News

Lehman gives Champions a (chest) bump

 
By BILL HUFFMAN
     Tom Lehman is the perfect fit for the Champions Tour, and quite frankly the kind of player that the 50-and-over gang needs more of as they search frantically for fans who are interested in age-group golf.
     The Scottsdale pro, who became a golden oldie on March 7, joins a “rookie class’’ in 2009 that includes (or will include), Bob Tway, Fred Couples, Olin Browne, Tom Pernice, David Frost and Tommy Armour III. You could add Phoenix’s Steve Jones to that group, as he turned 50 in December, but “Jonesy’’ has yet to declare his intentions due to health considerations.
    Lehman, who became the 13th player in Champions Tour history to win in his debut Sunday when he teamed up with Bernhard Langer to claim the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, will definitely stoke the fires along with Couples, who like Lehman still plans to play part-time on the PGA Tour. But Tway and the rest of the aforementioned are just more or less pension-seekers who won’t do much for senior golf’s paltry TV ratings.
    That Lehman got off to the perfect start by teaming up with Langer to defeat Craig Stadler and Jeff Sluman in sudden death was not surprising. You pick the perfect partner in Langer, the Champion Tour’s best player, and that can happen. But Lehman certainly pulled his weight, too, with jump-start birdies on three of the first four holes Sunday and the winning putt from four feet on the second playoff hole.
    “It was REALLY perfect,’’ said Langer, who was both the Champions player of the year and rookie of the year in 2008 and already has won for the second time this year.
    “For me, team sport is just a lot of fun because we play so many individual events. To be able to have a partner and have conversations and enjoy yourself and pull for each other and talk about strategy and this and that has always been tremendous fun for me.’’
    That’s probably the best quote I’ve ever heard from Bernhard, and I was there when he won his second Masters in 1993. But, hey, isn’t that how most of us play golf, and why most of us find the dog-eat-dog PGA Tour way too serious unless, of course, Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson are playing?
   Watching Lehman and Langer attempt – and botch! — a chest bump when Langer rolled in a 45-foot birdie on the first playoff hole was good stuff and terrific TV. Even better for Lehman and Langer, it extended the playoff when Stadler answered with a birdie from about the same distance a moment later.
   Just like the good ol’ days when Jack, Arnie and Lee were playing age-group golf and holding court afterward, the chest bump antic brought up a nostalgic moment for Lehman.
   “You know, I used to play every year with Duffy Waldorf in that thing at the end of the season (the Diner’s Club Matches), and we did the chest bump whenever something really unique or great would happen,’’ Lehman recalled. “At the time I was probably about 205 (pounds) and Duffy was 240. So it really hurt.
     “The attempted chest bump today, we got up there with the intention of bumping, but you know, when I was in mid-flight, which wasn’t all that high, all I could think of was we’re going to come down on top of Stadler’s ball mark and he’s going to be really upset. It was like, ‘Whoa!’ What do we do? We shouldn’t be doing this.’ . . . But it was fun.’’
     Yeah, the chest bump that went awry had nothing to do with white men can’t jump, especially when they’re senior citizens. But it did remind everyone who follows golf that once upon a time Lehman got ripped by European Ryder Cup captain Mark James for supposedly trampling Jose Maria Olazabal’s putting path in a critical match with Justin Leonard.
    That incident, which slightly tarnished America’s miracle comeback at the 1999 Ryder Cup near Boston, was about the only negative in Lehman’s 20-some-year career. And TV replays later proved Lehman’s celebratory act was more accusation than fact.
      But there’s the beauty of “Major Tom,’’ in that he does have a personality, as well as a burning spot in his heart for his country and the game he grew up playing as a kid in Minnesota. He has served admirably in a losing role as Ryder Cup captain in 2006, posted a 5-3-2 record as a Ryder Cup player, and has some darn good stories to tell like winning the British Open and losing the U.S. Open(s), where he took the lead into the final round three straight years (1995-97) and fell coming down the stretch.
     And unlike some big-name players who spurn the Champions Tour these days for various reasons, Lehman has come to play.    
     “Turning 50 has its ups and downs and one of the true bright spots is being able to have a chance to come out here on the Champions Tour,’’ said the 2000 Phoenix Open champ whose resume also includes the 1994 Memorial Tournament, ’95 Colonial Invitational, and the ’96 British Open and Tour Championship, the season he was PGA Tour player of the year.
    That 1996 season eventually led him to the top of the mountain of his profession, and in April of ’97 he became the No. 1 player in the world — for one week! Most people have forgotten that oddity, but many remember who took over the No. 1 spot  — a kid named Tiger.The rest, as they say, is history.
   Give Lehman his due, as he’s such a respected player and a good guy to boot. Sure, he’s not heading into the Golf Hall of Fame with five wins and a pioneering role in the Nationwide Tour, but Tom was terrific and among the best of them during his day.
    Langer knew it, which is why he asked Lehman to be his partner in the Legends. The two were already tight through their deep faith and the fact that their kids are about the same age (both have two sons and two daughters). Most importantly, Langer knew that Lehman would be considered a young stud in this older crowd. 
    “A year ago is when Bernhard asked me to be his partner in the Legends. He said, ‘Well, Tom, when do you turn 50?’ ’’ Lehman deadpanned, emulating Langer’s German accent, which sounds a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.
     “I said, ‘Absolutely I can play wity you. Count me in.’ For him to ask me to play and get to kind of ride him like a thoroughbred, it was all good for me.’’
     The only downside to this new beginning is that Lehman still plans to play mostly on the PGA Tour, and even on the Nationwide, where he will serve as the playing chairman at the Wichita Open, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It is fitting, as Lehman’s first professional win of note came at the inaugural 1990 Ben Hogan Reflection Ridge Open in Wichita, one of three wins on the Ben Hogan-Nike-Nationwide Tour.
     At the same time, no one knows for sure how long guys who still “got game’’ like Lehman will hang with the young and the restless. Lehman has been in the mix a couple of times this season, recording a tie for eighth at the Transitions Championship and a tie for 21st at the recent Verizon Heritage. And while he has made four straight cuts after missing four in a row to start ’09, it’s hard to argue, intelligently, with the $225,000 he made in one start on the Champions compared to the $240,000 and change he’s picked up in eight events on the PGA Tour.
   In fact, that cold reality already is creeping in. Asked after winning the Legends whether he would rather win on the Champions or just contend on the PGA, Lehman never hesitated.
     “It’s nice to play well, but it’s even nicer to win,’’ he said. “I would rather win out here than contend out there.’’
    Yeah, Lehman gets it. Along the way he has been a great representative of  this community, winning our Phoenix Open while being a pillar for various charities. More recently he has designed wonderful golf courses like the Raven at Verrado in the West Valley and Encanterra in the East Valley, as well as the North Course at The Gallery in Tucson.
     That he remains physcially fit and vibrant at age 50 is why I say that it is no stretch of the imagination to see Lehman as one of the new stalwarts of the Champions Tour.  In every way he has all the tools to become the next best “old guy’’ from the Valley since Scottsdale’s John Jacobs won five times on the Champions a few years back.
     Certainly a strong Lehman presence on that tour could do wonders. But one thing is for certain, Lehman is not taking his smashing success too seriously. He knows he won’t have Langer to lean on the next time around.
     “You get the same song and dance from everyone out here: A bunch of old guys that can’t play anymore and, please, ‘just take it easy on us!’ ’’ Lehman said with a laugh. “That’s like being set up on the first tee, giving me two and two and the guy shoots 66.
      “But I find it very, very enjoyable to kind of hear that song and dance, because these guys, they are having fun, but they are still competitive and can really play and they can still make putts and know how to win. . . . It’s a set up.’’
     Which is exactly why Tom Lehman is the perfect fit for the Champions Tour — he knows how to play that game.

News

A Showcase at the Gallery

The 43rd Pacific Coast Amateur Championship will reach back in its glorious past by honoring one its former champions on one of his newest design creations. Architect John Fought was simplygolfer John Fought when he captured the 1975 PCAC at the historic Olympic Club outside San Francisco.
After a steady, but unspectacular professional playing career, Fought turned to golf architecture, where he has become an accomplished leader in the field.The 2009 Pacific Coast Amateur, to be played near Tucson July 28-31, will be on the South Course of the Gallery Golf Club, which he designed.
“I love that tournament,” Fought said. “I have so many good memories. It will be good to see how the young guys match up on the course.” The 5-year-old, par-72 South Course has already earned plenty of acclaim as the site of the World Golf Championship/World Match Play Championship.
Now the Fought desert design about 20 miles outside Tucson will test the same type of top amateur player he was nearly 35 years ago. “The players this summer won’t have the experience and short-game skills as the top 64 players in the world each February, but it will still be fun to see how they compare,” said Gallery head professional Paul Nolen, who has been at the course since it opened.
“I expect to see plenty of low scores, but probably some high ones as well,” Nolen added.
The Pacific Coast Amateur annually draws some of the top college and amateur players in the country, with an invitation-only field of 90 amateurs competing in the 72-hole stroke play event. Amateurs can apply for an invitation or members of the Pacific Coast Golf Association can invite top players. The champion receives a gold medal from the Pacific Coast Golf Association, along with a trophy, which has been renamed in honor of Tucson’s own Ed Updegraff, who in 1967 was the firstPacific Coast Amateur winner.  While The Gallery had been the site of the WGC/World Match Play since 2007, this will be the first major amateur competition held on the South Course. “We’re interested in having the top events out here and this was certainly a good one to get, especially with John’s connections to the event,” Nolen said.
“We are all respectful of the amateur game and we figured this would be a quality event for a quality course,” added Gallery general manager Phil Satterfield. Last year, former University of Houston player Jordan Irwin became the second Canadian in a row to capture the PCAC title in his native British Columbia. He used the win to cap a stellar college career and help his transition to the professional level; he now is playing on mini-tours in Arizona and Canada.
This will be the Pacific Coast’s fourth visit to Arizona, with the last two being played at Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, most recently in 2001.
“We want to play on the top courses in the West Coast area.We have a loose rotation system. If the course proves itself, we’ll want to come back,” said Bob Thomas, longtime media relations with the PCGA.”
The list of players who have won the Pacific Coast Amateur title includes some well-known players, among them Ben Crane, Jason Gore, Billy Mayfair and Mike Reid. But the 2009 event will mark the first time the event has been held at a course designed by a past champion. Nolen said when players arrive to tackle Fought’s design, some may wish he had remained a player instead of turning his considerable talents to designing courses.
“Certainly the conditions will be a bit different in July than they are for the pros in February, but the strength of this course will always be the green complexes,” Nolen said.
In the wintertime, the fairways are mainly a rye mixture, but in the summer for the amateurs, they will be a dominant bermuda. The greens are a bentgrass hybrid, which can get very fast depending on how low they are cut.
The professionals played the South Course at just over 7,400 yards, sometimes shortening a few of the par 4s in order to encourage players to attempt to drive the green. Nolen said the Pacific Coast Golf Association is likely to try something similar, which should make for some exciting golf.
But for Fought, it’s personal. It’s a chance to relive some of his best competitive memories and showcase the promising direction his other career has taken him.

News

Good Move

An invitation to host its prestigious spring season-opening women’s tournament outside the United States for the first time, combined with scheduling conflicts with the men’s golf team at the traditional site of the event, put the flavor of gato montés (Spanish for wildcat) into the 2009 Arizona Wildcat Invitational as it made its maiden foray into Mexico. The Invitational, which has been held for more than 20 years and is one of the longest-running women’s tournaments in the country, had been played at either Randolph Golf Course or Arizona National Golf Club, which had been the site of the event for the last 10 years. Both are in Tucson, home of the University of Arizona. But more than a year ago, the AGA approached Shelly Haywood, head coach of the U of A women’s golf team, with an opportunity to take advantage of an offer from one of the association’s new sponors, Mayan Palace in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, to use their new Peninsula De Cortes course because of the problem she was having in solidifying a site for the 2009 event. Haywood figured it was time to take flight — or in this case, a bus — and head for a potential sea of birdies down by the Sea of Cortez. “We had a unique opportunity,” said Haywood, now in her second year as head coach. “They contacted us and wanted to promote their golf course. We were going back and forth on dates  with Arizona National and there was conflict on some dates because we share the course with the men’s team. The men’s tournament moved some dates back, which fell in with our dates. Scheduling both men’s and women’s university tournaments in the same month gets a little scary. It was just one of those things that worked out where the Mayan Golf Group offered to have us and show us a little bit of what it was about down there.” The Invitational, held in late February, included 17 teams, including nine of the top 25 in the nation (according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index at the time). It was led by top-ranked Arizona State; No. 2 Southern California, the defending NCAA champion;No. 3 UCLA; 6th-ranked Oklahoma State; No. 8 Duke and 24th-ranked Arizona. It was a tournament that was more loaded than an overstuffed chimichanga.
But planning a tournament is one thing. Planning it in another country is another, even if that country is so close to your border. Safely transporting 17 golf teams flying into two different airports, Tucson and Phoenix, and entering Mexico at the facing border towns of Sonoyta, Mexico, and Lukeville, Ariz., on three different charter buses is challenging, as Haywood admits. “The resort is very secure. It’s very private,” said Haywood. “They have two security gates that you have to pass through before you even get to the resort.The security there is fantastic.” Extra security on the buses and at the hotel provided peace of mind for players, coaches and parents. A police escort accompanied the buses from the border to the resort, then back to the U.S. The border patrol expedited the process of returning into Arizona. Haywood said the tournament “was better than I could ever have imagined.” “I’ve had so many players and coaches call me and e-mail me and tell it’s the best tournament they’ve ever played in,” she said. “Nothing was left unturned. Every little detail was taken care of. All the transportation. All the security. Rooms. Bags. Even down to the awards ceremony. I have never been a part of an event in college where it was run so well. Everything was first class.”
Melissa Luellen, the Arizona State head coach, called the tournament “outstanding” and said the Sun Devils would return if it were to be held there again.
“The Mayan Palace hotel was wonderful. It was all inclusive,” said Luellen.“The golf course (designed by Jack Nicklaus and his son, Jack II) was in impeccable condition.You have six holes that are oceanside.The field was great.The food was great.”
In his welcoming remarks, Mayan Palace general manager Manuel Alcocer noted how excited the facility and all of Sonora was to be able to share the event with its northern neighbor.“The Sonoran government was completely supportive, recognizing that Arizona golf and Sonora mutually benefit from this golf liaison through the Arizona Golf Association.”
Besides the tournament itself, this year’s Wildcat Invitational was all about opportunity. There was the opportunity for the Mayan Palace and the Peninsula Golf Club to strut its stuff and benefit from the exposure of the tournament. There was an opportunity for players to remove some early-season rust off their games in a warm climate. There was also the opportunity for the U of A’s two players from Mexico City, freshman Margarita Ramos and sophomore Alejandra Llaneza, to play in their native land.
“They were so excited to be in their home country and so proud,” said Haywood. “You could see on their faces how proud they were.” There also was the opportunity for the teams to give back to the game by holding a golf clinic for area children the day before the Invitational began. Approximately 50 kids from nearby elementary schools attended the clinic, having been chosen on the basis of having good grades or demonstrating community service. (Inviting high schoolers would have been a violation of NCAA recruiting rules.)
By using Spanish-speaking players from the teams to talk to the children, the clinic’s message was delivered in a language they understood: Amor por el juego. Love of the game. Players showed the children how to hit the ball and also held a trick shot exhibition. Unlike other tournaments, where players usually receive tee prizes like watches, sunglasses, duffle bags, etc., this time it was the children who were on the receiving end. Nike Golf donated 16 sets of junior golf clubs, with bags, to the golf course.And in a donation that Haywood called “amazing,” the club gave the attending children a one-year membership to play at the resort for free. “It brought tears to people’s eyes. It was the coolest thing ever,” said Haywood.“That was the highlight of my week.
“I challenged my fellow coaches that we need to do the same thing in our communities,” added Haywood. “Instead of always getting something, we need to give back to our communities in some way.” Clearly the Wildcat Invitational’s excursion to Mexico was un gran éxito — a huge success. But it still remains uncertain if or when it will be played there again.
“Going back to this place is a very high possibility,” says Haywood. “I just don’t know when. I don’t know if it will be next year or every two years or three years.We’ll see.”

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Ranky Lein – World Class

As the golf world flattens, the mix of players on professional tours and college teams is decidedly international and Randy Lein knows how to leverage this trend. With a father who lives in France, a brother residing in Stockholm and close friends in London and Seoul, he is regularly offshore, scouting talent. Add summer visits to meet with European golf federations and the Arizona State University men’s golf coach casts a wide net building his own perennially successful Sun Devil squads. His current crop of players includes representation from five European nations — the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Scotland — and one from Korea. As he marks his 30th year in college golf and basks in the glow of his January induction into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame, the 58-year-old Lein (pronounced Line) has reason to stop and take a bow. But heartfelt dedication to his players and a relentless pursuit of excellence keep him working not only around the globe, but around the clock too. Besides, there are more titles to win and so little time to develop his charges to the world-class level reached by many ASU golf alumni: Mickelson, Mayfair, Purtzer, Twitty, Reavie, Perez, Casey, Carner, Park and Farr, to name a few.
While a true citizen of the world, Lein has been rooted firmly in a small corner of the earth. Born in Long Beach, Calif., he took up golf early and competed at Division II Cal State-Northridge, where he carried a plus-3 handicap and earned a degree in finance. Then, his plan was to “be a stock broker, leave work at 3:30 and play gentlemen’s amateur golf.” He never did pursue Wall Street riches, but he instead took a teaching job at an executive course at Westlake Village in Los Angeles, where he met Ron Rhoads, who held club professional positions at Riviera and Sherwood country clubs.student in student-athlete; the graduation rate for his players is nearly 90 percent. Going into this year’s NCAA Championship in May with a top-20 national ranking and any one of five players he believes is capable of winning the individual title, Lein likes the Sun Devils’ chances.
Through Rhoads, Lein eventually became an assistant coach at the University of Southern California under Stan Wood, then later head coach. He began collecting Pacific-10 Conference titles and an NCAA Championship. When ASU built its own course and first-class practice facilities, Lein was enticed to take the head coaching job in the fall of 1992. Since then he has garnered victories and awards in all categories to further enrich ASU’s golf tradition.
When asked the secrets to his extraordinary coaching run, Lein immediately cites his staff, specifically assistant coach Mickey Yokoi, who mentors mechanics and charts course strategy, and sports psychologist Debbie Crews. In the area of teaching philosophy, Lein credits a respectful, player-centered approach he learned from Rhoads, one well-suited to working with the often fragile psyches of younger players, as his model. His signature message is a combination of “positive mental attitude” and Zen-sharp focus on the shot at hand.
“Plus,” he laughs, “I’m an eternal optimist.” On their side, Lein explains, today’s players bring “very good fundamentals, excellent conditioning and diet habits, properly fitted equipment, loads of competitive experience in top-flight junior amateur events and the ability to deal with a variety of playing conditions.” He adds, “Our job is to get into their heads and make them winners and, as some have done, PGA Tour-level players.” Lein’s limited personal playing time often is compared to that of his players. “It’s no fun to watch these guys outdrive you by 50 yards,” he says. “It’s hard on my psyche.”
With the standard 54-hole team events (he’s won more than 40) running Friday through Wednesday, college golfers travel a lot. On the road, Lein keeps his teams loose but focused, combining a movie night with a pretournament skull session that shares tips and observations. At home, there is a constant series of on-course “games,” each with a specific skill-set goal. Amid all this activity, Lein has maintained the
“If the top guys shoot to their ability, we might win the team title,” he says. “In the 1993 PAC-10 we were ranked No. 10 and Arizona No. 1.They were up 13 shots with nine holes to go and we won by two. Bottom line, in golf, winning is about believing you can.”
 

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A true champion: Architect Gary Panks

By BILL HUFFMAN 
       Gary Panks is modest, mild-mannered and anything but mighty at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds. But don’t be fooled by one of Arizona’s most well-respected golf course architects – he can play!
        Back in his college days, Panks played golf for Michigan State and also lettered on the Spartans’ hockey team. True, he wasn’t big as puck-chasers go, but he had passion and he had heart, two attributes he would rely on throughout his career.
       “I walked on in both sports, and ended up being the captain of the golf team in 1963, back in the days when (Jack) Nicklaus and (Tom) Weiskopf were at Ohio State and dominating the Big 10 (conference),’’ Panks recalled. “I think my senior year we finished fourth or fifth (in the conference tournament).
      “As far as the hockey team, well, I wasn’t bad but I wasn’t a starter, either.’’
       When Panks arrived in Arizona in the late 1960s as a landscaper hired to design and build parks for Maricopa County and the City of Phoenix, he still knew how to golf his ball. A plus-1 handicap, he won the Don Sanderson Mustang Classic, which was the pre-runner to the Arizona State Stroke Play Championship.
      Some 20 years later, Panks and his wife, Judy, captured the Arizona State Mixed Team Championship (for couples) at Silver Creek Golf Club near Show Low. The irony there was he had built Silver Creek a few years earlier, one of 20 courses he has created over the years in Arizona.
    Such a legacy – he also has built 20 other courses worldwide, some with former partner David Graham – is why Panks was honored last week at the Champions Dinner that precedes the Arizona State Stroke Play Championship. And while the majority of that honor is for the great golf courses he has bestowed upon this state, let’s not forget that Gary Panks was a player, too.
    Plus, Panks has an attitude found in all true champions.
    “I just love the game,’’ he said of the sport he has played since he was 12 as a boy growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., better known as “Sault Ste. Siberia’’ where the town’s most identifiable landmark has always been a snow shovel.
    “I’m 67 now, and I just missed shooting my age the last two years by one shot up at Pinetop Country Club. But one of these years, I’m going to do it, especially if I keep playing at Pinetop Country Club.’’
    That’s another course that holds a special fondness for Panks, as his mentor, Milt Coggins Sr., built the original layout and Panks redesigned it.
   “I started working with Milt back in the mid-70s and I learned a lot,’’ Panks said of one of the early pioneers of Arizona golf. “In 1980, Doug MacDonald was at Ahwatukee Country Club, and it was Doug who gave me the chance to build my first golf course – Ahwatukee Lakes.’’
   In the last 30 years, Panks has just kept designing and building them in every style and shape. For instance, he created some very high-end properties with Graham like Chaparral Pines near Payson, Grayhawk Talon in Scottsdale, and the Raven at South Mountain in Phoenix. He also built several resort courses on his own in Phoenix like The Legacy and two courses at Whirlwind to go with great municipals like Antelope Hills South near Prescott, Elephant Rocks near Williams, and Aguila in Phoenix.
   Along the way Panks also created picturesque tracks like Sedona Golf Resort and the Trilogy at Vistancia in Peoria, the only course in Arizona that was ever honored with five stars from Golf Digest. And, of course, some very solid private clubs like Seville Country Club in Gilbert, as well as two completely different courses at Tonto Verde Country Club near Rio Verde.
     “Which one is my favorite? That’s like asking which of your children is your favorite,’’ Panks said with a laugh. “I like them all for various reasons, but I guess if you really pressed me I’d have to say it’s hard not to point to the natural beauty of Chaparral Pines or a championship course like Twin Warriors over in New Mexico, where they hold the PGA qualifier.’’
     One of Panks’ close friends and former associates, Tom Colceri, said that Panks made his name by following “a very friendly philosophy of golf course design.’’
     “The thing about Gary’s golf courses have always been that they worked out well for the golfers who have played them and for the developers who were behind them (financially),’’ Colceri explained. “Gary always built courses that were golfer-friendly and fun to play, and unlike some (golf course architects) he never built a bad one, chiefly because he never let his ego get in the way.’’
     Colceri also makes an interesting point about how Panks’ reputation has been solidified mostly by creating golf courses on average pieces of land while some of his peers have had the luxury of building courses along ocean cliffs and mountain tops.
      "That’s what has really separated Gary from everybody else in the business. He’s just so creative,” Colceri noted. "He can take a piece of land with no redeeming qualities and turn it into a beautiful golf course.
       "Look at the Raven at South Mountain or the Legacy, or Trilogy at Vistancia or Seville; all were either cotton fields or orange groves. . . . It’s hard to screw up a golf course where the setting is spectacular, but you really have to work hard to make an average piece of land great.”
     Panks said he always has stuck to a simple design theme “that has a sound strategy and doesn’t favor any particular style of play.’’
     “I want my courses to be enjoyed by players of all levels, from the pros right on down to the beginners,’’ he said. “So we build appealing golf holes that will test a golfer’s game – most are shot-makers’ courses — and still allow the bogey golfer to play without having to challenge the hazards.’’
     Proof of Panks’ popularity and consistency came six years ago when he closed his office in Scottsdale and planned to scale back on his operation, thinking that MAYBE he would do a course a year on his own from his office in his home. It didn’t work.
    “Almost immediately I was inundated with five or six projects, and so I had to go back out there and hire some help,’’ he said, shaking his head at his brief encounter with semi-retirement. “I guess I’ll probably never retire even if I did end up keeping my office at home.’’
     Today, Panks is nearing completion of his 41st course called Conestoga Golf Club near Mesquite, Nev. The project, which had its construction interrupted for about 18 months while it was under the Anthem banner for Del Webb, comes in a time when golf course design in general has been impacted by a sagging worldwide economy.
     “Obviously, there has been a big downturn in course construction, and being that we’re overbuilt (with golf courses) in Arizona doesn’t help,’’ Panks noted. “Plus, they have become so expensive to maintain, and the costs of clubhouses have just sky-rocketed.
      “When I first started you could be a pretty good course for $3 million, and then back in the boom era (1985-2000) they got up to about $10 million to $15 million.
      “Today, we’re building Conestoga for around $20 million, and it’s hard to make it back (money on the investment) on anything but lot sales. So things have really slowed down.’’
     Reluctantly, Panks said those good ol’ days in Arizona of “if you build them they will come’’ are history.
.     “Oh, yes, I remember when we were building 10 to 12 courses a year. It was an exciting time, you might even call it the days of euphoria,’’ Panks recalled. “But we got ahead of ourselves, thinking the party would never end.
     “Today, I feel sorry for a lot of the developers out there who are stuck. It’s been tough on them lately, that’s for sure. But for the most part, Arizona is done (building courses) in the metro Phoenix-Scottsdale area, although we may still see some courses being built in the future in outlying areas.’’
      As for his legacy, Gary Panks’ small ego and big heart remain firmly in place.
     “My only thought is that I hope the people who play my courses in the future will always enjoy them,’’ he said. “I know that some people will still remember who built them in the years to come, but most people won’t.    
     “I don’t have a name like Nicklaus or Weiskopf, and I’m not a former (PGA Tour) player. So for me it’s always been all about the golf course.’’
     Once again, spoken like a true champion.