San Marcos Golf Course

George Lewis tees off on the original San Marcos Golf Course in 1913. Courtesy of Chandler Historical Society
George Lewis tees off on the original San Marcos Golf Course in 1913.

In 1913, Dr. A.J. Chandler opened the San Marcos Hotel, the first building with electricity in the city that would eventually bear his name, and the nine-hole San Marcos Golf Course on 100 acres of land on the east side of Arizona Avenue straddling what is now Chandler Boulevard. A year later, nine more holes were added, and the original course which consisted of oiled sand and cottonseed meal greens was planted with rye grass, giving it the distinction of being the first grass course in the state of Arizona.

The course was moved to its current location on Dakota Street in 1928, and a new layout was designed by Harry Collins (who also designed Phoenix Country Club) with the help of Los Angeles-based architect William Watson, who helped design the Olympic Club courses in San Francisco, among others. Hollywood icons Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart once played the stately, tree-lined fairways of this parkland-style course.

San Marcos re-opened in November of 2014 following an extensive, $3.9 million renovation. A new pump station feeds an updated irrigation system from expanded lakes and ponds, the tee boxes have been upgraded and leveled, and all of the bunkers have been re-shaped and re-sanded. The clubhouse features an updated, more modern pro shop, a sleek new restaurant called Grill 60, and additional banquet space.

In my opinion, San Marcos has the coolest-looking scorecard in Arizona – and the best logo to boot! The course plays 6,640 yards from the Black Tees to a Par of 72, a course rating of 71.0, and a slope of 124. Here are some of the highlights of the round:

At just 483 yards, the short Par 5 5th hole is a chance to get one back after the first four.
At just 483 yards, the short Par 5 5th hole is a chance to get one back.

Holes Worth Writing Home About
The first four holes at San Marcos are tough. They’re not long, but they require exacting tee shots. You can start exacting your revenge beginning at the Par 5 5th. It’s only 483 yards, and it’s reachable in two if you hit a good tee shot. There are bunkers guarding either side of the green, but I assure you that you can run your ball between them up and onto the green.

The best hole on the back is the 327-yard Par 4 14th. Yeah, it’s short, but the hole doglegs sharply to the right, so it fade is the preferred shot shape off the tee. If you can hit a cut, then you’ll be left with little more than a pitch shot. There are tall trees running down the entire right-hand side of the fairway. Missing right is a death sentence.

The bermuda greens at San Marcos are on the small side, but on a shorter course like this, what other defense does it have? The smaller greens mean you’re going to miss more, and to score well, you have to have a good short game to get it up and down. This course requires nearly every shot, and you will likely hit every club in your bag. There aren’t many courses where you can say that.

Quiet Please…
Several of the greens have been enlarged in recent months. The last green to undergo the process is the undulating Par 4 6th, and a temporary green with an 8″ cup has been set-up about 50 yards short. The hole is scheduled to re-open in the next week or so, and then the course will play at full strength.

The 327-yard Par 4 14th requires a fade off the tee. Then it's just a short pitch onto the green.
The Par 4 14th requires a fade off the tee. Then it’s just a short pitch to the green.

About the only negative thing you can say about San Marcos is that there simply isn’t enough room for a full driving range. The course uses AlmostGolf balls. They fly and spin like real golf balls, but because they have a solid foam core, they only fly about a third of the length of the traditional golf ball. While you can shape shots, these balls are really meant for backyard practice, not for warming-up before you play. San Marcos is planning on overseeding the range in the fall, but at the moment, it’s a bit of an eyesore. You might as well skip the range and head straight over to the practice putting green, which is really good. It might even roll a little faster than the greens on the actual course.

My best shot of the day came on the 1st hole. After pulling my tee shot into the left rough, I had 154 yards up and over a tall tree to a back left pin. I had to hit a high draw to hit the green, and the ball released to within about five feet for an eventual birdie. The greens are smooth and true. Like anywhere else, you can make birdies if you choose the correct line.

While We’re Young
We teed off about a quarter to noon and were back in our cars by 2:55p. It was an enjoyable round on a pretty hot day. When you play faster, it’s easier to get into a rhythm.

San Marcos has the best logo in Arizona and one of the coolest-looking scorecards.
San Marcos has the best logo in Arizona and one of the coolest-looking scorecards.

Next On the Tee
TPC Scottsdale – Stadium Course. I’m hoping I can get out onto the track where the PGA Tour plays the Phoenix Open before the end of the 2nd semester next week. There are several Golf Academy guys working out there, so maybe they can help me out.

Blogger’s Note:
If you’re motivated, and if your schedule is fairly flexible, then you can play quite a few extra rounds at the Golf Academy during the summer months – at no extra charge. Let me explain. Each week, two rounds of golf are included in your tuition: a tournament round on Monday and another round between Tuesday and Friday. Once you’ve booked your tee time through ForeTees, the Academy’s online reservation system, you’re locked out. However, you can always sign-up to play another round of golf on the day of, provided there are open slots available, and during the summer months, there are always vacancies because students elect not to play on account of the heat. The summer is usually when students have access to the best courses too, so if you love golf, it’s a chance to take advantage. Hypothetically, if you played your cards right, you could play a round of golf Monday through Friday and not have to pay a dime.

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