GOODYEAR, Az. — The nine-mile drive on Estrella Parkway from I-10 to the scenic Golf Club of Estrella takes you up a little hill, through some desert terrain, past some businesses and finally to one terrific golf course.
This is the utmost when it comes to destination golf.
As golferswest.com continues its two-year-old pursuit of playing some of the finest courses in the western region of the country, I had the pleasure of chasing a little white ball around the 13-year-old course designed by Jackie Nicklaus, the eldest son of the legendary Jack Nicklaus.
Jackie did his father proud with this 7,139 par-72 gem of a layout.
The landing areas are wide enough so that even a slightly errant tee ball will find green grass, rather than brown desert. There are numerous bunkers with this amazing magnetic ability to attract a golf ball, and the pin placements on this day made the players use their noggins when firing at the pins.
That 7,139 yardage is from the tips. Being a close-20-handicap golfer, and playing with similar players, three of us, me, Rick and retired Air Force Colonel Bob, wisely decided to play the jade tees, giving us 6,249 yards to navigate through the desert. Bob wife, LaDonna played the forward tees, giving her a 5,124 yard course.
The view from tee to fairway can be daunting, as evidenced by this picture (right) on the 366-yard, par 4 second hole.
The key: Tee it high and let it fly!
“It’s a true desert layout,” said Trevor Finton, the head golf professional. “You will find a lot of the characteristics of a Nicklaus-designed course: many deep-faced bunkers, well-placed bunkers, and the fairways actually are a lot wider than they might look from the tee.”
The Golf Club of Estrella, which opened in February 1999, has been part of the renowned Troon Golf management family since 2002. Finton has been the head pro there since ’05 and his best round — from the championship (black) tees no less — is a 5 under 67.
The weather was dead-solid perfect on this Wednesday afternoon. The sun was out from start to finish, reaching the 83-degree mark by mid-afternoon.
Water comes in to play on the fifth and sixth holes and I was forunate to stay dry on both of them. Rick wasn’t so fortunate.
Any golf course off the beaten path, such as this one, needs to make a good first impression.
“When people leave here after playing a round, we want them to go away feeling the course is in great shape and the staff was extremely friendly,” Finton said. “We’re not in Scottsdale and I think it’s very worth while to take that 45-minute drive.”
For one thing, the green fees are lower.
Whereas a high-end course in Scottsdale would cost close to $150 at this time of year, you can play The Golf Club of Estrella for as little as $85. The club currently is running a special where you can play 27 holes, have lunch, and get a dozen Titleist ProV1 balls for $125. The special is in its fifth year “and we get calls as early as November and December asking us if we’re having it again,” Finton said.
You might even run into some Major League Baseball players. The Indians and Reds share a spring training facility in Goodyear and the complex is less than five miles away from the golf course. On off days, many of the ballplayers will tee it up, as will players from the White Sox, Dodgers and Mariners.
Jason Vargas, a left-handed pitcher acquired by the Angels from the Mariners this past off-season, has a home in the planned community and is a passholder at the course.
Our round was featured by two birdies. Rick, who is visiting from Western Canada, birdied the 505-yard eighth hole while I birdied No. 18, hitting a 142-yard 8-iron within a foot of the hole.
Oscar, a young employee watching the action from a golf cart, said he has worked at the course for three years and never seen a better shot.
Of course, his comment could have something to do with the friendly staff that works there — including Tony the marshal, who kept the pace of play as fast as possible. He felt so bad that we kept getting held up by the Molasses foursome in front of us that Tony arranged for us to get a post-round beverage on the house.
The birdie removed all the agony remaining from No. 17, the course’s signature hole — a par 3, 168 yard slightly uphill gem, although that is not the word I used when my lousy tee shot went about 75 yards into the cactus and gravel short of the green. Four shots later, my scuffed ball finally went into the cup.