CHANDLER, Ariz. -- In the twilight of another perfect Arizona winter day, look westward toward the Estrella Mountains from your balcony at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Hotel, and you might see a pack of coyotes playing on a green of Whirlwind Golf Club.
If you see dust rising in the far distance it might just be part of a herd of 1,500 wild horses that call this part of the Sonoran Desert home.
If the dust is circulating you have seen a whirlwind.
Located just off of Maricopa Road and I-10, about 12 miles south of Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport, this is the Gila River Indian Community, home to two excellent 18s -- Whirlwind Golf Club's Devil's Claw and Cattail -- designed by Gary Panks, an Arizona-based course architect. There are no homes on the golf courses making this even more of a commune with nature.
Aside from the Estrella Mountains views, golfers can look for South Mountain, the San Tan Mountains and the Superstitions.
"Golfers tell me all the time they like our friendly staff," Marty Hoeffken, general manager said. "Then they say positive things about our conditioning and the ambiance of the Native American culture, that there's no homes and just the wildlife that is present."
Whirlwind was named 2011 Troon Golf facility of the year, and the club hosted more than 72,000 rounds.
Devil's Claw, built in 2000, measures 7,029 yards, is a par 72 and is dominated by gradual elevation changes, multi-tiered greens and challenging bunker design.
Mesquite, Saguaro, Palo Verde, and Cottonwood blend with native grasses to recreate the Gila River as it was when the waters still flowed on the reservation. The course hosted the Nationwide Tour Gila River Classic in 2001 and 2002.
"I'm a fan of the par 4s on Devil's Claw," said Hoeffken. "But a par 5 -- No. 17, 551 yards -- is a favorite. If you nail your drive you have a chance to clear a wash that is in front of the green, which slopes right. The green is undulating and guarded by a bunker complex right. This is a hole that separates the shot makers -- you just can't bomb it out there."
Another key feature of Devil's Claw was explained by Panks: "The fairways generally slope uphill to the landing area and then downhill towards the green," he said. "So the Nationwide Tour's Gila River Classic golfers could blow the ball past the landing areas, and their tee shots would catch the downhill part of the fairway. Then they had a lot of wedge shots to holes cut that weren't that difficult for players of their caliber."
Whirlwind's Cattail Course, which opened in the fall of 2002, rolls out to 7,334 yards at par 72. Canyons and numerous water features add a different flavor from Devil's Claw.
"I think Cattail is a more difficult venue," said Panks. "It is a little longer and a little more challenging. There's not as much elevation change -- it is on the desert floor, and there is more water."
Hoeffken likes No. 16, a 428-yard par 4 that doglegs right and has a series of bunkers guarding the right fairway boundary. "You have great views of the Estrella Mountains to the west and the 372,000 acres owned by the Tribe."
What you will enjoy most about both golf courses at Whirlwind is the solitude. Sure, Firebird International Raceway is next door, but there's a lot of acreage for the motor sounds to disappear into.
Whirlwind's conditions are excellent, the greens roll true and the staff is on top of every request. What more could you ask for?
The Whirlwind Golf Academy offers flexible lesson options from professionals. The instructors have experience teaching students of all skill levels from beginners, to scratch amateurs, to mini-tour professionals.
Students at Whirlwind enjoy one-on-one lessons on the private north-end practice facility. Putting and chipping greens including bunkers, provides students with a relaxed and non-intimidating learning experience.
The spectacular Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Hotel has 500 rooms and suites with views of the golf course, Estrella Mountains or the Gila River and showcases earth-based colors and natural elements such as cornices made from saguaro ribs. All design elements, including furniture, were carefully selected to complement the natural desert ambiance.
When it's time to dine pick the AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five Star Kai Restaurant or Ko'Sin Restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ko'Sin features desert bistro cuisine. You can also order food at the Hanyo poolside bar and grill or Sivlik Grill at the Whirlwind Golf Club.
Forbes Four-Star Aji Spa offers the only authentic American Indian spa menu in existence. The Indigenous Collection features treatments and activities designed and practiced by Aji's Pima and Maricopa Cultural Caretakers.
March 13, 2013