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With new management (and a new name) Raven Golf Club Phoenix is back on track

PHOENIX -- Once upon a time, Raven Golf Club at South Mountain was one of the Valley's masterpieces. The service was impeccable, the course -- thanks to its 7,000 imported pine trees -- was unique and the mango-scented iced towels were manna from heaven on a hot Arizona afternoon.

The David Graham- and Gary Panks-designed, par-72, 7,078-yard layout was so well thought of it was named one of the "Top 50 Public Courses in the Country" by Golf World's 2009 Reader Choice Awards.

But the golf course fell into disrepair a couple of years ago, and its once pristine condition gave way to burned-out fairways, dead trees and shabby greens.

Thankfully, those days are over.

OB Sports Management, based in Scottsdale, has taken over the course and restored its greatness -- and then some. The renovation included new bunkers, the pruning of dead trees and 750 tons of cinder spread under trees to give the course a cleaner look.

The result: The course -- now known as Raven Golf Club Phoenix -- is once again a must-play both for locals and tourists taking a Valley golf vacation.

"We're excited about the opening of the new Raven Golf Club Phoenix," said Phil Green, chief operating officer and principal of OB Sports. "Our golf course enhancements and renovations, as well as clubhouse improvements, have given new life to his very popular facility."

There's not one element that stands out at the Raven such as, say, the red rocks at Sedona Country Club. Rather, it's the entire package.

The golf course is in the middle of the desert, just off one of the most heavily trafficked roads in south Phoenix. But when golfers turn onto the property, they'll feel like they were transplanted to the Midwest.

There's not a saguaro cactus or cholla bush on the property. Instead, Raven Golf Club Phoenix is a gentle parkland course, straightforward enough that the weekend hacker can enjoy it -- there are few forced carries and elevated greens -- but difficult enough to present a challenge to the low handicapper.

Not so coincidentally, being surrounded by trees instead of desert makes it seems as if it's 10 or 15 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the Valley. It may not be true, but when it's 105 on a summer day, the illusion is a treat.

What truly distinguishes the course is its variety. Golfers never will feel like they've played the same hole twice.

The four par 3s are a perfect example. The second hole is just 137 yards from the back tees, but No. 7 plays at 221 yards. Two of the four par 5s stretch out to nearly 600 yards, but the two others, at 519 and 526 yards, are reachable in two for the long hitters.

The best hole at Raven Golf Club Phoenix is one of the easiest in terms of handicap. No. 5 is a classic risk-reward par 4. It's only 324 yards, but the hole features seven bunkers. Get greedy, and it's just as easy to make a double-bogey as it is a birdie.

No one will confuse Raven Golf Club Phoenix with some of the Valley's tougher courses. While it does have a strong finishing kick -- No. 16 is a 453-yard par 4, No. 17 a 593-yard par 5 and No. 18 a 412-yard par 4 with water to the right of the green and a bunker left -- it's not anywhere near as penal as many of the desert layouts.

But that's part of its allure. Golfers either will have to be in a really bad mood -- or play extremely poorly -- to not enjoy the 18 holes. Plus, did we mention that one of the improvements OB Sports made was the purchase of a $1,800 beer mug chiller?

That alone might be worth the green fee.

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