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Maryvale Golf Course in west Phoenix ranks among the best municipal layouts in Arizona

PHOENIX -- Municipal courses often get a bad rap in the world of golf.

If they're not in the best of shape, it takes too long to play 18 holes. If the fairways aren't brown, the greens are bumpy. And there's always some duffer in the group ahead of you that takes forever standing over the ball and insists on playing every shot, even if it's their eighth on a par 3.

But munis, as they're called, aren't supposed to be perfectly manicured, 7,200-yard long beasts that cater to golfers wearing $150 slacks and playing Titleist Pro VI balls. They are what they are, relatively simple courses that don't tax golfers' aptitudes or their checkbooks.

One of best municipal layouts in Arizona is Maryvale Golf Course in west Phoenix. It was designed in 1961 by William Bell, who also was the architect at Torrey Pines, and it holds up well today as a classic, tree-lined course with gentle elevated greens and subtle doglegs in both directions. And, at a benign 6,500 yards, the par-72 layout is an ideal course for juniors, beginners or weekend hackers hoping to make a birdie or two.

The greens are receptive to both high approach shots and low bump-and-runs, the sand traps aren't overly penal and there's enough room on many of the fairways to land a 747.

"It's very, very friendly," said Head Professional Gee Rodrigue, who has been at Maryvale since 2006. "It's pretty flat, there are no big hills or anything and it's real easy to walk. It's a nice course. You're not going to spend all day looking for balls."

It's also nice on the wallet. In the summer months, many rounds can be booked for as low as $20, and that includes the cart fee. In the busier winter months, non-residents can get around for $59, cart included.

Maryvale isn't for the low-handicapper who wants to experience the best courses Arizona has to offer. It's strictly a blue jeans and cold beer kind of place.

That's not a dismissive description, by the way. For its price, Maryvale G.C. has a lot to offer. The city of Phoenix has upgraded the facility in recent years, adding a chipping green with a sand trap and a second putting green.

"As far as practicing, we've got the set-up," Rodrigue said.

The golf course itself, while not a stone-cold killer, does offer some challenges. Water comes into play on eight holes, and while there's no desert to contend with, the trees that frame nearly every hole will penalize wayward shots.

But the idea at Maryvale is to reward golfers, not punish them. That's evident on the four par 5s, three of which are 501 yards or less. With the fairways offering generous rolls, reaching the green in two is possible for even average-length hitters.

The exception is no. 12, a 562-yard par 5 that includes a back set of tees that lengthen the hole to nearly 600 yards. Those tees, Rodrigue said, are only used for tournaments.

Rodrigue's favorite hole is no. 4, a short par 3 over water, but there are also some classic risk-reward opportunities. Golfers can try to cut the corner on no. 3, a 420-yard par 4, but go too far right into the trees and a birdie can turn into a bogey.

No. 5 is a 302-yard par 4. A good drive and roll can turn into an eagle putt, but anything right or left is trouble.

In the end, Maryvale Golf Course's best attribute is its simplicity. It's the kind of place where novice golfers will hit a good shot or two, make a par or two and end the day eagerly anticipating the next time they can tee it up.

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