BUCKEYE, Ariz. -- This is what you hear about the Raven Golf Club at Verrado: It's on the other side of the world from Phoenix and north Scottsdale.
This is what you should know: It's not that far and the golf course is well worth the drive.
On a recent Monday morning, during the height of rush hour, it took me just 45 minutes to get from the Mesa/Chandler border to Verrado, which is cut into the White Tank Mountains in Buckeye.
"The whole west side has this stigma that it's too far away ... and there's no real reason to come out there," said Doug Foss, manager at Raven Verrado.
A great golf course is a pretty good reason, and Raven Verrado delivers. Golf Magazine named it one of the "Top 10 New Golf Courses You Can Play" when it opened in January 2004, and Verrado has only strengthened its reputation since.
If this track was located in north Scottsdale, it would be among the most talked-about golf courses in Arizona. As it is, the par-72, 7,258-yard course is so popular -- despite its location -- that it hosts about 170 rounds per day in the winter and 80 to 90 in the summer, Foss said.
What makes Raven Golf Club at Verrado so special?
Well, the scenery doesn't hurt. The White Tank Mountains are spectacular, and golfers will enjoy several brilliant views of the West Valley below. Verrado also built a loyal client base by boasting some of the best deals in the Valley; when it opened it offered unlimited golf plus two meals at the Verrado Grille for $99.
In the end, though, it's the Tom Lehman/John Fought design that brings golfers back. Somehow, Lehman and Fought designed a golf course that is both incredibly difficult and forgiving.
Let's start with the difficulty:
The golf course is long. So long that from the tips it plays to a 73.8 rating and includes four par 4s of 464 yards or longer. Two of those par 4s are Nos. 16 and 18, which is 494 yards and features water to the right.
"Strangely enough, those longer par 4s all seem to challenge the wind," Foss said.
Yeah, I'm sure that was just a coincidence.
Fortunately, there are four different tee boxes to play from -- the whites play at a more benign 6,228 yards -- and Lehman and Fought were kind enough to balance the course's length with some of the widest fairways in the Valley.
Let's put it this way: If you're spraying your ball into the desert at Raven Verrado, you really need some swing lessons.
"The biggest difference between our golf course and any of the other 75 or 80 desert-style golf courses in town is it's not really target golf here," Foss said. "As long as you're playing from the correct tees you should have a good time."
Raven's front nine is a prelude for the final nine holes, which are guaranteed to be part of the conversation on the drive home. The course climbs in elevation and reaches its peak at the scariest thrill ride -- the approach shot on the 310-yard, par-4 13th.
The green rises about six feet from the front edge. Any shot that doesn't get over the rise --- or spins too far back -- can roll all the way back to the golfer's feet.
"It's an easy birdie or an easy eight," Foss said.
Then, as you're trying to get No. 13 out of your head, here comes No. 14, a 184-yard par 3 that drops about 60 feet from tee to green. Playing those two holes is like riding a Ferris wheel.
One crucial tip about Raven Golf Club at Verrado: The greens don't break nearly as much as you might think. The starter advised our group to play half the break we read.
Some golfers never will make it out to Raven Golf Club at Verrado. Why drive to the west side when there are dozens of quality courses in Scottsdale and Phoenix? They don't know what they're missing.
January 12, 2011