By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
Few desert-style courses in Phoenix are as lush or mature as Maryvale Golf Course, with its huge 1960s-era trees and long stretches of turf that are neither tan nor taupe. It is considered an oasis in the otherwise urban surroundings of west Phoenix.
Grand Canyon University intends to enhance that setting even further when it redesigns the course next year through a 30-year operating agreement approved Thursday by the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board.
As part of the agreement, GCU will oversee plans to create new tee boxes, shape brand-new greens, extend fairways, enhance bunkers, update practice facilities and build a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse, among other features, to reach its goal of making Maryvale a golf destination.
The public course, located just three miles west of GCU’s main campus at 5902 W. Indian School Road, will undergo its major facelift beginning in January. The course will be closed until October 2015 as GCU directs construction and assumes control of operations.
GCU President and CEO Brian Mueller said the Antelopes men’s and women’s NCAA Division I golf teams will use Maryvale as their home course. He added that the course could host college or high school tournaments after it is extended to 7,200 yards from its current length of about 6,500 yards.
“We want to make west Phoenix a golf destination,” Mueller said. “Our intent is to make Maryvale Golf Course a tremendous community asset as well as a tremendous university asset.”
The city will continue to set Maryvale greens fees, which range from $16 to $43 depending on the time of year. GCU will have naming rights under the agreement.
The deal was finalized Thursday with the parks board vote, though Mueller said GCU has worked with city parks officials for several months to gauge community interest, finalize proposals and glean feedback from Maryvale’s men’s and women’s golf clubs.
The golf course project is the latest GCU effort to spearhead west Phoenix revitalization. The University has forged multiple public-private partnerships with the city of Phoenix on public safety, blight abatement and mentorship of K-12 students, in addition to the redevelopment of aging properties in the Canyon Corridor community around Camelback Road from Interstate 17 to 35th Avenue.
Mueller said he envisions the University hosting casual employee team-building outings at the redesigned Maryvale Golf Course in the future. He also sees students working at the course, including those involved with the golf management program the University plans to launch next year.
“This is going to be a great walking golf course,” Mueller said. “Desert courses, you can’t really remember one hole from the next, they all look the same. This is a traditional golf course. People are going to remember the holes.”
Some greens could be moved closer to water hazards to make par-3s more challenging, for example. Mueller said crews will preserve many trees and remove others so the existing ones can thrive.
“You can’t find many places like that in Arizona,” Mueller said. “They planted those trees in the early ’60s, and they’re full grown.”
The course was originally designed by William Bell, who designed the U.S. Open Championship course at Torrey Pines South in San Diego.
In his 2010 book, “Maryvale Golf Course: The First 50 Years,” local golfer and writer William Godfrey highlighted the course’s rich history and its longstanding ties to professional golf. But Godfrey also noted that a “neighborhood demographic shift,” community blight and the sport’s waning popularity all have contributed to the course’s struggles, especially in an era with such enhanced competition in consumer recreation.
“It will take the efforts of many to maintain a golfing experience that has held up for decades,” Godfrey wrote.
In an announcement to District 5 residents, Phoenix City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela said he hoped the course would remain economically priced and available to the public, as it was when he learned how to play golf on Maryvale Golf Course as a kid living in west Phoenix.
Valenzuela said his hometown course is projected to lose more than $239,000 this year and has struggled financially in recent years.
"The investment Grand Canyon University is prepared to make in the Maryvale Golf Course is another example of their commitment to our community,” Valenzuela said in a statement.
“The golf course will remain a public course for our residents to enjoy and will become even more of a tremendous asset to the city and state," he said. "I applaud the city's Parks & Recreation Board for their approval of this agreement and Grand Canyon University for further investing in our community. This truly is a win-win for Phoenix."
Contact Michael Ferraresi at [email protected] or 602-639-7030.