The Raven at Verado

February 10, 2008 5:54:51 PM PST
When it's time to take a break from the sphincter tightening effects of desert target golf, book a tee time at The Raven at Verrado. You will be greeted by fairways that look comparatively like gently rolling football fields. No thin green ribbons strung through a morass of rock and omnivorous cactus here. Just tee it up and bomb it--or so was the collective cry of my battle weary foursome during the Raven's opening holes.

However, it soon became clear the course had more in store for us than an early comfortable handshake. Amidst this "sea of green" were mischievously placed fairway bunkers. Repeated visitations to these uncannily positioned craters caused our group to revise its "bombs away" approach. Even as the sheer beauty of The Raven continued its crescendo into the more mountainous back nine, these bunkers picked our pockets one by one. We were caught in a marvelous fabric of beauty and difficulty woven by architects John Fought and Tom Lehman.

My favorite hole is the 13th?a steep uphill 291 yard climb to a mysterious green with a diabolical false front. The pin can be (and was) placed on a back right shelf about as expansive as the hood of a mid-size Buick. Conventional wisdom dictates a lay up tee shot to the 75-yard marker. From there a most charming conundrum presents itself. A slightly tentative wedge shot will be unceremoniously tossed back by the false front. A fearlessly struck wedge will likely fly the shelf and find the uphill bank behind the green and a world of hurt associated with it. If you dare, you could attempt a shot that would appeal to the wry imagination of a Trevino or Watson. Punch a 7-iron into the wall of the front slope and urge it to kick forward up to the rear shelf. I pinned my hopes on just such a bank shot. And if struck but one yard farther, the shot would have earned a standing ovation. Instead the front slope dispatched my play with cold indignity. Seldom does a course present such a singularly memorable shot--one that can, by itself, entice you to return again and again till you get it right.

A round at Veraddo however is not an unqualifiedly blissful experience, aesthetically. The"town" of Verrado is actually a planned bedroom community in the making. The town square with its obligatory market, bank, school, and municipal services was built simultaneous with the golf course. But walk into the market. No one is there. Only a small percentage of the planned residential component has been completed. This may be the newest looking ghost town in America. But not for long. Square miles of desert have been scraped bare in areas directly adjacent to the golf course. Earth moving equipment and construction noise are major, albeit not permanent distractions. Another perhaps more permanent affront to tranquility is the daily and regular roar of F-16's streaking overhead from nearby St. Luke's AFB. If you are a fan of the Blue Angels, you might find these subsonic sorties part of the fun.

Despite these arguably unsightly bits, The Raven at Veraddo will not disappoint. The clubhouse and Cucina Restaurant are especially splendid, the course design clever and understated, and the conditioning divine. Put The Raven at Verrado on your must play list for your next visit to Scottsdale.

Yardages from 5402-7258, and slopes from 111-132.