MESA, Ariz. - It's a craggy landscape that Las Sendas Golf Club occupies. Once, so harsh that a nearby landmark, Spook Hill, was named because rattlesnakes would come down and "spook" the horses and cattle on the many ranches.
The past is colorful, the present is in rebuild mode and the future is going to be even more gratifying.
Located just 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport via the 202 Red Mountain Freeway, this area was once home to El Rancho Grande Dude Ranch that was a favorite vacation spot for John Wayne.
Hollywood also filmed westerns here with the rugged views of the Usery Mountains, Red Mountain, Camelback Mountain and the McDowell Mountains. Then there are the Superstition Mountains and that storyline about the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine and subsequent movies.
But today, Las Sendas Golf Club is in transition. It has new ownership, Lloyd McBean and Wayne McBean, and they can boast such past awards as Top 10 you can play (Golf Magazine) in Arizona, and at one time, Golf Digest said it was the No. 1 public golf course in Arizona.
"I think we are part of a new industry trend," said Lloyd McBean. "The golf course was in dire need of capital, it was going downhill and the homeowners in the area weren't getting what was promised."
Las Sendas G.C. went into receivership but with the McBean's purchase, it now is a debt-free facility that has an aim to go private. Immediately after the sale, "we sold 100 memberships in three weeks," McBean said. The goal is to cap membership at 450.
Las Sendas translated means "The Pathways," and its routing, born in 1995 by Robert Trent Jones II, measures 6,914 yards at par 71. Jones wanted a golf course that was for better-than-average golfers going back to his dad's philosophy that golf should be "hard par, easy bogey."
"We liked Las Sendas because it is a quality layout designed to create challenges from the desert and mountain landscape with elevation changes and some amphitheater-like green complexes," McBean said. "Ninety percent of the comments we are getting today are from area home owners who are thrilled with the improvements we are making and the quality of the routing."
The changes include a $2 million clubhouse renovation and expansion with restaurants, valet parking, complimentary limo service and an upscale experience that includes panorama of the valley back toward Phoenix.
The desert views from the patio are spectacular. It's a place you want to sit and enjoy the sunset and early evening situated at 1,800 feet in elevation.
The fourth hole was one of my favorites. It's a dogleg-right par 4 of 430 yards.
A strong drive should be placed near an arroyo that dissects the fairway giving you an uphill approach to a green set adjacent to a mountainous upheaval. The backdrop might give you an illusion of the green being closer, but this is uphill, and it is easy to leave your approach short. The putting surface slopes strongly away from the hill.
The next hole, No. 5, is set against a rocky backdrop, a 194-yard par 3 with boulders to the right and deep bunkers to the left. It is best to aim for the center of this green - the top and bottom parts of the green sit higher than the center. Take your par and be happy. Anything short and right might be bouncing off boulders.
The par-3 holes, all five of them, were the most fun for me, but No. 18 was the trickiest. This par 5 has a panorama of the entire valley with the White Tank Mountains in view more than 70 miles to the east.
This 536-yard, double dogleg makes you think about the pond right and in front of the teeing grounds. Then if you hit a strong drive toward Camelback Mountain, you have a shot to go for the green in two, but it is all carry over a second lake.
Plan to play this year, because you never know when the club will announce it is all private.
Las Sendas Golf Club was built to rival such standards as Troon North and Grayhawk and it has more mountain character - with elevation changes and even better scenery.
Play here when you have some time to slow down and enjoy the views and even explore the recreation areas in the Mesa area. It is a definite must-play for any travel golfer.
When it is time to practice, Las Sendas G.C. is affliated with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Academy and includes instruction from Mike Malaska. It offers the state of the art in golf instruction with all grass areas, including driving range, putting green and pitching-chipping area.
Dining includes Bogey's Steak and Seafood for upscale dining and Rusty Putter for a more casual experience.
Xona Resort Suites (www.xonaresort.com) in Scottsdale is a home away from home. I had a one-bedroom suite with full kitchen and access to laundry facilities, which is ideal when you are on a three-week road trip.
Other features include wireless high-speed internet, LCD televisions in living rooms and bedrooms, living room with convertible sofa-sleeper, pool, hot tub and in the main building there's Asada Desert Grille and the Orange Iguana for dining.
March 24, 2010