Hidden Gems — 02 April 2013 by Jim Street
Emerald Canyon GC a hidden classic

PARKER, Az. – It never ceases to amaze me how terrain that seemingly has no chance of becoming a golf course turns into one of the most awesome 18-hole layouts you’ll ever get to play.

Such is the case with Emerald Canyon Golf Course.

Although there are a few run-of-the-mill holes without an abundance of personality, a large majority of the holes on the par-72 course are spectacular. Some of the views from the elevated blue tees will make you appreciate the imagination Phoenix-based course architect  Bill Williams displayed when building this hidden gem located about halfway between Lake Havasu, Ariz., and Blythe, Calif., a distance of 90 miles.

“We are out here all by ourselves,” assistant pro Art Gonzalez said. “When our guests leave they comment on how much they like the layout, especially the canyons and elevated tee boxes. It is pretty unique in that way.”

Colorado River flows behind 13th green

It was an easy drive from Goodyear, Ariz., where I had spent the past month playing golf and watching some spring training baseball games. The trek took a little less than 2 1/2 hours, which is about the same amount of time it takes to travel here from the Palm Desert area.

I had heard a lot about Emerald Canyon and decided to give it a shot on my way to Goodyear. But the course was so booked solid late February I had to settle for making a tee time for my return trip to Seattle.

So I made a noon tee time as a single. Upon my arrival,I chatted a bit with Gonzalez, who gave me the lowdown on the course, grabbed my Nikon and went to work and play at the same time.

Art said the first nine holes were finished in 1989 and the second nine a year later.

The starter gave me a choice: play as a single or join a two-some that would be behind me. Playing companions are good. After all, golf is a social event and you can meet some cool people.

People like Bill Gysin and Donna Carter, a couple who made the 1 1/2 hour journey from Bullhead City and paid the peak season $59.75 rate.

Golfing pals Bill Gysin and Donna Carter

They enjoy Emerald Canyon each time they play it and made this latest visit it a two-day golfing trip.

The first hole, a 492-yard par 5, runs along Riverside Drive, not far from the Colorado River, which is busy with boat traffic on this Easter Sunday morning.

“The first couple of holes are pretty nondescript,” Gysin said, “but then it gets really interesting.”

Bill played from the senior tees, located a few yards in front of the forward tees. He always used an iron. Donna blasted her driver and both were usually down the middle.

“This course is more about positioning the ball,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t have to be long, but you have to be straight. Straight and short is good here. Better than long and wild.

Perhaps Golf Digest said it best: “An unexpected pleasure. Fantastic, unusual layout with stunning surroundings. (It’s) the best bargain in Arizona.”

The back (blue) tees measured 6,437 yards and I thought I could handle that. Besides, once I saw the views from the blues, I was glad I did — despite losing a few Titleist NXTs.

The middle holes on the front side were super-challenging and I realized what Art was talking about. The fairway on No. 6 narrows to about 20 yards as it cuts through what used to be a hill. All tee shots are blind, so there is a marshal located near the No. 5 tee holding a red and white stop sign. He directs traffic on the picturesque 396-yard par 4.

No room for error on No. 6 tee shot

All three of us successfully navigated the tunnel and found our balls safely and soundly on the fairway within eyesight of the green. Whew!

The preceeding hole was no picnic, either. No. 5 is a 147-yard par 3, blind from the blue tees. Donna, bless her heart, lined me up to the green and I was able to get a 6-iron on the back edge of the green, two-putting for a par.

Gonzalez said the 353-yard par 4 15th is the signature hole on the course, and I can certainly see why. It has everything you want on a hole, including difficulty and beauty.

The recommedation: “The Canyon Hole” …. from “island” tees the player will need to drive to fairway which has a 130-ft. high rock cliff to the left and a large desert arroyo wash to the right. Sand bunkers guard a tiered green which is at the base of this canyon.”

No. 15 definitely was a treat. But a close second But a close second would be the par 5-, 524-yard 17th hole — one that ate my lunch.

The recommendation: “The player will require a good straight drive to a tight fairway landing area. Next, the player will need to “lay-up” a second shot or take a chance and drive the ball over a 130-ft. desert cliff drop. The players third shot for those who lay up will be a medium iron to the elevated green below.”

From yet another elevated tee (great view of the Colorado River) I pushed my drive to the right. It took one bounce, two bounces, three bounces and disappeared into the bushes.
 I didn’t even bother looking for it.

“The (rattlesnakes) are out,” Gonzalez said in our pre-round interview, “and I tell people that if they want to reach into a bush for their ball, make some noise first. The snakes don’t want to mess with you anymore than you want to mess with them.”

Fortunately, we did not see one of these

Five of those rascals were seen on the course on Saturday, but we didn’t see any, which was fine with me.

The busiest time of the year is winding down and Gonzalez said it has been another good year for the course.

“We get people from all around the country and Canada,” he said. “A lot of them bring their trailers and RVs down and spend the first three months of the year here.

“We get a lot of snowbirds from the midwest and Washington (State),” he added. “We get to know a lot of them by name because they keep coming back year after year.”

I would return in a New York minute.

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

(1) Reader Comment

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