and often the holes have to be dumbed down. This course is going to be in top condition — intimidating, but not too difficult. Every green is different; every hole is different.”
Situated on the north side of Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, and formerly known as Mountain Shadows Golf Club, the course was originally designed in 1961 by well-known golf architect Arthur Jack Snyder, under whom Richardson studied. In addition to the exceptional greens and distinct holes playing from 60 to 200 yards, each offers striking views of Camelback and Mummy Mountains, along with the scenic desert surroundings.
“Our goal was to find the same beauty, harmony, function and innovation as Jack Snyder created more than 50 years ago,” says Richardson. “But we have done so in a way that fits the new Mountain Shadows resort. It’s been fun to watch the excitement build.”
Part of the new Mountain Shadows includes a new respect for the land. The original course measured 33 acres, while the new iteration occupies just under 14 acres and uses 70 percent less water.
“The trend of the past 35 years was to create wider, longer, bigger golf courses that were 7,000 yards, but that goes against land conservation and responsible water use in the desert,” says Richardson. “Today, we’re using less water and land, which is the right thing to do.”
Tom McCahan, director of golf and club operations at Mountain Shadows, is no stranger to the bigger, longer courses. He spent 25 years at the 36-hole Boulders Resort in Carefree before deciding it was time for a change.
McCahan was intrigued by working closely with Westroc, the developers of Mountain Shadows and the management company for Hotel Valley Ho and Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort. But that wasn’t all.
“There are no high-end short courses in the middle of the city with Camelback and Mummy Mountain right there,” says McCahan. “It’s the closest golf course to the most interesting side of Camelback, right underneath the Praying Monk. It’s also just 15 minutes from Sky Harbor and in the heart of Scottsdale’s restaurants and nightlife. The location is second to none.”
Another appealing factor for McCahan was the ability for golfers of all skill levels to complete 18 holes in just a few hours. The abbreviated playing time gives Arizona golfers a respite in the summer heat and allows guests to get a round in before a day of resort relaxation or desert exploration.
“When guests can play a two-and-a-half-hour round of golf instead of spending five hours, they can fit in a spring training game, a hike, enjoy Old Town Scottsdale and whatever else they want to do,” says McCahan.
Measuring 2,310 yards from the back tees, the par-54 course is available for daily play for both locals and resort guests.
A Li’l Fun for Everyone
Mountain Shadows isn’t the only Arizona player getting involved in the short game. The popular Wickenburg Ranch Golf Course, located an hour and 15 minutes northwest of downtown Phoenix, recently opened Li’l Wick.
Dubbed “a short-game park,” the innovative and engaging nine-hole, par-3 course features the same stellar bentgrass greens and exceptional playing conditions that have propelled Wickenburg Ranch’s Big Wick course to success. The course winds through a picturesque canyon along the eastern flank of the Wickenburg Ranch development, giving it tons of natural beauty and character.
Daily-fee guests can play Li’l Wick for just $25 per player. Or, they may include a visit to Li’l Wick before or after their rounds on Big Wick (27 holes of golf for $115). To play, it’s first come, first served, with no tee times. Four of the nine holes are lit, allowing the fun to last well into the evening.
Both Li’l Wick and The Short Course at Mountain Shadows boast a fun, relaxed atmosphere for families and those learning the game. It can be as friendly or as challenging as guests choose to make it.
“This is a fun place where our members and guests can truly enjoy hanging out,” says Justin Henderson, head golf professional at Wickenburg Ranch Golf and Social Club. “We want to give them plenty of reasons to smile, laugh and build lasting friendships. We have everything from families and neighbors enjoying competitions to guys grinding over putts to settle bets.”
Richardson’s design philosophy has always been grounded in his belief that golf should be fun, and that the holes should be unique and interesting.
“At the Short Course, every time you get up to the tee you have the chance to get a hole in one, which makes for a fun outing,” he says. “But you don’t want it to be a dead giveaway. That’s part of the fun — hitting over water, dealing with two-level greens, a hole that runs along a stream. It’s not your average par-3 course.”
Richardson has a message for serious golfers and traditionalists who love to hit their drivers off the tee: “Don’t underestimate the challenge of these short courses.”
“In reality, on a regulation course you are only hitting your driver 12 to 13 times per round,” he says. “The rest of your shots are iron or short game shots — it’s about shot making. That’s the value of playing these types of courses.”
Plus, when the game is played in venues like this, it evens the playing field for couples, children and grandchildren.
“The shorter the hole, the more the game is equalized,” says Richardson. “Around the greens, an 8- or 9-year-old kid can have the same advantage as a scratch player. It’s a lot more fun for golfers of all skill levels.”