Appeared in May/June 1997 LINKS
In July 1987 I had the pleasure of playing Troon Golf & Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, with one of its architects, Tom Weiskopf, who took great care in showing me exactly what he and co-architect Jay Morrish did on every hole and why they did it. As much as he strived to illuminate the virtues of Troon that day, he couldn’t help but liberally sprinkle references to a new project he and Jay were working on in the mountains of Flagstaff, two and a half hours to the north. Weiskopf bubbled with that “kid on Christmas morning” kind of excitement and anticipation when describing the new course.
Nearly 10 years later, it is clear that Forest Highlands has matched and even surpassed Weiskopf’s lofty expectations. Thanks to its unparalleled scenery combined with a superior design, Forest Highlands epitomizes the very definition of a “modern classic.”
At the onset Weiskopf said, “I don’t think I have seen a more natural setting for a golf course.” Admittedly, the property was blessed with many natural attributes: streams, large stands of towering Ponderosa pines and oak-lined ridges and canyons. Dramatic elevation changes were prevalent throughout—perhaps too prevalent—and too abrupt. The only way Weiskopf and Morrish could transition one playable area to the next was through a highly unorthodox routing: Every other hole from four to 14 is a par 3, six in all. “Most people never pick up on it, because each hole plays differently,” says Weiskopf
As you may have gleaned by now, Forest Highlands doesn’t remotely resemble a desert course, although the saguaro cacti of the Valley of the Sun are less than three hours away. The look is more Colorado, which is not surprising, as the San Francisco Peaks—the southern tip of the Rockies—loom in the background of several holes, notably at the 424-yard 16th. Called “San Francisco,” the hole doglegs to the left, affording expansive mountain views, especially appealing in spring, when the peaks are snow-capped.
At Forest Highlands, the primary emphasis is on “forest.” The course is carved from the largest stand of Ponderosa pines in the free world and while this tall timber brackets nearly every fairway and backdrops nearly every green, you never feel suffocated. Two holes noted specifically for their trees are the 465-yard 11th, called “Gamble Oak,” a copse of which skirts the left side of the tee, and the 393-yard 17th, “Aspen,” a profusion of which lines the fairway’s edge to the right.
Wildflowers lend further memorable touches at Forest Highlands—poppies, daisies, bachelor buttons and Rocky Mountain lupine, plus Indian Paintbrush, which gives the 227-yard, par-three 12th hole its name. Memorability—and playability—truly elevate Forest Highlands to elite status.