Get to know Jack Nicklaus Jr. at the Golf Club of Estrella in Goodyear

By Travel ArticlesNovember 20, 2012, 5:00 am

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Some folks are frightened by 5-foot putts.

Others are intimidated by forced carries.

At the Golf Club of Estrella, the most nerve-wracking sight might be the signs at the edge of several fairways that warn: 'Danger -- Rattlesnake Habitat.'

'The signs have been here as long as I have. Why they selected those areas, I don't know,' chuckled Trevor Finton, the head professional at the Golf Club of Estrella. 'I mean, the rattlesnakes are pretty much all over, so you could have [the signs] on every single hole. They can come out anywhere.'

A few decades ago, rattlesnakes and roadrunners were about all that roamed this cacti-covered landscape at the foot of the Sierra Estrella Mountains.

Even today, the Golf Club of Estrella -- formerly known as Estrella Mountain Ranch -- is about as close to the middle of nowhere as you can find in the Valley of the Sun, although the surrounding residential community is now the largest in Goodyear. The 7,139-yard course is about a 45-minute drive southwest of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where every second arriving passenger seems to be wheeling a golf travel case.

If you care about course design, you probably think you know Jack.

The Golden Bear has his paw prints all over Arizona's golf scene -- albeit, mostly at private facilities -- but the Golf Club of Estrella was actually mapped out by Jack Nicklaus Jr., a former caddie for his famous father and now president of the family design firm.

Opened in 1999, the Golf Club of Estrella is Jack Jr.'s only solo effort in the state. The greens don't have the wild undulations that have become synonymous with the Nicklaus name, but there's no doubt the eldest son of the 18-time major champion likes to serves up a hearty portion of intimidation from the tee, just like his old man.

Jack Jr. also saves the best for last, creating a fine line between finishing with back-to-back birdies or putting up a big number before heading back to the clubhouse.

The 194-yard 17th is a slam-dunk selection as the signature hole thanks to its setting amid an army of tall cacti, but any attempt that doesn't find the putting surface could be problematic. On the 437-yard finale, four bunkers split the upper and lower shelf of the fairway in the landing zone and separate the pin-seekers from the safety-first crowd.

'It's definitely from that same design family -- it's got a lot of the similarities to a Jack Nicklaus course,' Finton said. 'There's a lot of deep-faced bunkers that are well-placed in the driving areas. There's a lot of grass out there, a lot of landing area, but the way the bunkers are placed narrows it down a bit. Visually, off the tee, it looks a little more demanding than what it really is. You have to play it a few times to see that there is more turf than it might look like.'

The Golf Club of Estrella also houses a spacious natural-grass driving range and practice area, giving you lots to aim for before you arrive at the opening tee. Instruction is available.

Golf Club of Estrella: The verdict

In this golf-crazed valley, word-of-mouth typically travels further than some golfers are willing to. I mentioned the Golf Club of Estrella to an employee at Scottsdale's PGA Tour Superstore location, and he made it sound like it was on another planet.

In typical traffic, it's almost an hour drive from Scottsdale's main drag. Thing is, the staff at the Golf Club at Estrella doesn't want this place to feel like it's anywhere near the hustle and bustle.

It's less expensive than most championship-level courses in the valley, with unlimited golf, lunch and a dozen golf balls going for far less than just a tee time at other tracks. It's a little more laid-back. And, as Finton has heard time and time again, 'a lot of people say it's worth the drive.'

'You kind of get that sense of home, like you're playing at your home course,' Finton said. 'I think it's a little more laid-back on this end of town. It's not so rush-rush. To me, it feels a little bit more like you're having a party at your house. It's home. It's not so stuffy. It's a little more laid-back and easy-going.'

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.