I first stumbled upon Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club a little more than two years ago while on my way to Yuma for work. To get there, you take the Queen Creek Road exit off I-10 to Maricopa, and then you turn right onto Arizona Highway 238 West – more famously known as Dead Cow Road. Because there’s really nothing of any significance to look at on the way to Yuma, you almost can’t help but miss the oasis of Eucalyptus trees, literally in the middle of nowhere. You almost wonder how anyone thought to put a golf course here. Then you play it, and you’re glad they did.
Because everything around it is flat, you’re going to get some great 360-degree views of Arizona’s vast desert expanses. Occasionally, the sound of cooing quail is interrupted by the sound of a train whistle from the nearby railway. The course sprawls across more than 320 acres and is the brainchild of the master architects of Schmidt-Curley Design, Inc. (in Scottsdale) and designer Fred Couples. The team has partnered with Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus and designed the Marriott Desert Ridge Course in Scottsdale. A welcome video starring Couples greets you on the GPS automatically as you pull-up to the first tee.
The course mirrors the terrain out here – grassy, rugged, and tough. It didn’t take long for it to get noticed. Three years after opening in 2002, out came the Arizona State Amateur (2005, 2009), the PGA Tour with various stages of Q-School (1st Stage – 2013, 2014; 2nd Stage – 2006, 2007) and Q-School Pre-Qualifying (2012). The course also serves as a local site for U.S. Open Qualifying on an annual basis. If it’s good enough for the PGA Tour and the USGA, you know it’s pretty good. They wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t. Here are some of the other accolades that have been bestowed on Southern Dunes:
* Top 100 Resort Course (#60) – Golfweek Magazine
* Top Courses You Can Play in Arizona (#5) – Golf Magazine 2014
* Best Courses You can Play in Arizona (#6) – Golfweek Magazine
* Top 100 Courses You Can Play (#86) – Golf Magazine 2014
* Top Casino Course (#13) – Golfweek Magazine
Southern Dunes offers six different tee boxes to accommodate every level of player. If you want tough, say no more. The course plays 7,546 yards from the Tips to a Par of 72, a course rating of 76.4, and a slope of 142. As you might expect, they play the U.S. Open Qualifier from the Tips. Because I was with my brother, we played from the Golf Tees – still more than a fair test of golf at 6,902 yards. Here are some of the highlights of the round:
Holes Worth Writing Home About
Things got off to a bit of a rough start when, shortly after checking-in around 2:20p, I noticed that the grass driving range and practice area (both of which are top notch) were closed. Not what I was hoping for after a muscle-tightening 30-minute car ride.
Be prepared to lose your golf ball out here! Balls go to die in the native prairie grasses bordering every tee box, fairway, and green. Even if you hit your ball into a clump of grass right in front of you, you may not find it.
I didn’t know it until I saw my ball splash down on the 1st green that they had recently aerated. The bermuda greens were punched on Monday, and they were still incredibly sandy on Friday afternoon. I was told the greens should be back close to normal in another 10-14 days. Again, because the course is on an Indian reservation, watering is never a problem. The rims of all the cups are painted bright white, and there’s bottled water throughout the course – both of which are a classy touch.
Honestly, I could hardly tell a difference from the last time I was out here, but the superintendent has been very busy in recent months. I was told that they took out 80,000 square feet of bunkers (the equivalent of roughly three football fields) in order to make the course more playable from the forward tees. They scraped the hill on the Par 3 17th so it was no longer a blind tee shot, and they lengthened the fairway bunker on No. 1 so guys could no longer cut the corner with a bomb on the 449-yard Par 4. They built more turf tees, added more turf in spots, and put new sand and liners in all the bunkers.
The Par 3s out here are one of the things that truly separate Southern Dunes from its counterparts. The 165-yard Par 3 4th hole is a perfect example. It’s narrow and guarded by steep bunkers both short and long. When the greens are in good shape, this one’s tough to hold.
One of the more interesting holes on the back nine is the short Par 4 14th. It’s just 323 yards, but you have to thread your tee shot between a bevy of bunkers. If you can do that, you’ll have little more than a wedge in. Hit your tee shot too far left, and your approach shot will be blinded by three huge bunkers. I could say something about just about every hole at Southern Dunes. They’re all that good.
I give this Troon Golf-managed facility a lot of credit. Because Southern Dunes is way out in the boonies, the Sales & Marketing team really had to get creative. That’s how the Summer Six Pack was born. For just $129, here’s what you get:
* 6 Summer Rounds of Championship Golf (Valid from May 14th thru September 3rd)
* 6 Titleist ProV1 Golf Balls
* 6 Rounds on #minidunes
* 6 Beverages (domestic beers, well drinks, Pepsi products, or Gatorade)
* 20% off at the Arroyo Grille
It used to be just $99 (which is like stealing), but it’s still pretty close. The reason for the price increase is that Southern Dunes just added a brand new 6-hole short course called #minidunes directly into the practice facility floor. Each hole has its own tee box and holes ranging from 50 to 120 yards. The hashtag is annoying, but is a way for the course to generate some extra buzz on social media outlets. The course usually opens around 1:00p this time of year. #annoying
When I purchased the Summer Six Pack a couple of years ago, it was $99 and more than 400 people signed up. I thought a $30 increase just for a short course might be a marketing misread. Boy was I wrong! Here’s why this is so ingenious – I was the 602nd person to purchase a Summer Six Pack. Multiply that by $129 and you get roughly $78,000 – for a middle of nowhere golf course… in the summertime… in Phoenix. Where else are you going to generate that kind of revenue in Maricopa?
Buyer beware – the best deal in Arizona golf is non-transferable. You’re the only one who can use your punch card. So don’t think you’re going to be able to get a bunch of your buddies out onto the course with your card alone. At 2:30p the other day, they were charging $35, but it’s $59 on GolfNow. Pay full price just twice, and you’ll be wishing you had purchased the Summer Six Pack.
A lot of the greens at Southern Dunes are elevated with closely-mown collection areas that feed into either rough or bunkers. I pushed my tee shot to the right off No. 10 tee and was fortunate to find my ball resting between two clumps of native grass. I flew the green with a wedge from 80 yards. I found some greenside rough but had a downhill lie to a pin on the short side. Real trouble. I had no choice but to hit a flop shot of sorts and caught it high on the face but still clean enough to give me 10-15 feet left for my par, and I just so happened to drain the putt.
While We’re Young
Because Troon Values Your Time, the Time Par out here is 4:29 – probably because if you don’t keep it on the fairway, you’re going to be spending a lot of time looking for your golf ball. I was the only guy on the property when I teed off around 2:30p. It was already well over 100-degrees, and I was thankful I didn’t have to wait long between shots. I was able to get around in a little over three hours.
Next On the Tee
Encanterra Country Club in San Tan Valley. The greens out here were great the only time I ever played it. This is essentially my practice round in preparation for the the Golf Academy tournament we have out there on Monday.