I never understood anything of the meaning of nature until I lived among these looming stone walls and whispering pines." -- Zane Grey
SEDONA, Ariz. -- If Zane Grey had played golf he would have been a member at Seven Canyons.
And if there is a Seven Canyons in heaven, Grey, unless he was a charter member, could find that the tee sheets are booked solid for the ages. Seven Canyons, opened in May 2003, is just that heavenly.
Tom Weiskopf's vision for this rubberneckers' experience of scenery and golf was traditional. But at 6,746 yards and a par of 70 the criticism reared its head swiftly. "You can't build a course under 7,000 yards today," the critics chimed.
His response? Nonsense. The 1973 British Open champ recited a list of Top 10 courses that are under 7,000 yards -- Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Olympic Club, Merion and Shinnecock Hills. Augusta National was 6,850 until its attempt at Tiger-proofing.
On this day Weiskopf is standing on the elevated, pedestal No. 3 tee box. To his left is the rounded ochre features of Rachel's Knoll, 80 feet below is a contoured A4 bentgrass putting surface surrounded by six hellish bunkers. He's admiring the panorama of red-rock spires, the contrast of greens in the junipers and pinons and the cerulean blue of a untarnished Arizona sky.
"Unparalleled views," Weiskopf says emphatically. "From sunrise to sunset the colors change and every minute is different and incredible."
Is Seven Canyons a sure-fire award-winner? Weiskopf says he would never attempt to forecast such boldness. "I will go on record that of all my courses in the West I think Seven Canyons could rank up there with Forest Highlands (just outside Flagstaff), but I'd give a slight edge to The Canyon Course at Snake River Canyon Ranch (in Wyoming)."
What Weiskopf wanted for Seven Canyons was a true test of golf that Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie and C.B. Macdonald would have enjoyed. He wanted a layout that put a premium on shot placement to narrow landing areas. He wanted small, quick greens with classic-styled bunkering and changes in elevation. He wanted a thought-provoking process.
The difficulty is being strategically efficient with some of the world's most distracting scenery. And the real-time difficulty is being able to concentrate enough to read the correct approach to each green. Weiskopf said there are multiple choices -- low, run-up shots can work on the same approach where a soft, high drop shot can be a winner. But this is much easier said and done by a world-class golfer with the sweetest swing golf has known (Weiskopf) than by a club member with an 18 handicap.
Seven Canyons is manageable from the tee to green, but avoiding three putts or even four is the real challenge for an average player.
Observe the drainage patterns, Weiskopf recommended. Watch for swells in the land. Geez, all this concentration when you are playing golf in one of the most spectacular scenic locations on earth. Just enjoy the views and forget about your score.
Have folks been impressed? One Golf Digest rater from the Phoenix area came out to critique the layout and purchased a membership on the same day.
"So far we have about 140 members," said Director of Golf Larry Murphy. "The prospective ceiling is 320 members, but you can imagine most of our members won't be locals. The membership will come from golfers who live somewhere else and have other memberships."
"As a member of 24 golf clubs around the country, I can tell you that years from now, when I'm gone, Seven Canyons is the one membership my kids are going to keep," said Foster Freiss, Founder, The Brandywine Fund.
These members will draw inspiration from the history of Sedona, known to some as the center of the universe, and eventually will enjoy a 55,000 square-foot clubhouse that is surrounded by 200 unspoiled acres nestled against the Coconino National Forest. Members can enjoy clubhouse amenities like a spa, fitness facility, locker rooms, elegant and casual dining, swimming pool and Jacuzzi.
Surely, Seven Canyons will be a model of golf in heaven.
November 25, 2003