Billy Fuller Golf Design

There was a time when Arizona  golfers used to spend the night in their cars for a weekend  tee time at  Papago Golf Course in Phoenix. Those days have been gone for quite some time. The years, and 100,000 rounds a year, had not been kind to this 1963 William Bell classic. It was time for major reconstructive surgery.

This month, after a six-month operation and recovery, a more youthful Papago was unveiled. Now with modern greens, a 21st century irrigation system and a little more length, Papago has become a lot more than a shell of its former self; it's reinvented.

Papago now has four sets of tees, and this par 72 provides a true championship test from tips at 7,333 yards, harkening memories of its past when it hosted the 1971 U.S. Amateur Pub Links and countless Phoenix Open qualifiers.

For Papago, the task of renovation fell with Billy Fuller, a former superintendent at Augusta National Golf Club who formed his own design company, Billy Fuller Golf Design, in 2003. Not only did he bring back Bell's classic bunkering and greens complexes, but he added a few agronomic touches, which should propel the course into the next few decades or so.

The $5.8 million restoration project is a result of a partnership between the City of Phoenix, the Arizona Golf Association, and the Arizona Golf Foundation, a non-profit arm of the AGA. The project is being managed by the Golf Guys, LLC, under the direction of Marvin French, one of the principals at the highly acclaimed Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon.

Trees can make or break a golf course, and in the case of Papago, the abundance of them was starting to do the latter. For one, their canopies can make it difficult to grow grass, especially on greens. And in the case of Papago, they were obstructing the views of the nearby Papago Buttes, which are now visible from nearly every hole after 400 trees were removed. The tree removal also helped with the views of Camelback Mountain, South Mountain and downtown Phoenix.

The greens were rebuilt to USGA specifications. Fuller also restored them to their original sizes and shapes. Over the years, they had lost some 30 to 40 percent of their surface area.

The greens are also now Mini-Verde, an ultra dwarf that has gained popularity in the Southeast because of its hardiness, smoothness and cold-tolerance in the winter. The new greens will be overseeded next year when they are more mature and can handle the competition from winter grasses, according to General Manager Albert Murdock.

Fuller also took great care to restore the bunkers to their original shape and contour. Most of them, especially many of the fairway bunkers, are truly penal now. Some of the fairway bunkers were also moved farther from the tee to accommodate the modern game, and 12 new ones were added.

The lakes on Nos. 9 and 11 were also restored, not only to be more aesthetic and strategic but to also feed the new irrigation system. The course also got a more expansive driving range.

New tee boxes on holes 1, 9 and 11 added nearly 350 yards to the course to accommodate today's equipment and players, yet Papago Golf Course is very playable by all levels. Unlike most courses in the Phoenix area, this isn't desert golf; it's parkland golf. Miss a fairway and chances are you get to hit it again as it lies. There are legitimate recovery shots throughout the course, bringing all kinds of options into play.

With two medium length par 5s, a pair of par 4 holes longer than 450 yards and a 258-yard par 3, the front nine is actually longer at 3,721 yards, but the back nine may be harder.


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Phoenix, Arizona

   The 383 yard, par four,  number 5.

 Number 2.  A 386 yard par four.