Appeared in 2012 LINKS Premier Clubs
The SUN COMES UP EARLY in east Phoenix, its white-hot rays warming the Sonoran Desert and illuminating the stony face of Superstition Mountain, the massive block of volcanic rock, 5,000 feet high, that towers over this side of the ever-spreading city.
The 25-million-year-old mountain has captivated man for centuries. The Pima Indians thought it possessed magical powers, which is probably why Spanish conquistadores, who came in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold, named it so mysteriously. It is said that Geronimo disappeared in its crags and canyons, and that UFOs appear there. And that somewhere in its labyrinth of tunnels is the notorious Lost Dutchman’s Mine, reputedly found in the mid-1800s and still enticing modern-day prospectors.
But those looking for true riches should forget illusory buried treasure and stake a claim to the very real golf sitting near the monolith’s base, the two Jack Nicklaus-designed courses at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club. They anchor an 878-acre private residential enclave that is as welcoming as any desert oasis.
Driving up the entrance through a long corridor of ash trees, past villages of stately Southwestern-style homes and villas, and arriving at the handsome, Tuscan-inspired clubhouse, it is hard to imagine that the club was a near-victim of the economy. But three years on, new management—and a dedicated membership—have Superstition Mountain stable, healthy, and growing at an unprecedented rate.
“We have a wonderful membership,” says General Manager Gene Blum, who took over in 2009. “They rallied in a time of uncertainty and made this a true members’ club. They brought their friends to play and they fell in love with the place, too. Our members are our best sales force.”
Also helping close the deal in this meticulously planned community is the award-winning clubhouse, which serves as the gateway to two courses—Lost Gold and Prospector—which although designed by the same architect present very different challenges.
Unlike many desert courses, both Lost Gold and Prospector feature wall-to-wall turf (a total of 180 acres of grass on the two tracks) and wide landing areas. Not that there isn’t trouble, because there is, including big, steep fairway bunkers. This is a gentler Jack Nicklaus, his restraint perhaps the result of creating Superstition Mountain with two of his sons.Better players prefer Lost Gold, laid out by Jack and oldest son Jackie in 1999, where position in the fairway and the ability to move the ball are vital for leaving proper angles into greens. For example, the first hole is best played with a draw off the tee—contrary to Nicklaus Senior’s personal predilection—then a fade on the approach. Also favoring a draw is the long par-four 7th, which bends hard left and dares cutting the corner while avoiding a cluster of bunkers and a giant saguaro cactus at the crook of the dogleg.
Most holes on both courses leave their entrances open for run-ups onto the Bermuda-grass greens, which are generous and generally flat but can be lightning quick. Those putting surfaces guarded by the rocky, cactus-filled terrain are also usually flanked by grassy bail-out areas; straightforward chips and putts often can save a good score.
The Golden Bear bares his teeth on the par-three 17th, which isn’t long but is surrounded by bunkers with the greens sloping sharply from back to front. “A wayward tee shot will spell trouble for a player of any level,” says Director of Golf Pat Tyson.Players can breathe a little easier on Prospector, designed with son Gary in 1998. Here the fairways are even more generous, sand (desert and bunker) is less in play, and the greens are less vigorously defended. Preferred by most members, it is especially popular with women players, of which the club has many.
The hardest hole on Prospector is the long par-four 3rd, which swings right to left and is lined on both sides with bunkers and desert. Throughout the course, angling holes create the illusion that trouble is closer than it really is: Members quickly learn that there is more room in the fairways than it appears.
Deception rules at the par-five 13th, which bends first to the left, then comes back to the right. A big bunker on the left side of the landing area not only threatens to snag tee shots but is elevated just enough to hide the fairway beyond. Once on short grass, the temptation is to aim the second shot well left and away from bunkers near the green, but then the following shot will be longer and into the narrowest part of the putting surface. The smart play is at the bunkers on the right, leaving a short pitch onto the longest part of the dance floor.Other than comfort stations and frequent ice chests, the only water on both courses is found on the final holes. A lake lines the left side of Prospector’s last, a long par five, pushing tee shots to the right and a better angle of approach to a green that tilts toward the drink. On Lost Gold, a lake hugs the green from the left and may have to be carried when approaching this par four. In both cases, a par is well earned.
Among those to challenge Prospector have been pros. The LPGA’s Safeway International was played on it from 2004 to 2008, with the event won by a who’s who of female stars—Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa twice each, Juli Inkster once. In 2002, Prospector hosted The Tradition, a Champions Tour major won by Jim Thorpe. During that event, Ben Crenshaw, who knows something about putting, said that the greens were “as good, if not better, than any I have ever played.”
And golf is not the only game in town. The Sports Club has four tennis courts, a fitness center with state-of-the-art machines and classes, spa services, a swimming pool, kiddie pool, and Jacuzzi. There’s also a roster of concierge services designed for homeowners and members who come and go. Members don’t have to own on property, but there are numerous options for those who choose to live inside the gates. Stay-and-play villas, including the luxurious 5,600-square-foot Ranch House, offer great accommodations for guests and potential members to experience all that the club has to offer.
Overlooking the property is the 50,000-square-foot clubhouse, which resembles a Tuscan village with courtyards and fountains. Inside are lounges, a library, dining room, pro shop, and luxurious, expansive locker rooms. Spacious patios look out over the courses, into the desert, and, of course, at the eponymous mountain that seems close enough to touch and changes its look and mood as the sun moves through the sky.
Growing faster than the national average for similar communities, the club offers a variety of membership opportunities including a 30-day Trial Membership and a “Buddy” Incentive Program. Houses and lots are also selling briskly, with more than 60 sales in 2011. There’s something for everyone and every taste at Superstition Mountain, with homes available from 2,000 to 20,000-plus square feet.