Golf from above

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November 2, 2018
Guy Cipriano

Here’s some free flying advice: Given the option, always take the window seat. You’re isolated from aisle distractions – Couldn’t the jittery dude in Row 12 limit coffee consumption before boarding a three-hour flight? – and get to stare at the land below, which includes thousands of golf courses.

On a connecting flight from Las Vegas to Denver, I hit the jackpot, scoring a window seat despite receiving a C boarding position. Frequent travelers will tell you this is akin to breaking 80 without bringing a solid game to the course. It rarely happens.

It was the only jackpot I hit in Las Vegas. We were simply using Sin City for its airport following an outdoorsy whirlwind through Arizona and southern Utah. I’m not fretting about the lack of Las Vegas time. The GCSAA realized Las Vegas possesses more winter weather predictably and attendance-boosting elements than San Antonio, so we’re all headed west in 2021. Viva listening to your members!

The flight into Denver included wonderful views of geological formations too complex for a magazine editor to comprehend and mountains in the preliminary stages of becoming snow-capped for the season. The good stuff materialized on the descent: glimpses of golf courses.

The courses provided visible green amongst miles of parched earth. Denver received less than 8 inches of precipitation through October. If you had fallen asleep in Las Vegas and suddenly opened your eyes, you would have thought the flight had traveled at an automobile speed. A peek at a few Denver courses illustrated water woes extend beyond the Southwest. Anybody working in the golf business can empathize with the region’s superintendents from a window seat.

The courses I spotted in Denver weaved through modern neighborhoods, thus demonstrating the correlation between golf and a booming city. The link between golf and real estate makes more sense from above, because vast stretches of homes and turf can be observed in the same frame. The neighborhoods with courses, especially during a drought, are the most attractive communities from above.

In addition to telling operational and business stories, window seats are excellent for golf architecture junkies. Fairway routing, green and tee positioning, and bunker and hazard placement can be studied and photographed. Even on a vacation, higher golf learning never stops.

Window seats aren’t the only elevated spots to examine golf courses. The trip started in Phoenix, where we hiked Camelback Mountain via the Cholla Trailhead. The ascent offered broad views of The Phoenician Golf Club. The resort is undergoing a massive overhaul, with its golf course being reduced from 27 to 18 holes by architect Phil Smith. The purpose of the reductions become clear from the trail: less turf to maintain, more acreage for real estate in a desirable desert neighborhood and a fresh look for regular guests of the 30-year-old resort. Had the course been completed by this damp mid-October day, I would have regretted leaving the clubs at home.

Camelback Mountain tips out at 2,707 feet, which is flat compared to the courses featured in this month’s cover story by Judd Spicer. Never one to avoid reporting on a golf adventure, Spicer profiles the operational challenges at Sierra Star and Bear Mountain, a pair of courses resting at 8,050 and 7,000 feet, respectively. An abundance of snow means condensed playing – and agronomic – seasons at both facilities.

Enduring the challenges are worthwhile. Visitors who enjoy hitting golf shots between staring at mountains mean continual revenue for operators and year-round work for employees who contribute to ski experiences in the winter.

Judging by the photos accompanying the story, I’m sure both courses look splendid from a window seat.