If you want the best results from the architect you hire for your new multi-million dollar golf club, why not give him first choice of land?
That was the philosophy behind The Raven at South Mountain in Phoenix. While so many clubs over the past decade have sprouted up with the "subdivision first, course second" mentality, in the end, it was the golfer who suffered.
At the playground that would become the Raven at South Mountain, it was designer Gary Panks who had first pick.
"When he designed the course he had a clean slate," said Ryan Barmore, the Raven's sales manager. "He had a big rectangle of land and didn't have to worry about routing around condos or homes. He was able to design the course exactly how we wanted."
Since the opening of the Raven in 1995, the presence of homes has hit the grounds, just not hard. None of the holes have homes lining both sides of the fairway. Aside from the absence of looking into someone's living room on every hole, the Raven's fairways are unique due to their natural surroundings.
Rather than vast desert surrounding each fairway, more than 7,000 pine trees line them instead. These tall pines do two things at the Raven. First, they make the Raven seem different than most other courses in the Valley of the Sun. Secondly, it makes the game less penal for the player, which is one of the reasons, Barmore said, the Raven stacks up well for any level player.
"In that aspect, the tee shot isn't as menacing," Barmore said. "Other courses with desert on both sides demand a much more accurate tee shot. Even if you spray it, the mounds position the ball back into play."
But the Raven isn't a pushover for the skill player, either. It measures 7,078 yards from the tournament tees. Five par fours play at more than 420 yards, the longest of them all being the 477-yard, No. 1-handicapped-rated third hole. The course has also been demanding enough to host the Arizona Stroke Play Championship every year in the course's existence. The tournament features 115 of the top amateur players in the state each winter.
"The good golfer appreciates the Raven because he's going to use all the clubs in his bag," Barmore said. "It's a thinking person's course. It's very tricky around the greens. The breaks are very subtle."
The par-3 holes are also one of the strengths of the Raven. Golfers will most likely use a different club at each tee, due to their distinct distances, ranging from the 137-yard second to the 221-yard seventh. Each plays a different direction as well, so the wind can be puzzling. In between holes, the short cart ride is far more scenic than most desert courses. Plant life lines the cart path between the green and the next tee.
The course, conditions and full service from pro shop to beverage cart are the main reasons why the Raven was one of just nine Arizona courses to be given a 4½-star rating by Golf Digest. It's located just four miles from Phoenix International Airport and minutes from downtown. If you play a variety of courses in the Southwest desert, the Raven at South Mountain will most likely stick out as one of the most unique and enjoyable rounds you play.
February 10, 2005