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Whirlwind Golf Club's Devil's Claw Course: Desert pleasure near Scottsdale, Arizona

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- After playing 18 holes on Whirlwind Golf Club's Devil's Claw Course and shooting a personal-best 83 (hey, I never said I was Tiger Woods) I went home and took a second look at the yardage book.

Little did I know my trip around the par-72, 7,029-yard layout also made for a history and geography lesson.

Devil's Claw is one of two golf courses at Whirlwind G.C., part of the Wild Horse Pass Resort and Casino on the Gila River Indian Reservation near Chandler. In addition to its views of four mountain ranges -- South Mountain, the Estrella Mountains, the San Tan Mountains and the Superstitions -- Devil's Claw overflows with Native American culture.

For example, the yardage book includes two names for each hole, the English version and its corresponding Native American label. There's also a colorful back story to the naming rights.

Take the 410-yard, par-4 fifth hole, called Coyote Tracks -- or Bahn Goki:

"This golf hole has several sand traps, bringing to mind the tracks of animals. The coyote is predominating in many Odham stories. In one story, the coyote is tricked by baby quail that run away from coyote and hide in holes in the ground. The coyote reaches into the holes and pulls the quail out one by one. The coyote reaches into the last hole, which has no quail. Alas, the coyote is tricked again in grabbing onto a thorny cactus that was placed there by the quail. While the coyote was jumping and hollering, the quails made their escape."

Yes, sand traps can be a thorn in the side here.

For those who don't care one iota about history or mountain ranges, Devil's Claw still provides an enjoyable diversion from the gaming tables of the casino. The golf course hardly lives up to its name; you have to play poorly to go 6-6-6 on the scorecard . But it's not a pitch-and-putt either.

Unlike many desert golf courses in the Valley, Devil's Claw's features generous fairways. In addition, the areas around the green are relatively flat, allowing players to use a wide variety of chip shots -- from flops to the chip and run.

The greens are the trickiest part. They're big, but almost every one includes ridges that can make putting difficult. Also, the greens don't break nearly as much the first-time player might think.

The golf course is in immaculate shape. I've played nearly every layout in the Valley, and I don't remember any in better condition than Devil's Claw.

The best holes? Good question. I liked the 317-yard, par-4 eighth. Big hitters can try to bomb the green, but club selection is key, thanks to a bunker in the middle of the fairway about 220 yards from the tee box. The par-3 12th is a beast, 222 yards from the back with water in front and right and bunkers to protect both sides of the green.

My favorite, though, was the 441-yard ninth hole, with its split fairway. The uphill par-4 grows shorter by going left, but the landing area is much narrower than the right side. Go right, and a longish second shot awaits to an elevated green.

By any measure, Devil's Claw plays easier than its neighbor, Whirlwind Golf Club's Cattail Course.

As a word of warning, stay out of the bunkers. They're deep and nasty.

By the way, the 18th hole at Devil's Claw is called Going Home.

The course is so playable -- and in such good condition -- I can think of a more appropriate name: Come On Back.

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