The numbers add up: GCU Golf Course scores

GCU Golf Course has become known around the Valley for its pristine greens.

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

“Forced carry” is golf terminology for a shot that must clear a hazard or obstacle. In Arizona, that usually means a wide swath of crusty desert filled with bushes, rocks and, yes, snakes.

Not exactly where you want to go.

A typical fairway at the course has plenty of trees -- but no forced carries.

But Grand Canyon University Golf Course has become a go-to destination because it provides a welcome break from forced carries.

How welcome? Just listen to Murphy Alexander list the reasons why he drives 40 minutes from North Scottsdale to play it about once a week:

“It’s accessible and affordable to get on, and it’s a great, quality course. I also play a ton of desert golf, so it’s nice to get a parkland-style course rather than playing target golf all the time.

“But I think probably my favorite thing about it is they have some of the best greens in the Phoenix area. They’re always in good condition.”

It helps explain why General Manager Jesse Mueller projects 58,500 rounds this year, an eye-popping number considering that in 2014, before GCU completely remodeled the site into a championship layout, the old Maryvale Golf Course hosted just 35,000 rounds and lost $250,000.

It was in danger of closing when GCU stepped in.

The course has become a popular destination for tournaments because of its playability.

The course has consistently hosted 40 to 60 tournaments a year, Mueller said, and there was another big event Thursday. The Arizona Sports Partner Golf Tournament, part of its daylong Holiday Heroes benefit for Operation Santa Claus, returned for a fourth year.

There are several reasons for that, said Ilene Thompson, Director of Partner & Community Services for KTAR News 92.3 FM, 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station and ESPN 620 AM.

First, GCU’s community-oriented mission aligns with that of her organization. “It’s sort of a natural relationship to have,” she said.

Second, Mueller has been so accommodating. “Jesse is great to work with over there,” she said.

Third, there’s the golf course itself. The participants in her tournament sound just like Alexander.

“They really like it. They enjoy the tournament,” Thompson said. “It’s relaxing for the golfers. They’re pleasantly surprised when they get out there. Honestly, I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback.”

Finally, there’s the spacious clubhouse, which can seat up to 150 people in its inside-outside dual space (“Not a lot of courses in the area have that,” Mueller said) but also features a separate enclosed area for 98.7 to do its broadcasts on the day of the tournament.

The course's clubhouse is big enough to comfortably host post-tournament get-togethers.

“It’s a great setup for us,” Thompson said. “We do the post-event reception afterward – there’s plenty of room in there.”

Her sentiments help explain why some tournaments have been moved to GCU from well-known East Valley courses.

It is the site of fundraisers for the City of Phoenix, the Phoenix Sports Hall of Fame, Alhambra School District, St. Vincent de Paul and Bourgade Catholic High School, and the recent Students Inspiring Students Golf Classic raised more than $300,000 for GCU’s landmark program that provides full-tuition scholarships to qualified neighborhood students.

The course also contributes to the community and the campus in other ways.

It has 26 full-time employees and 40 student workers.

It is the home of the GCU men’s and women’s golf teams and hosts their tournaments.

Members of those teams help conduct the free, twice-a-month junior golf clinics.

It's a great place for junior golfers to learn the game and features twice-a-month clinics for them.

And it is host to the high school golf teams from Maryvale, Alhambra and Trevor Browne.

What makes the course even more interesting is that it has a split personality.

From the white tees, set up for the average player, it’s an inviting 6,127 yards, with just enough trees, hazards and bunkers to provide a solid challenge.

But from the purple tees, designed to test the big hitters on the college level, it’s 7,239 yards with a 642-yard par-5 (No. 3), five par-4s of at least 460 yards and an average length of 205 yards on the four par-3s. Most courses don't have a single hole reaching any of those lengths.

No wonder the number of rounds has steadily increased from 44,567 in 2019 to 54,579 in 2020 to this year’s big number. Word has gotten around.

People from the Midwest often say it reminds them of the courses where they grew up – people like Alexander, a Minnesota native. When his golfing friends visit, he makes sure one of their rounds is at GCU.

Water hazards on both sides of the course challenge players of all skill levels.

Desert golf has its moments, but …

“It’s cool for a while, but after awhile you’re sick of hitting to little target spots that you can’t see sometimes,” he said.

The course also has improved his game. When he first started playing there five years ago, he was a 10 handicap. Now he's between a 1 and 1.5, which means that he generally expects his score to be somewhere close to the par of 71.

“I’ve gotten way better, but the challenge is still there,” he said.

Which shows that Arizona golf doesn't have to be filled with forced carries -- or snakes. By comparison, GCU Golf Course is a walk in the park.   

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Related content:

GCU Today: GCU Golf Course has become a shining attraction

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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