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Wildfire Golf Club's Faldo Course: A sandy treat in Phoenix

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Nick Faldo must never have made it to the beach as a lad.

How else to explain his dastardly creation at Wildfire Golf Club? The Faldo Course at Wildfire G.C. is a 6,846-yard bunker -- with a little grass thrown in for the tee boxes, fairways and greens.

Faldo took his cue from the sandbelt golf courses in Australia. The par-71 track is a true testament to golf Down Under. The golf course features 108 bunkers -- and we're not talking about the kind of bunkers at the local muni.

Some of the traps have faces that are 25 feet high. Get inside, and your playing partners may need excavation equipment.

"I am confident the course will inspire golfers of all levels to improve their game," Faldo said.

Well, they'll certainly improve their bunker play -- or go home and trash their sand wedges.

The bunkers define Wildfire's Faldo Course and the rounds of anyone who plays it. Find too much sand, and it's virtually impossible to post a
good score. Stay out of it somehow, and you'll probably like the look of your scorecard.

"You don't want it to be too hard," Faldo said. "You want it to be pleasant to the eye, with more bark than bite."

The neighboring Palmer Course features large, undulating greens, but the Faldo greens are flatter and easier to putt.

The key here is the approach shot. Some of the greens look no wider than a supermodel's waist. You may find pins in sucker positions behind deep bunkers or on the edge of greens.

The best bet? Be cautious and fire for the middle of the green. A two-putt par is much wiser than an aggressive approach that finds one of those 108 bunkers.

To his credit, Faldo built some memorable holes around his bunkers. There are two drivable par 4s -- the 315-yard fourth hole and the 325-yard 16th. No. 16 is a classic risk-reward scenario: Hit a big drive and a birdie or eagle enters play. But there's a desert wash right of the fairway, and six deep-faced bunkers encircle the green. One of those bunkers can easily turn a birdie into a double bogey.

The second hole, a 408-yard par 4, also gets your attention. A row of bunkers down the middle guards the split fairway, and several bunkers -- what else? – protect the green. A par on No. 2 is a terrific score.

We'd be remiss not to mention the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa, which shares the property. The luxury hotel is considered one of the finest resorts in the Valley. Its four acres of landscaped swimming pools and lazy river are so popular that local folks stay at the resort in the summer just to enjoy the amenities.

As for the Faldo Course, well, it's a small taste of British and Australian golf. There's no Hell Bunker to navigate, but enough sand exists to make you mistake it for golf purgatory.

That said, if you don't mind a little beach in your shoes, socks, hair and eyes, you'll enjoy Faldo's challenge.

Just consider yourself warned.

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