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Stonecreek Golf Club is Phoenix, Arizona's best-kept secret, but for how long?

PHOENIX -- The pro shop employees at Stonecreek Golf Club answer the phone the same way:

"Thank you for calling Stonecreek Golf Club, Paradise Valley's best-kept secret."

It's not hyperbole. The 6,871-yard, par-71 layout, designed by Pete Dye and then redesigned by Arthur Hills, may be the best golf course in the Valley no one talks about.

"It's definitely unique to Arizona," General Manager Kevin Weber said.

Stonecreek Golf Club, located about 15 minutes to the south and west of the Scottsdale golf axis, is not a desert course. And it doesn't have dramatic elevations or picture-postcard par 3s.

What it does promise -- and deliver on -- is a terrific round that will test a golfer's accuracy.

"If you have any issues at all about your short game, they'll come up here," Weber said.

If your idea of a pleasurable 18 holes is to be able to bang your driver as often as possible, Stonecreek isn't for you. You have to think your way around this golf course. Chances are you'll leave your driver in the bag on several of the par 4s, not wanting to hit it so far it finds Stone Creek, which meanders through 13 holes.

But golfers who like to shape shots and decipher the best way to hit approaches into elevated greens surrounded by water and sand might prefer Stonecreek to even some of the more celebrated golf courses in Arizona.

In fact, of the dozens of Arizona golf courses I've played, I can't recall many that place more of a premium on approach shots. A word of advice: With so much water around the greens, Stonecreek has its share of sucker pins. Don't fire at them.

"A lot of our regulars really enjoy playing here because it never gets old," Weber said.

It's not just the public that appreciates the challenge Stonecreek presents. The golf course has hosted a qualifier for the Waste Management (formerly Phoenix) Open, stretching its par-71 layout to 6,900 yards.

The golf course begins slowly, with a couple of manageable par 4s and two par 3s among the first five holes. But it really picks up the pace on No. 6, a 389-yard par 4 that Weber said is Stonecreek's signature hole.

The creek runs across the fairway, 289 yards from the back tee, so long hitters will have to think about bagging their driver. The approach shot is nasty: The half-island green is protected by water to the back and right, and a deep sand trap on the left.

Oh, about that sand. Stonecreek has several bunkers so deep you can get lost in them. One trap on No. 10, a 382-yard par 4, is 15 feet deep.

"We do have some links qualities here," Weber said.

What makes Stonecreek truly special, though, is its back nine, particularly the final five holes, which might be as good as any closing stretch in the state.

No. 14 is a 378-yard par 4 with water right of the green and one of those cavernous bunkers to the left. No. 15 is a 227-yard par 3 with water to the right. No. 16? Try a 609-yard par 5 with water protecting the front of the green.

Nos. 17 and 18 aren't gimmes, either. They're par 4s with water hazards that play into the prevailing wind.

"Those last holes are a beast coming home," Weber said.

Stonecreek Golf Club's prices are reasonable for the considerable quality of the course. It's piggy bank money compared to some of the green fees charged by north Scottsdale layouts.

Here's the best recommendation I can give: Even with all the high-end courses in the Valley, I'd play Stonecreek Golf Club again in a minute.

Of course, if a lot of people take that advice, it won't be Paradise Valley's best-kept secret anymore.

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