Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Phoenix, AZ and play a round at Raven Golf Club. This was my first trip out to Phoenix and when scouting the area for a course to play, I quickly honed in on Raven Golf Club. A 7,078-yard, par-72 championship golf course designed by an Arizona based architect Gary Panks and two-time major champion David Graham from Australia. Raven is widely regarded by locals and visitors to the area as the best golf course in Phoenix. In fact, leading up to my trip to Phoenix many of the golfers I talked with had played Raven and were jealous of my upcoming travel plans. Most people are more familiar with Raven Golf Club than they realize; Bubba Watson made the course famous when he chose Raven as the perfect place to debut his BW1 hovercraft. A video clip from that event went viral with well over 9 million views on YouTube.
Needless to say, I was excited about the trip and had high expectations heading to the course. Phoenix is one of the most popular meeting destinations in the world hosting millions of visitors every year. Located only five miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Raven makes it easy for golfers to slip in a round golf during a business trip or boondoggle. When playing Raven, you’ll want to be sure to arrive early and take advantage of their first-class practice facility complete with putting green, chipping green with bunker, and large grass hitting area complete with 5 target greens. Another tip and something every golfer should keep in their golf bag is a USB charging cable for your mobile phone. The golf carts have a USB port to charge your phone, but you’ll need to bring your own cable. This will come in handy if you plan to use Raven’s phone app which includes a GPS enabled yardage guide, 3D flyovers, and live scoring.
Now that you know the lay of the land, it’s time to hit the course. Raven bills itself as “A lush oasis in the desert” and I couldn’t agree more. It was a bit of a shock, I mean when I think of Phoenix, lush green grass and tall pine trees don’t come to mind. My expectation was more desert sand and cactus. Typically, courses in desert regions like Arizona and Nevada end up as target golf where errant shots end up in the rocky desert terrain closely surrounding the course. Raven is the opposite, in fact most of my errant shots just ended up in the rough or in the pine trees. The course layout features rolling fairways framed by thousands of mature pine trees. The course features large multi-tiered greens which are well protected by both sand and grass bunkers. The best playing tip for the course is when hitting into the green beware of the false fronts. If you don’t hit enough club to carry to the safe spots on the greens you’ll have several 3 putts during the round.
Raven’s signature hole has to be the Par 3 7th hole, stretching 221 yards with water up the entire left side that’s shadowed by a massive bunker, both running all the way to the green. Although it’s ranked as the 13th handicap hole you’re sure to be intimidated on the tee-box. Like most holes on the course, the 7th green is protected by a false front so just because you clear the water and bunker you’ll need to make sure you have enough club to hold the green, trust me you’ll be more than happy to walk away with par.
While the 7th gets all the attention, one of the best holes on the course is the preceding Par 4. The 6th hole is a slight dog leg right with water up the left side and a strategically placed fairway bunker takes driver out of your hands making the hole play longer than the 428 yards on the card. Chances are you’ll have a long iron shot into the double tiered green which is protected on the right side by one of the deepest bunkers on the course, again you’ll want to beware of the false edges all around the green.
The biggest challenge on the back 9 comes from the Par 5 17th. The 2nd handicap hole of course is the longest on the back 9 at 593 yards. After 16 holes in the Phoenix heat, it will feel more like 693 yards. Even with a great tee shot reaching the green in two, will be nearly impossible. If you do decide to go for it in two, chances are high that you will end up in the bunker complex which is much shorter of the green than it looks from the fairway. If you have enough gas in your tank and go in with a three-shot plan you’ll have a good chance at walking away with par or better.
Raven Golf Club Course Rating: 4.25 / 5 Stars
Walking away from Raven, I was thoroughly impressed and surprised by the luscious green course layout and the immaculate course conditions. The staff at the club take great pride in their course and it shows, keeping a course green in the desert is a huge challenge and they have it down to a science at Raven Golf Club. Whether you’re a local resident or one of the many visitors to the area, Raven Golf Club should be at the top of your list of golf courses to play in Phoenix. However, popularity has its downside. I played the course on a Tuesday afternoon and couldn’t believe how busy the course was, it felt more like a Saturday than a Tuesday. As you can imagine, this had a negative impact on the pace of play and the overall rating for the course. Beyond a slow pace of play, there isn’t a lot to complain about, the conditions are pristine and the course offers several tee box options which helps make the course as easy or as hard as you desire. If you find yourself in Phoenix and need a place to play, don’t look any further, book a tee time at Raven.