GCU Golf Course has become a shining attraction

The greenery of GCU Golf Course stands out amid densely populated west Phoenix.

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Brian Mueller was delighted as he stood before a press conference on that sunny January day five years ago, presenting the rise of Grand Canyon University Golf Course from the despair and disrepair of what had been Maryvale Golf Course.

The par-3 13th is a typical hole on the course. It rewards a good shot but has several ways -- water, sand, undulating green -- to punish a bad one. "The challenge on this golf course is the par-3s," GCU President Brian Mueller said.

The GCU President had seen the potential. He believed in it. But even he was surprised.

“It turned out even better than we thought,” he said.

And now it’s clear that the golfing public is every bit as delighted with the transformation.

In its sixth year of operation, GCU Golf Course is on track for close to 60,000 rounds in 2021 … after hosting 55,000 last year … and 45,000 the year before that … compared to just 35,000 before GCU shut it down in 2015 for a renovation and redesign that took a full year to complete.

The word is out: There’s a gem at Indian School Road and 59th Avenue, and people are coming from all over the Valley to see its sparkle.

Jesse Mueller, here playing in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, is the Director of Golf at the course.

Jesse Mueller, Brian’s son and the club’s Director of Golf, sees it on Thursdays when he walks into the pro shop. Tee times open up online nine days in advance, and when he looks at the reservations for the Saturday nearly a week and a half away, he invariably sees that it is filled up until the early afternoon.

They’re coming for the savings. While many greens fees at most Valley golf courses are well into triple digits during the more manageable spring weather, GCU Golf Course charges only $89 on weekends and $69 on weekdays, and it’s a mere $64 on weekends and $54 on weekdays for golfers with a City of Phoenix card (which can be purchased at any city course).

But they’re also coming for the golf course. Not only is it affordable. It’s also fun and playable, and the greens are immaculate.

“I think the course is continuing to improve and mature,” Jesse Mueller said. “Our superintendent (Brett Dodeward) is doing a good job of filling in the grass and getting everything grown in. The greens are in really nice shape.”

Brian Mueller, an avid golfer who raised his four sons to treasure the game in the same way (Jesse has played on the PGA Tour), loves the fact that the course is atypical.

GCU President Brian Mueller (center) was interviewed for the TV segment by Phoenix city councilwoman Betty Guardado (right). They were joined at the session by junior golfer Alan Quezada from Maryvale, who said he got his start in the sport thanks to Jesse Mueller and plays the course regularly.

Most desert courses are carved out of scrub and brush, and off-line shots usually wind up in terrain better suited to rattlesnakes than human visitors. Lost balls are as common as double bogeys.

GCU Golf Course, on the other hand, reminds Mueller of his native Wisconsin. It has no desert scrub, only trees – lots and lots of trees – to go with several strategically placed lakes. Just as importantly for many golfers, it’s not one of those courses where every hole has houses on both sides of the fairway. There’s room to maneuver.

“The course runs right to left, and most ordinary golfers fade the ball,” he said. “So hardly ever does a ball go out of bounds. You might go in the rough or in the trees, but you can find the ball and play it.”

The new clubhouse was built when the course was renovated.

Friday, Mueller expanded those thoughts in an interview conducted by Betty Guardado, District 5 Councilwoman for the City of Phoenix, for a future segment that will appear on Channel 11 and YouTube.

He talked about how his four boys used to play in the Santa Claus Classic every year at Maryvale and how much the course had meant to them. When the city was considering shutting it down, he couldn’t let that happen to a facility only three miles from campus.

“It’s a gem because these trees were planted in the early ’60s,” he said. “This is a parkland course in the middle of a desert. So it’s all grass and these big, beautiful trees and tree-lined fairways. You’ve got beautiful lakes.

The 18th green sits right in front of the clubhouse, where diners can eat outside on the patio.

“It had fallen into a little bit of disrepair. It was losing money. We were just fearful that it would be lost to the community, and so we agreed to take it over. To be honest with you, we probably put too much money into it – we put $11 million into the course and hired a world-class architect (John Fought). That architect was excited because of how beautiful this piece of land is.”

Fought did such a good job with it, it hasn’t been changed at all in its five-plus years other than changing the order of the nines – what was the 10th hole now is the first, and vice versa. That put the 18th hole right in front of the clubhouse, where diners can sit on the patio of the Lope House restaurant and watch the golfers come in.

The course also is the home of the GCU men's and women's golf teams.

The Lope House is another reason why this is a community treasure. You don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy breakfast or lunch there, and it’s open until late afternoon.

“It’s a beautiful place,” Mueller said. “It serves the golf course but it also serves the community. Everybody is welcome. The menu is typical American cuisine. It’s great food, it’s priced very low, the service is good. You can have indoor, you can have outdoor seating.”

The Lope House sits in a clubhouse that also was built from scratch while Fought turned a tired municipal course into a layout that challenges college golfers but also is fair and inviting to lesser players.

Jesse Mueller is considering turning a handful of the course’s 128 bunkers into undulating grass this summer, but no other changes are planned. It’s business as usual, and business is booming.

“We’re on the same pace as last year,” he said. “That’s a lot of golfers going through the doors. We’re just … busy.”

And busy proving that a Midwest-style course in the middle of Phoenix can rise again, better than ever.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Sun shines on bright future for GCU Golf Course

GCU Magazine: 18 ways GCU Golf Course provides key links

GCU Today: GCU set for Maryvale Golf Course redevelopment


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