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Francisco Grande Hotel & Golf Resort south of Phoenix: An inexpensive blast from the past

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. -- Three things to know about Francisco Grande Hotel & Golf Resort:

1. It's long, coming in at 7,545 yards from the tips.

2. It's windy. Because there's no housing development around the golf course, the winds are constant and demand a golfer's attention.

3. Mosquitoes call the course home during the summer. Fortunately, the staff at the resort has a can of bug repellent at the ready. Use it.

Oh, the golf course itself? It's a blast from the past, a Midwestern-style, tree-lined layout that was built in 1961 and hasn't changed much since.

"You're talking about a golf course that has a lot of history," said Director of Golf Adam Krukow.

That history begins with guys named Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. The entire resort, including the golf course, was constructed as the spring training home for the San Francisco Giants, who trained in Casa Grande for more than two decades. In fact, one reason for the course's impressive length was its inhabitants.

"When it was built, Mays and McCovey were some of the biggest hitters in the game, and they wanted to make the course suitable for them," Krukow said. "Plus, their name was the Giants, so they incorporated all that into the golf course."

Now, Francisco Grande isn't the prettiest golf course in Arizona. Nor is it always in the best of shape. There are too many bare spots in the fairways -- particularly in the intense summer heat -- and the greens can be bumpy at times.

But Francisco Grande doesn't pretend to be something it's not. The priciest tee time in the winter is $58, and summer rates go as low as $10.

What golfers get for that money is a mature course that is trickier than it looks. Francisco Grande doesn't have elevated greens, false fronts or palm trees in sand traps. Nor is it a desert course, where every wayward ball is a stroke penalty. More often than not, a drive hit 30 or 40 yards off line can be played from the adjoining fairway.

But what can make Francisco Grande an interesting track -- besides the distance and wind -- is its subtlety.

Designer Ralph Plummer must have known -- even back in 1961 -- where golf balls would land 50 years later because the trees at Francisco Grande always seem to get in the way. Golfers would be wise to practice punch shots on the range, because they'll need them on the course.

"You might not think of it as very difficult," Plummer said, "but the trees and bunkers are positioned in ways where the golf course kind of sneaks up on you."

Also, the greens are smaller than many in the Valley and access is limited; they're narrower at the front, so it's difficult to play bump-and-runs.

One example of Francisco Grande's subtle evils is No. 12, a 473-yard par 4. The tee box points left, but the hole is a dogleg right. Plus, there's a bunker and a huge eucalyptus on the right side of the fairway. Golfers have two choices: Aim left and face a long approach shot, or do what Krukow does and hit it right and just hope it rolls through the trees.

"That bunker was put in before I got here," Krukow said. "I don't know if the superintendent was saying, 'I'm going to get you.'"

It's difficult to lure golfers away from the vast array of top-notch courses in the Valley, particularly for a course that could use a bit of loving care. But the price is right at Francisco Grande, and golfers will get the added bonus of playing the course that Mays and McCovey once called home.

Plus, after their round, they can take a dip in the swimming pool that's shaped like a baseball glove.

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