Northern Arizona – Escaping Urban Chaos

By Dan Gleason
As our cities get bigger and our world becomes increasingly rushed, many of us long for a slower paced, neighborly atmosphere, some personal Shangri-La where we can escape when the five o’clock whistle blows. Perhaps that’s a significant reason why so many of Arizona’s planned golf communities are thriving— from the northern mountains to the southern deserts.
In point of fact, in Phoenix’s newest frontier, the West Valley, developers of Verrado—whose centerpiece is the Raven at Verrado Golf Club— have created a pedestrian community mirroring small town life from bygone days. Here, people spend time on their front porches, get to know their neighbors and watch their kids play safely in public parks.
In the northern mountains, two relatively new, upscale golf communities— Talking Rock Ranch in Prescott and Pine Canyon in Flagstaff—have fashioned residential communities that are drawing significant business from Valley golfers looking to escape the summer heat as well as the urban madness.
As Phoenix explodes ever northward, the “Verde” developments—including the new Vista Verde—offer easy living in golf communities that border northeast Scottsdale but are worlds apart from its fast pace.
And as Tucson continues expanding, high-end golf communities like the Gallery and the Omni Tucson National have become even more appealing for those wanting the advantages of a city and shelter from its urban pandemonium.
Cool Mountain Retreats: Talking Rock & Pine Canyon
Prescott’s Talking Rock Ranch is a 3,600-acre, laid back, upscale country club community built around a stunning Jay Morrish golf course. Twenty minutes northwest of downtown Prescott, the development is out among the pinion trees and junipers on a former working cattle ranch. Surrounded by open spaces with the San Francisco Peaks in the backdrop, the views are wide open and spectacular.
“We have a great course,” says golf professional Mike Brechler. “We promote a relaxed atmosphere so members feel at home, but the quality environment and superior service reminds them that they are somewhere special.”
Elevation changes are much more subtle than at other Prescott courses, and the conditioning is flawless. Although a monster from the tips, the course is fair for everyone because of five sets of tees. And there is variety in Morrish’s design: take No. 6, a slightly uphill par 5 that is truly a three-shot hole, and contrast that with No. 15, a huge risk-reward, downhill, driveable par 4 that can also produce a big number.
Opened in 2002, the club has 150 golfing members, capping at 450. More than 100 homes are completed or under construction, says Jim Buckley, director of sales. About 500 of 1,600 available home sites have been sold, and many of those owners are submitting building plans. The clubhouse opens next summer and includes dining rooms, locker rooms, an athletic club, post office and coffee bar/general store. Tennis courts and a swimming pool will be next to the clubhouse, with a covered parkway connecting to the golf shop.
“We have a mix of 30-40 percent from Phoenix, 30-40 percent from California and the rest from all over,” says Buckley. “A significant number are primary residents.”
Custom home sites, from a half- to 5-acres, start in the $230’s; Ranch Cottages vary from 1,900-2,500 square feet and start in the mid $500’s; 2000-3000-square-foot semi-custom Ranch Homes start at $775,000. Full golf memberships (members must own property) are priced at $40,000, while limited memberships (Monday-Thursday) are $20,000. Both are non-equity/fully refundable. Prescott gets some stretches of winter cold, but there are few winter days where the course is closed.
Morrish also did the impressive work at Pine Canyon, a private, secluded community within the Flagstaff city limits. Carved through a pine forest, the views are sweeping and dramatic, the fairways lush, rolling and sprinkled with trout-stocked streams and ponds. Although the ball flies farther at these altitudes, the course is still a bear at 7,200 yards from the tips. It’s a slightly tamer cub from three other sets of tees.
Because summer daytime temperatures average in the low 70’s and dip into the 50’s at night, Pine Canyon does a brisk business with Phoenicians. Director of marketing Hannah Sleeper estimates that about half the 350 property owners are from Phoenix, with the remainder full-time residents.
Morrish completed the course in 2004, and the extravagant 35,000-square-foot stone-and-cedar clubhouse opened this August. Within the clubhouse is a health and fitness center, spa, whirlpools, fine and casual dining, locker rooms, men’s and women’s lounges and the golf shop.
Golf memberships require property ownership and are currently priced at $85,000, non-equity/fully refundable. The cap is set at 425.
Pine Canyon is an active family community: the average owner is mid-40 with children. To accommodate these families, Pine Canyon is creating a play camp for kids in a valley near the 18th green, complete with swing sets and monkey bars, sports courts and sand-pits, basketball and volleyball.
Custom home sites average a half-acre and start at $415,000; the Creekside Village developer products and single-family detached homes (2,300-3,300 square feet) start at $940,000, but only a handful remain. Elk Pass Townhomes (1,560-3,000 square feet) start in the low $700’s and feature walkout basements. The developer is about to release 56 new custom homes.
Golf season here runs from early May through October, then snow skiing season kicks off in a unique city that truly offers four distinct seasons.
Verrado & Vista Verde: Small Town Bliss on the Edge of the Valley
Verrado, catalyst for development in the West Valley, has created a totally planned “town” community that recreates the intimacy of small towns that existed 50 to 75 years ago.
There are 1,200 residents living in 700 homes and enjoying views of the White Tank Mountains. The streets are purposely narrow, so that automobiles must drive slowly. Encouraging pedestrian traffic to flourish down these tree-lined streets allows folks to stop and chat and get to know one another.
Verrado’s commercial Main Street contains businesses where people gather, shop and interact in a way that they never could when shopping at malls. There are neighborhood parks where kids play and families gather. And while modern neighborhoods put garages in the front of the houses, most Verrado homes have garages in the back or at the side, allowing for front porches that influence families to live mostly in the more-neighborly front of the house.
There are no cookie-cutter subdivisions out here, but rather a considerable diversity in style, color and architecture. Builders must design homes to meet the community theme of authentic Southwestern regional architecture.
The community golf course, the Raven at Verrado, was ranked among the Top Ten New Courses You Can Play by Golf Magazine when it opened last year. The Tom Lehman/John Fought designed desert-links course is a favorite for residents in the West Valley, partly because it is kept in excellent condition year round. Greens are premium fast but true and the beautiful scenery features elevation changes varying as much as 400 feet. Golfers even get occasional peeks at exotic wildlife like mule deer and bobcats. This public course offers annual play memberships for $3,250, allowing unlimited use of the course and practice facilities.
Verrado’s developers first studied older Phoenix neighborhoods like Encanto, which was planned using principals popular in the 1920’s. The whole purpose of this meticulous planning is for people to get acquainted and have a true sense of community. There is even a community-only Internet where people can find out about the wide array of ongoing, planned community events, or to form their own groups for hiking, golf and other activities.
Vista Verde is a new, adult golf community in the Northeast Valley, adjacent to Rio Verde and Tonto Verde. The group that developed Rio Verde in the 1970’s opened Tonto Verde in 1993. Now Vista Verde has opened its course and is about to launch its first subdivision.
Although removed from the madding crowd, the commerce of Scottsdale is only 15 miles away, while Fountain Hills is a convenient 15-minute drive. Rio Verde and Tonto Verde have four 18-hole courses between them, with reciprocal playing privileges. That reciprocity will likely continue with Vista Verde once it becomes
private. The golf clubhouses here have become centers of community social life and there is a wide assortment of hiking and walking trails to enjoy the magnificent scenery.
Vista Verde’s course was designed by Ken Kavanaugh, whose impressive work also includes Longbow Golf Club in Mesa and an assortment of other award-winning courses around the West. The Vista Verde course blends in perfectly with the natural beauty of the desert mountains, says Kavanaugh, who designed the course to be enjoyable: It is easy to get the ball into fairway, but the greens are elevated and heavily bunkered,which means it takes skill, not muscle, to score. The course will eventually be private but for now it is open to public play.
“This is one of the most scenic pieces of property that I’ve ever had to work with,”Kavanaugh says, describing the sweeping vistas of the Matazal Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. At press time,Vista Verde was in the process of getting county plat approval but has been taking conditional sales. “Out of 185 lots offered in the first phase, we now have about 160 conditional sales,” says Dave Ritchie, President of Rio Verde Services.Vista Verde will offer townhomes in the second phase, but most of the inventory will be family homes and homesites. Phase I lots, about one-quarter acre, are priced from $175k to $500k, depending on location.
What residents up here love, besides all the wonderful golf, is that these are active adult communities where people get to know their neighbors—a little hunk of heaven convenient to the city, but one that will forever keep urban sprawl at arm’s length.
Tour Quality Communitites in Tucson: The Gallery & Omni Tucson National
This coming year the PGA Tour baton passes from its long stint at the Omni Tucson National for the Tucson Open to The Gallery for Tucson’s inaugural shot at the Match Play Championship. With a population just under 800,000, Tucson is nowhere near the size of Phoenix, but recent growth has still brought its share of metropolitan headaches.
The Gallery, tucked within the scenic, 6,000-acre, upscale Dove Mountain community in the northwest foothills, offers an escape from those urban headaches, as well as a 36-hole private golf facility and magnificent homes. Although the golf club is not gated, subdivisions around it are.
“We have members living on our property and in other subdivisions within Dove Mountain,” explains project manager Wade Dunagan, a PGA professional. “Dove Mountain has all sorts of walking trails, parks, hiking clubs and an array of social activities. We have 425 members from 34 different states and Canada, and a tremendously close-knit sense of community. Our members know one another and have come for similar reasons: to get away from the stress of everyday life, to play great golf courses and enjoy the company of friends. They have checked their egos at the door, which means there’s absolutely nothing stuffy about this place.”
The North Course opened in 1998 and the South Course, host for the Match Play event, opened in 2004. These scenic courses have contrasting characters—plenty of room to play and a lot of “wallto-wall” grass. The North emphasizes shot making, while the South—similar in length—puts more emphasis on the approach shots and short game, resembling a Donald Ross course. Although Tour players could have a death march from the tips of either course, the idea was to make the courses enjoyable for everyone, which is accomplished with five sets of tees—the most forward measuring 5,400 yards.
Full membership cost is $65,000 (non-equity/fully refundable) but there is also a one-year trial membership for $15,000—half of which goes to dues and the remainder refundable if the individual decides not to join.
The Gallery’s custom homesites start in the $500’s. In November, sales are slated to begin on 13 custom homes, 3300-3900 square feet, with a very Southwestern flavor: courtyard entries and a lot of rock and Mexican tile. The price range will be about $1.6 to $1.8 million. Another subdivision of estate lots on the North’s upper back nine is about a year away.
Less than a year away is a major renovation at the Omni Tucson National Resort. Located in the near-northwest foothills of the city, this is not only one of the state’s premier resorts, but also an upscale residential community with a wide assortment of homes and townhomes.
Besides the renowned Catalina Course, which hosted all those Tour events, Omni Tucson National opened a second course last December, The Sonoran, a Tom Lehman-designed beauty that has an entirely different look than the venerable Catalina course. The Lehman course, while not as long as Catalina, has considerable fairway and green bunkering that comes into play, so it is a shot-maker’s course.
“Our renovation should begin this coming June,” says Omni Tucson National’s General Manager David Morgan, who points out that Omni owns all the property here,which involves them also with real estate and golf memberships. “We recently sold off two parcels of land to an independent developer and two parcels to Pathway Development of Tucson. So there will be probably around 750 new homes that will be added to our community, including some that will be priced at over $1 million.”
Morgan says the new Lehman course has provided needed options for both members and hotel guests. Members and hotel guests now alternate between the two courses daily, rather than sharing one course. “A second advantage of having the new course is that the demographics here are changing with our members. We are getting more younger working people who cannot make tee times so far in advance as someone who is retired.”
According to Morgan, the renovations will include a new pro shop and locker room facilities to compliment both courses, followed by an expansion from 167 to 230 rooms and an additional 7,500 square feet of meeting space.
Tucson National Country Club is a non-equity club run by Omni Hotels. Memberships are $28,000, which Morgan says, “is very reasonable for such an upscale facility. Our goal is to give our members and guests an outstanding facility where they each have the use of tremendous hotel amenities, including our stateof-the-art spa and fitness center and all the food and beverage options throughout the hotel.”
Indeed, the more crowded and impersonal our world becomes, the more we seem to long for a close-knit sense of community, the kind our grandparents told us about. Those who love golf can satisfy that need by escaping to some of Arizona’s great golf communities—where life is considerably more idyllic than that mad, mad world outside the gates.