Before Christmas I was with a group of golf writers enjoying a few days at the Wigwam Resort in Phoenix before heading over to We-Ko-Pa Resort in North Scottsdale. With a day off in between, several of us were asked if we wanted to play one of the top ranked public courses in Arizona.
You’d have to be crazy to say no to an invitation like that, which is how we found ourselves teeing it up in the high Sonoran desert at a course called Quintero Golf Club.
To say Quintero is remote would be something of an understatement. It’s tucked away in the Hieroglyphic Mountains, not quite off the grid, but to get there, you essentially leave civilization behind and travel along the Morristown New River Highway northwest of Scottsdale, through miles of rugged desert where there isn’t a building in sight, eventually turning at a small banner on the side of the road announcing an upscale residential golf community.
Quintero started out as the dream of businessman Gary McClung, a retired truck dealer from Kansas City, whose concept was to build two Top 100 golf courses on the site, then sell multi-million dollar homes to lots of rich folks who were looking for a spectacular retirement spot or seasonal home in the desert.
McClung hired Rees Jones to carve the first course out of the desert peaks and gulleys and Jones did a spectacular job. The course opened in 2000 and debuted at No. 39 on Golfweek’s ranking of America’s Best Modern Courses. McClung began to sell lots and build homes. At their peak, lots were selling for over a million dollars and memberships for $150,000.
McClung hired Greg Norman to design the second course but by 2006, real estate sales started to slow down, then came the collapse. After the dust settled, McClung was out – bankrupt and facing charges – while the golf course continued on, managed by Troon Golf. Eventually, ownership passed to a group of investors and McClung himself is nowhere to be found but his dream of a Top 100 golf course in the Arizona desert is still very much a reality and better still, available to the public.
It’s hard to describe Quintero without using lots of superlatives. The scenery is breathtaking, the course conditions are absolutely the best, the greens are quick and demanding, the landscaping is beyond lush and the routing is just amazing – with dramatic elevation changes, canted fairways, deep bunkers and thousands of cacti everywhere. Every tee features incredible views of the surrounding mountains and despite being a residential community, the houses are well hidden and well camouflaged.
Quintero starts off with a long drive – it’s about 10 minutes by cart from the Pro Shop to the first tee. That’s because the clubhouse never got built. The proposed site is quite a majestic spot overlooking the 18th but for now, daily fee golfers have to make do with a temporary pro shop and small takeout space. The beverage cart however, is well stocked and on the day we played, made frequent stops.
The golf course starts out fairly benignly with a short par four but the first hole introduces you to two Rees Jones characteristics that repeat throughout – sloping fairways where flat lies are rare and exceedingly quick, sloping greens that will have you screaming for your momma. Nobody likes to three-putt but Quintero will definitely test your skills with the flat stick.
Quintero tops out just over 7,100 yards but has up to nine different tee decks on most holes. We played the Silver tees at 6,400 yards and that was plenty of golf course for us. With all of the elevation changes, short holes can play much longer while a couple of the par 5’s play downhill, which gives you an opportunity to reach the green in two.
While the entire golf course is noteworthy, the par 3’s will get your blood pressure going. The first of them comes on the 6th but you can see the tee decks from all over the golf course – perched high on the side of a mountain. The green sits a hundred feet below and looks like you could almost drop the ball on it. Actually, it’s 219 yards from the tips (170 for us) and requires some calculation to find the right club.
The front finishes with another high elevation shot to a shallow green that hugs the shoreline of a brilliant, blue pond. Water comes into play again on the 157 yard 13th hole too. The last of the scintillating short holes is No 16, a beast for sure. At 190 yards from our tee, the green is flanked by desert wasteland on the left and wicked deep bunkers to the right. There’s no real bailout area so a hero shot is the only option. Unfortunately, there were no heroes in our group that day.
Quintero finishes with a wonderful downhill par 4 that rises to an elevated green back-dropped by a waterfall and pond. It’s a solid finish to a spectacular golf course and if and when they ever build the clubhouse, it will provide lots of entertainment to the watchers on the patio.
On my quirky Must-Should-Would-Could-Don’t rating system, I definitely put Quintero in the Must Play category and recommend it in the strongest terms. It’s a bit of a hike to get there but absolutely well worth the drive. Don’t let the green fee deter you either. Green fees top out around $260 for non-residents in high season but there are better deals available on GolfNow or for Arizona residents and Troon Golf card holders.
For more information on Quintero Golf Club, click HERE.