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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Phoenix Country Club focused on its next 100 years

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Phoenix Country Club was originally founded in 1899.

Mention the phrase "classic-era golf course architecture" and the mind immediately wanders to courses in places Chicago, metropolitan New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit or even Augusta, Georgia.

It is not often those words are uttered in the same sentence with Arizona, but there are several classic-era courses in Arizona - two to three dozen of them, according to architecture expert Bradley Klein, Ph.D.

Founded in 1899 and moved 22 years later, Phoenix Country Club has been at its current location for more than a century, and golf course architect Andy Staples and superintendent Kenton Brunson are working to ensure it is around for 100 more years.

The pair are preparing for a master plan that will address issues like water and fertilizer use, drainage, putting green standards, soils, bunkers and turf type to help Phoenix remain relevant in the face of several hot button issues.

Renovated 20 years ago by John Fought and Tom Lehman, little has changed at Phoenix since Chicagoan Harry Collis's original design in 1921 on the northern edge of downtown. It was the on-again, off-again site of the Phoenix Open from 1932 to 1986 and today is the site of the Champions Tour's Charles Schwab Cup.

Current and former members include notables such as Alice Cooper, former Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, real estate mogul Del Webb and one-time presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

If Goldwater, who died in 1998, showed up today he probably would still recognize much of what is in place there. The vibe, Staples said, is like the classic Los Angeles golf course like Riviera or L.A. Country Club, only without the elevation changes.

"Not a lot has changed in 100 years. They never really addressed the greens, bunkers or irrigation. This is more of an infrastructure project," Staples said. 

"It's like a classic L.A. course that never got to L.A. Those courses have branches and rises and falls. This course is dead flat, with lots of trees on the edge of downtown. I hope to bring in some of that inspiration from those courses in L.A."

That project, Staples and Brunson hope, will eventually include a little more terrain change, at least in the way of swales, to promote drainage much in the way they are in use at Oakmont.

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Phoenix Country Club moved to its current location near downtown in 1921.

Brunson, who has been at Phoenix for about a year-and-a-half, said he looked through records and said the club had been doing what amounted to a major project every year. He thought now would be a good time to try to change that philosophy.

"Let's circle up and do this all in one year," he said. "That way, you don't have interruptions to play every year."

The club's leadership agreed and settled on Staples, a Phoenix-area resident, to help guide them through the process.

The first phase of the project will be getting feedback from the club's various constituencies. Focus groups include single-digit players, women, juniors, seniors and committed golfers who don't fit into any of these other groups.

"It's their golf course," Brunson said. "We want to hear what they like and don't like. We want every member to feel like their voice is being heard. And we might learn some things in the process."

Staples hopes to have a plan ready for review by next spring, and Brunson said scheduling contractors and supply chain issues probably will push moving dirt off until some time in 2025.

"Contractors are scheduling out 18 months now.

New water restrictions recently announced in Arizona call for a 20-percent reduction by all users. Brunson said choosing the right turf type can help Phoenix CC meet that standard before even taking any turf out of play.

Years ago, the course was grandfathered in and does not pay for water. Still, Staples and Brunson know the right thing is managing the course to use as little water and fertilizer as is necessary.

To that end, Brunson currently has planted a nursery that includes several varieties of Bermudagrass including TifTuf, Tahoma, 419 and 328, as well as some paspalum and zoysia varieties. He plans to select a turf that will use less water and will be more cold tolerant so Phoenix CC can join a growing trend of valley golf courses that are no longer overseeing fairways.

"What we want to do is nothing new," Staples said. "We're just now bringing it into an area where it has never been done before."

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