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Western Skies Golf Club in Gilbert, Arizona: All the fun without the flair

GILBERT, Ariz. -- You can't swing a 3-wood around north Scottsdale without hitting a golf course that's landed on a top-100 list.

In fact, I'm pretty sure Scottsdale was just named one of the top-100 cities in which you can find a top-100 golf course.

But not all golfers can afford $200-plus green fees –- and not all are talented enough to tackle 7,400-yard layouts with ridiculously narrow fairways, fancy greens and inhospitable desert terrain.

So what's the alternative for the weekend hacker who just wants to play 18 holes without suffering a migraine?

Well, the newly renovated Western Skies Golf Club in Gilbert is a good place to start. The daily-fee facility bills itself as the club "where locals bring their friends."

Western Skies lives up to the moniker.

It's a laid-back, friendly muni, where a golfer can play a yellow ball -- or play in blue jeans -- without fear of ridicule.

"It's not a tricked-up course," Western Skies General Manager Scott Jacques said. "What you see is what you get."

What you get is a short, 6,744-yard par-72 that allows even the worst swingers to post an occasional par or birdie. Seven of the 11 par 4s measure 376 yards or less. The longest par 5 is 545 yards. Only the par 3s offer much of a challenge -- all four play at least 184 yards from the tips.

Basically, if you can hit it 230 yards off the tee, you'll have a lot of short irons into flat and welcoming greens.

Western Skies G.C. makes no excuses for its lack of difficulty. Nor should it. Every community needs inexpensive golf courses that are fairly easy to play. But too often, you'll find those tracks in worse shape than the economy. The fairways often feature more dirt than grass, and the greens are filled with speed bumps.

That was once the case at Western Skies. Truth be told, it sat in terrible shape for years. But Synergy Golf Partners took over May 2010, and the golf course now plays better than some top daily fees I've played in the Valley.

Synergy didn't redesign any holes. But it installed a new sprinkler system and over months, the dirt disappeared. When Western Skies re-opened this fall after over-seeding, it was a sight to behold for longtime members.

"That's the big difference," Jacques said. "Where you're supposed to hit it, you have grass and not bare lies."

Synergy also installed a ProShot GPS yardage system on each cart, added a snack shack between nines and overhauled the driving range.

The range includes a net in the back, so everyone can hit driver -– not possible in the past -- and most importantly, lights were added. The range is open until 9 every night but Sunday.

"We get a lot of golfers on the range in the evening," Jacques said. "It's probably increased our business 30 percent."

In addition to taking better care of its golfers, Western Skies Golf Club redesigned Mulligans Grills to provide a sports-bar feel. Flat-panel televisions dot the lounge. Jacques said it's common for Mulligans to entertain 50 to 80 NFL fans on Sundays.

Again, Western Skies is not for the resort golfer who wants to play the Valley's best and most expensive golf courses. It's for the golfer who wants to spend time with friends, enjoy a couple of cold ones and play 18 holes without getting his brains bashed.

One tip: Because it's a daily-fee course, the quality of golf fails to compare to what you would see at, say, the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale. It's not a sin to be a bad golfer; it is sinful, though, to play badly and slow.

A round at Western Skies should take no longer than 4 hours, 10 minutes. So don't stand over your ball for 90 seconds, making like Tiger Woods, then hit it 30 yards to the right.

Get up there, grip it and rip it. You'll enjoy the round a lot more.

So will the group behind you.

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