For years and years, the best private golf in Arizona was entrenched in the East Valley. There were good reasons for this, as the East Valley had the most eye-popping terrain, especially in north Scottsdale, as well as most of the money per capita.
The West Valley? Only Arrowhead Country Club in Glendale and a few retirement tracts in Sun City offered private golf. And while some might say that Quintero Golf and Country Club is in Peoria, a better dateline would be Wickenburg.
Then along came Colorado architect Jim Engh, who finally has got the ball rolling for the Westsiders with a new and different layout called Blackstone Country Club, which opened in January in what truly is Peoria. Sure, it’s only one private course of considerable note for the left side of the Valley, but, oh, what a course!
For those not familiar with Engh, his motto is: “Push the envelope.’’ No wonder that, in a world of copycat designers, his works have earned him Golf Digest’s architect of the year honors on four occasions.
Among Engh’s most highly regarded layouts are Black Rock in Idaho, Tallymore in Michigan, and Sanctuary, Redlands Mesa and Fossil Trace, all in Colorado. Chances are Blackstone also will be among the “best of Engh’’ by the end of the year.
Located west of Lake Pleasant and north of Happy Valley Road, there is a lot to like about Blackstone. First of all, it’s very Irish links-inspired, which seems at first impossible considering the Trilogy at Vistancia — a flat-as-a-pancake, desert layout — is its neighbor.
But Engh has done a superior job in making the best new course out west more than just an 18 holes of golf backed by the Bradshaw and White Tank mountains.
“I know you have to please golfers the first time out,’’ Engh says of his approach. “But I also try to design other levels into courses, so that you’ll learn something new about every hole every time you play it.’’
Well, I’ve only played Blackstone once, but I can see the subtle mysteries of Engh, as no two holes are alike. Besides a better score than I usually shoot, my scorecard included check marks next to 10 holes, all of which I considered to be “signature’’ in status.
Still, what I liked best about Blackstone were all the forgiving bounces via mounds, slopes and bowl-shaped greens. That, and a nice mix of short and long par 4s, picturesque par 3s, and a par 5 that rambled on forever, or 619 yards. And for a new course, the conditioning was amazing.
According to Jeff Ulvedal, the head pro who came to the Blackstone via Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, “our new members just love this place.’’ And I can understand why, because Blackstone at a generous 4,738-7,089 yards won’t smack you upside the head.
Blackstone is the classic country club, with a 30,000-squarefoot, hacienda-styled clubhouse that opens in January by another renowned architect, Bing Hu. Toss in the other amenities — three swimming pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, tennis courts, restaurant and wine-tasting room — and this 598-acre “multigenerational community’’ is quite reasonable with its $60,000 membership.
Obviously, Blackstone is playing a huge part in the rise of the “new” West Valley. Perhaps it’s appropriate that you can see the Cardinals’ new stadium from its eighth tee, and the Coyotes’ digs beyond.
It’s what you expect from Engh, whose philosophy always has been: “You only get one run on this planet, so make it a good one.’’ In the case at Blackstone Country Club, he accomplished his mission.