Arizona Golf Vacations

Kierland Golf Course: The Complete Package

By • May 26th, 2009

It’s really quite simple: Kierland Golf Club is the complete package. With 27-holes, this Scott Miller design (formerly of the Nicklaus Design Group) boasts a shaded driving range, air conditioned golf carts, full-service club repair, two full size chipping and putting greens and the best onion rings this side of the Mississippi River. There’s not much else a golfer could really want or need. Did I mention AIR CONDITIONED GOLF CARTS?

Ok, there might be one more thing…a massage.

When you book a corporate outing at Kierland you can expect a licensed massage therapist to have her massage chair and nimble hands waiting for you under the shade of a tree next to the driving range. So before you stress about those knee-knocking four-footers, you can get that knot out of your neck.

Before I get into the details about this Scottsdale golf course, I must note the condition of the golf course, which could only be classified as perfect.

“From the time they wake up in the morning at the resort to their last shot of the day on the golf course, guests will encounter impeccable conditions every step of the way,” said Director of Golf at Kierland Golf Club Kipp Bates.

As good as the condition of the golf course is, if you find yourself not to be in the soundest of body, the folks at Kierland can help. The FORE-MAX Golf Training Systems is headed by Mike LaBauve, who was voted in Golf Digest as one of America’s Top 50 Instructors in 2008, alongside Westin’s fitness director Steve Heller. They will design a personalized workout for you that will blend all aspects of golf instruction, fitness instruction and even nutritional instruction (did I mention those onion rings?).

There are three nine’s at Kierland—Acacia, Mesquite and Ironwood. Bates admires the Acacia nine the best and he listed the 7th and 9th of that track as his two favorites of all 27 holes.

But don’t take Bates’ word for it alone. LPGA Tour champion and former University of Arizona golfer Natalie Gulbis lists Kierland Golf Club as her favorite course in Scottsdale in a recent interview with AVIDGOLFER Magazine.

Phoenix cop-turned-celebrity Larry Giebelhausen, winner of Golf Digest’s U.S. Open Challenge and the chance to play Bethpage Black with Michael Jordan, Justin Timberlake and Ben Roethlisberger has been honing his game at Kierland any free chance he gets.

But alas, let’s talk about the actual golf course.

I will just fast-forward to the finishing stretch on Acacia because if you don’t play these three holes well, you can all but forget your accomplishments on the first six.

The seventh, coined “Casa Grande” is a 374 yard par-4 that tees off right in front of the Westin Resort, just across a small lake from the ninth green. It has a bit of a stadium feel as the resort provides a potential audience for your tee shot.

Several deep bunkers guard the left side of the fairway on this Arizona golf course. Find one of these traps and a bogey or worse is likely because the small postage-stamp green sits elevated and surrounded by bunkers on all sides. To the right of the fairway is the place to miss because large mounds will help shape your ball back into the short grass and leave you a short iron approach to the green.

I found the green to be firmer due to the elevation, which made it difficult to nestle even a short iron close to the hole. Once on the green, putts can be made. There is one spine that runs through the back and middle of the green which provides most of the break for a putt. This green also slopes back to front, which makes any shot missed long a difficult up and in.

Needless to say, if you walk off the 7th at Acacia with your scorecard unscathed you should be pleased!

The 8th doesn’t offer much of a reprieve after the difficult 7th. “Red Tail” is a long downhill par-3 that stretches to 219 yards from the Tournament tees. The green is protected by several large bunkers short, right and long of the green. However, there is plenty of room to play safely to the left of the green, a common thread throughout all 27 holes at Kierland.

The tee shot plays about a club and half downhill, so remember to adjust your club selection. The green is large, and boasts a ridge that runs up the center of the green that will make chipping and lag putting across the ridge difficult to judge. What appears a tremendous shot from the tee will be tainted once you drive down to the green and see just how tricky and massive the ridge can be. Again, walk away from this hole with a par and you should be pleased.

The signature hole at Kierland Golf Club is without question the 9th at Acacia. With the pristine and award-winning Westin Kierland Resort looming behind the green, this par-5 will test any golfer. One thing I have always loved is a par-5 in which you can see the green in plain view—this is certainly the case here. From the elevated tee you can practically see your reflection in the 15th floor windows of the hotel.

The tee shot plays sharply downhill to a bowled fairway. So even though it looks narrow, take comfort knowing a short hit slight right or left will make its way back to the near middle of the fairway. However, miss the slopes and your chances of a good score diminish greatly.

The long hitters can perhaps take a chance and try to reach the green in two, but actually finding the putting surface with a long iron or fairway wood is rather unlikely as several deep bunkers to the front and left of the green will gobble up any less-than-perfect shots, and a cavernous collection area to the right, the likely bailout spot, will leave very difficult chips.

Play it safe and smart and go for the green in regulation, but don’t expect that route to be much easier, however. The fairway narrows by about half, and water and bunkers come into play on the left side. But don’t fret or forget about the friendly slopes that typically flank the opposite sides of trouble—they are there to be your friend on many of the holes at Kierland!

I’ve always liked finishing holes that offer a great chance at birdie, or a chance for disaster. The 9th at Acacia certainly offers both.

All in all the Acacia nine maxes out at 3,435 yards and plays to a par of 36.

While Acacia might get more attention for its views, the Ironwood and Mesquite nines are no slouches in their own right! Ironwood is the longest of the three nines at 3,539 yards.

Ironwood is chalk full of long par-4’s that will test your driver as well as your ability to hold a middle iron on the green. The shortest of the par-4’s still stretches to 412 yards, with the longest being the opening hole, “Lone Tree” which reaches 440 yards.

The closing hole, a relatively short 495 yard par-5, features a tributary that runs the entire length of the fairway and feeds a beautiful lake to the right of the green. This is the only water hazard on Ironwood, however, I’m sure it gets plenty of action.

A good drive will set up a choice: either bring the water more into play and try to get a long iron or fairway wood on the green, or lay back safely and accept a short wedge to the green. This is another great finishing hole, offering a realistic chance to make birdie, but also ample chances at frustration. Regardless of your finish, the Bittlebush Bar and Grill, and those onion rings you’ve now been salivating over for a couple dozen paragraphs, will be waiting just behind the green.

The Mesquite course meanders peacefully through the surrounding neighborhoods near Kierland, but without ever feeling like you’re intruding on someone’s peaceful afternoon at their pool. The highlight of Mesquite for me was the par-3 fourth hole. Stretching to 187 yards, this hourglass shaped green sits over a large marshy area full of native grasses. The green looks large and inviting, but upon closer inspection it’s really broken into two segments, the front left and the back right. Two bunkers will catch all but the most pristine tee shots.

One interesting element that I noticed in several places throughout all 27 holes was hidden bunkers cut into the native grassy areas. I would say most of which didn’t really come into the field of play, but nonetheless provided an interesting visual treat that is rare in the area.

Aside from the impeccably manicured golf course, the A/C golf carts, and the onion rings, what separated Kierland Golf Club from others is without question the customer service. The staff is incredibly attentive, often foreseeing your questions before you have a chance to ask them.

A story to exemplify the quality of the customer service at Kierland, heed a warning, while also providing a chuckle:

I bought a Payday candy bar at the snack shack between nines. While putting on No. 1 green on Mesquite, a ravenous crow got into my packaged Payday, tore it open and flew off with my newly purchased and eagerly anticipated chocolaty-peanut goodness. I was pretty upset. The feathered scoundrels had gotten into a package of pretzels I bought on the Acacia nine as well, but they didn’t fly off with the whole bag. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Nevertheless, the next time my playing partner and I saw the lovely beverage cart girls, we briefly and jokingly explained what had happened and they were instantly, more than happy to no-questions-asked replace my pilfered candy bar. Lesson learned and consider yourselves warned—protect your food or you might as well offer it as birdfeed.

Everyone at Kierland understands that golf is a service industry and it’s important to make everyone feel like they belong. I assure you that you won’t want your first trip to Kierland to be your last. Just as I’m sure my experience with the miscreant crows won’t be the last time they prey on an unsuspecting golfer’s candy bar…

Course Achievements:

  • Top 100 Golf Resort,” Condé Nast Traveler, 2008
  • “Top Ten” (Arizona Public Golf Courses Category), Ranking Arizona:, 2008
  • Mike LaBauve, “America’s 50 Greatest Teachers,” Golf Digest Magazine, March 2008.
  • Mike and Sandy LaBauve, “Top 100 Instructors in the Country,” Golf Magazine, March 2008
  • “100 Best Golf Shops,” Golf World, 2008
  • “Top 10 Places to Play,” Golf Tips Magazine, 2007
  • “Greens of Distinction,” Corporate and Incentive Travel, 2007
  • “25 Best Family Golf Resorts in the United States,” Golf for Women, 2007
  • “Top Four Workout Vacations” (Fore-Max Program) Men’s Journal Magazine, June 2008

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