My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
#4, Par 5, 488 Yards
At 504 yards, this short par 5 may be considered reachable under most conditions. A drive to the left side affords a better approach to the green when the pin is on the right. Be accurate with approach shots, as the large contoured green can pull your ball into the right and backsides bunkers.
As you weave your way through Estancia's routing, you'll see lots of huge houses with beautiful views over the golf course and valley floor below. Some the residents here are people you would have heard off--more than one of them measures their net worth in the billions.
#1, Par 4, 384 Yards
A 459-yard par 4 that plays downhill with a dogleg to the left. This hole offers a generous but deceptively contoured fairway to receive your first drive, plus a spectacular backdrop of boulders and pristine desert off the green. Play your second shot short, as this green fades away in a not so obvious manner!
The first hole is a good example of where I said there's more than enough width at Estancia to feel confident about keeping your ball on the grass. For an opening hole, there is certainly a generous landing area. The approach into the green is tighter, boulders in the background. One thing that was very common in Estancia's greens, and adds to its playability was the presence of banks on the edges of greens that would funnel shots back onto the playing surface (essentially punchbowl features). While this
#2, Par 4, 303 Yards
A short, 389-yard par 4 that plays with a sharp dogleg to the left. The tees are situated high amongst an intriguing array of boulders. Place your drive to the right side of the fairway bunker to be rewarded with the best approach to this small, well-bunkered green.
While the first hole isn't ugly, getting up to the second tee reveals the first jaw-dropping view. There will be many more of these. One thing Fazio has never lacked is artistic skill. He can frame a hole with visual backgrounds and surroundings arguably better than anyone.
#7, Par 3, 166 Yards
A 174-yard par 3, this hole leaves little room for errant shots. From the tees sitting high above a desert wash, you have some of the best views on the golf course with Pinnacle Peak looming far above and towering saguaros surrounding the green. Pinpoint accuracy to fulfill birdie aspirations.
It's always funny to me to see the holes from golf balls in saguaros. For the players responsible, these are basically a permanent reminder of your bad shot.
#5, Par 4, 379 Yards
A long 478-yard par 4, this hole is truly strong! Into the wind and with a menacing green setting, this hole adds teeth to the front nine. The left side affords the best approach into a green and away from five bunkers.
The copper tees get an advantage of almost a full 100 yards from the tips. Even though we didn't play the tips, we would often stop at them to just to take in the view as oftentimes they would occupy the highest spot on the hole with the best view. The view on this hole was incredible on an overcast day--I can't imagine when the sky is blue an the horizon is clear. Views from Estancia extend all the way out to Glendale and beyond, where you can see the Arizona Cardinals' stadium.
#13, Par 4, 373 Yards
At 411 yards, this par 4 blends naturally with the existing contours. Play your drive to the right center of the fairway for the best view into a green well guarded by bunkers and grass contours. A well-struck middle iron to this uphill green may be rewarded with a birdie!
This felt like one of the tighter drives on the day, where hitting it into the desert was definitely possible. However, it's also a hole of reasonable length, so you don't necessarily have to hit driver if you'd prefer to hit a club that you can keep straighter.
#9, Par 5, 524 Yards
A 571-yard par 5, this long, wide, slightly uphill hole beckons you to crush a drive! Miss the fairway and you'll be greeted by deep, steep bunkers to the left or a mountain slope to the right that obscures views. Happy chipping!
Definitely one of the better protected greens on the course for the higher handicap, but a backstop behind the green will stop a shot that comes in a little hot and send it back to the putting surface.
A view of the green's contours with further evidence of punchbowl concepts. These slopes on the edges of greens make it fun and possible to get to some of the more tucked hole locations.
#11, Par 3, 115 Yards
At 137 yards, this par 3 is the shortest hole on the course. Surrounded by huge saguaros, impressive boulders, and wedged into a desert swale, this green rewards proper dub selection.
While this hole isn't an island green, it sort of plays like one in some ways, though a shot that misses short is plenty safe. Missing the green on either side or long can result in some crazy bounces off boulders and serious trouble.
#8, Par 4, 418 Yards
Although it's 457 yards, this downhill, downwind par 4 can be handled with a strong drive to the left side. Not only is the view of the green better, but also fairway contours are such that your roll is increased greatly. Beware, as there is potential trouble in the form of a desert bunker through the dogleg.
The view was extra special with some of the yellow flowers in the foreground in bloom.
#3, Par 3, 170 Yards
At 240 yards, the longest par 3 at The Estancia Club. Make the right club selection as elevation, wind and slope of the green all enhance the difficulty of getting it close to the pin. Miss the green too far left and you may find yourself searching for a view of the pin from the deep valley below the bunker.
240 yards doesn't sound like much fun--I was glad we saved that tee for Bubba and his friends!
#12, Par 4, 361 Yards
This 459-yard par 4 plays straight away and slightly downhill. The views here are breathtaking and memorable. A good drive near the fairway bunkers on the left will set up the best angle into this large green. Keep your approach shot to the left as the bunker complex right of the green will exact a toll if entered.
The view from the back tee of this hole is just incredible. A hit a shot from back there with our forecaddie taking my picture, just for the photo op! There is a little natural tunnel through the boulders to get you to and from that back tee. The Copper Tee, nearly 100 yards ahead is less breathtaking, but still pretty darn good.
#15, Par 4, 393 Yards
This 453-yard par 4 starts you on your journey back to the clubhouse. An uphill, tough-to-reach-in-regulation hole that's a masterpiece laying in the shadows of Pinnacle Peak. Play well left of the fairway bunkers to afford the best view and angle into the green nestled between ridges.
The view of the green shows more slopes that feed the ball back onto the green. This was my biggest complaint about Estancia from an architectural standpoint--the frequency of this feature was so common that it took away from the diversity of the green complexes. However, as a member, I would certainly like them!
There is nothing about March of 2020 that I would describe as normal. In other ways, my visit to the Valley of the Sun in the Spring of 2020 would also prove to be my last semblance of normalcy for quite some time. My wife and I had already spent two weeks in Hawaii earlier in the year to celebrate a milestone birthday, and it was during that trip that we first saw a headline about COVID-19, a version of Coronavirus. At the time, which was January, we brushed it off. Heck, it seemed like some virus pops up somewhere in the world every year, and this one was all the way over in China--nothing to worry about. However, as weeks based, it started to look more and more serious, and as February passed, COVID-19 was starting to show signs of spreading in America. On a personal note, to add to the weirdness of early 2020, I had left my job in mid-February, and had five weeks off before starting a new job. Living in the upper Midwest and having five weeks with nothing to do, I convinced my wife to let me spend some time in warmer climates to get some golf in before hunkering down in my new gig. This was to include a trip to Arizona, followed shortly thereafter by a trip to South Carolina. I built out a nice agenda of courses to play and all was well....unless it became clear, that it really wasn't.
When I hopped on a plane to Phoenix in the second week of March, I was concerned, but not so much that I ever thought of not going. I would be careful not to get too close to anyone in the airport, and wipe down my seat, seat-belt, screen, and tray-table on the plane. That seemed good enough. There were a small smattering of masks in the airport, but not many. I arrived in the desert, and made my way down to Tucson for a couple of days of golf down there. I stayed in an Airbnb without cable, so my access to the news was a little more limited than usual, but it was clear over the days to come that cause for concern would rise by the way, and my week in Arizona was right on the cusp of it all. Each day, the stock market would tumble, new case numbers would be announced, and slowly but surely sporting events would be cancelled. This was the week that the PGA Tour walked off of The Players Championship after one day of playing, conference championships were being cancelled in NCAA basketball, and eventually March Madness as well.
The highlight of my trip to Arizona was a round at Estancia. On the morning I was set to play, my host asked me to meet him for breakfast in the Mens' Grill. I ordered oatmeal, and we both looked over the the television near the bar where the ticker would scroll news headlines about the virus. The talk among members and staff was all about how there were shortages of toilet paper all over the desert....what in the world is going on?!?!
Once we got out of the clubhouse, we could ignore the real world for a few hours and just enjoy a pleasant round of golf on a beautiful piece of land. While the serenity of this property makes it seem like this was always meant to be a upscale residential enclave with beautiful views over the valley, that couldn't me further from the truth. In fact, the process of building and developing this property took a great deal of time to get over the finish line, constantly being challenged by regulations, permits, financial conditions, and the like. I can't pretend to tell the story as well as the club can do itself, so I suggest you read the club's history here.
There is something about golf in the desert that has always appealed to me. This club, right on the northern face of Pinnacle Peak, was no exception. As a guy from the Midwest, mountains are something I just don't see every day, and courses that are built right up on the edge of them just strike me as really cool. The perception of desert golf is one of constant "target golf," hitting from one oasis of grass to another with desert washes, cacti, and rattlesnakes waiting for a shot that misses the green stuff. However, Estancia really didn't have that feel at all. Tom Fazio built a course that seemed to give adequate width to play with and hunting for balls in the desert was infrequent. In fact, this course is quite playable for the higher handicap in my opinion, while there is ample challenge (primarily around the greens) to challenge the better player as well. Bubba Watson has always been a member at Estancia, so there is clearly enough challenge to keep him happy when he's on site.
My host, who also has a membership at Crystal Downs was a good player, having won loads of club tournaments and even held the course record from the Blue Tees with a 64! We were supposed to have a third join us, but he wasn't feeling good that morning and decided to bail--in light of all the COVID news, that probably wasn't a bad idea. While my host is a great player, he also said he's not as long as he used to be, and suggested we play from Copper Tees. These tees, with a par of 72, would play from 6,336 yards, and would ensure we had a fun day. There are three sets of tees behind them, which stretch the course to 6,715, 7,046, or 7,314 yards. From the Copper Tees, the rating and slope of 69.7 and 129 made me feel like there was a good chance to post a low score on this day. The club's website has a great hole-by-hole tour, and I'll quote the hole descriptions from there in italics, with any of my own comments afterwards. I'll also quote the yardages from the Copper Tees that we played:
#14, Par 4, 539 Yards
At 631 yards, this par 5 will test your courage. Although the longest of the par 5s, it's downhill with the only lake on the back nine. Play your approach shots to the right, as all of the land near the green leads to the water.
While there is also a pond on the 4th hole, this is the only water hazard on the course that should reasonably come into play. I've always gotten a kick of our bunkers that flow right into a pond, like a beach. The bunker to the left of the green is one of those.
#10, Par 4, 317 Yards
The back nine at The Estancia Club begins! At 341 yards, this uphill par 4 demands accuracy all the way. The driving area is narrow, guarded by a ridge bunker high on the right side. The precision and finesse required by this hole are in contrast to the power required at #9.
All carry to this green. A really sharp looking a good hole. Since the front nine returns you to the clubhouse, you have a chance to get a snack or drink before playing the 10th and pressing on.
#17, Par 5, 510 Yards
This long par 5 plays to 584 yards. The tees are located in chutes amongst the boulders to give different angles of approach to this narrow fairway. Be accurate with your approach shots in order to avoid the deep pot bunker and ravine on the right. A birdie here may assure you honors on the 18th tee!
To the right of the fairway, my host pointed out a saguaro with a crowned top that was extremely rare--called a crested saguaro. There is no known explanation for why these exist.
#18, Par 392 Yards
A truly grand finale! At 462 yards, this par 4 has some of the best views on the golf course, overlooking Pinnacle Peak, North Scottsdale and the surrounding mountains. Your test is to stay focused as all these wonderful scenes try to pull your attention away from finishing strongly.
Indeed, as it says above, this is one final beautiful view to finish the day. The location of the 18th hole capitalized on the land and views rather than just returning to wherever the clubhouse stood. A smart move, especially since most take carts at Estancia anyway and can easily drive back to the clubhouse.
A home of one of those rich guys. This one is owned by famous Fidelity mutual fund manager Peter Lynch.
After holing out, we headed into the clubhouse to get a beer. After a great few hours of respite, the conversation immediately went back to the Coronavirus, shortage of toilet paper, and the crashing stock market. This was one of the last times I'd chat with strangers, shake their hands, and not think twice about it for some time. Estancia was a great day. After spending a couple more days in the desert, I headed back for home. The news kept getting worse by the day, and unfortunately, I decided to cut short my little golf break by cancelling by trip to South Carolina. It just didn't seem like a smart move, and I know I'll have another chance in the future. Thank you for my host at Estancia and all who made it such a great day. I'd love to come back when the sky is blue some day, but even with the clouds, it was still a special day.
#6, Par 4, 341 Yards
A 369-yard par 4, uphill, with a dogleg to the right. This exacting driving hole is a great example of risk/reward golf. Play up the swale that runs the length of the entire right side, close to the devious fairway bunker, and be rewarded with the best approach into the somewhat blind green. Sporty may best describe this hole!
On the holes that edge up against the face of the peaks, you may here voices here and there. These are coming from the public Pinnacle Peak hiking trail. Estancia wasn't allowed to restrict this in any way when it was given the approvals to build.
#16, Par 3, 163 Yards
Playing 195 yards to a rolling green, this par 3 is more forgiving than the others. It's not over though, until you negotiate the tricky contours of its putting surface. Intrigue and hazard value is added to the fairway by the beautiful Sonoran desert.
This is the last par three on the course and is fairly reasonable as long as you hit a shot that flies at least to the middle of the green. A short shot brings the bunkers and slope short of the green into play.