When setting up rounds for my Spring golf trip to Scottsdale, there were a handful of public courses I wanted to play most: Quintero, Troon North, Coore/Crenshaw’s Talking Stick and the Coore/Crenshaw Saguaro and Scott Miller Cholla courses at We-Ko-Pa.
Quintero was number one for me. I’ve looked at hundreds of pictures of the course and its natural surrounds, and while plenty of the pictures were stunning there were just so many that looked the same. In a setting that naturally magnificent, I was sure I’d be able to capture some breathtaking and original shots.
Quintero over-delivered as one of the most beautiful and demanding golf courses I can ever remember playing. In fact, it’s probably one of the most picturesque settings I’ve ever photographed, in general.
Long vistas of the Hieroglyphic Mountains, huge cacti and a wild and expansive desert landscape framed every picture.
The overcast Arizona sky that accompanied our unseasonably cold and rugged weather conditions made it even better. While most snow-birds would complain about pants weather (low-to-mid-40’s) while escaping the Midwest cold, I knew we were in for a treat and think the pictures bare proof.
Quintero was originally planned to be a private club with two courses: The Rees Jones designed Founders Course (currently Quintero Golf Club) that debuted in 2000, and a planned but never built Greg Norman designed Charter Course.
The story I was told during my Uber ride from the airport is that the outskirts-of-Peoria location was simply too far from Phoenix/Scottsdale, while also being too far from Flagstaff in the other direction to draw en masse for the nearly 300 home sites and 700 available golfing memberships.
I believe the driver that it was simply Quintero’s remoteness that didn’t allow it to thrive as a private club development. It certainly was not the golf, which immediately garnered top 100 praise from the likes of Golf Digest, GolfWeek and Golf Magazine.
And it is certainly not the dramatic natural setting that Quintero inhabits.
Still, even being an hour from Phoenix/Scottsdale, the golf is great enough to fill tee sheets at $300-plus per round during peak season.
Rees Jones has a reputation at times of over-designing golf courses. In his defense, that’s what’s been asked of him by the USGA to toughen up tournament venues as “The Open Doctor” (think Dubsdread, East Lake, Bethpage Black, Pinehurst No. 2, Medinah No. 3 and the South course at Torrey Pines – all are beautiful and a great test for the pros, but perhaps over-the-top difficult for the everyday player).
I know Rees’s work at non-US Open venues to be challenging yet thoughtful, and it’s in that vein that I view Quintero. I think he did a wonderful job of designing Quintero especially with regards to three key elements: Interesting hole layouts, beautifully set up tee shots (the only location on a golf hole where all players share the same view), and challenging but fun green surrounds.
I had a chance to speak with Rees and pick his brain a little on this at a media event a few years ago at Medinah, shortly after he’d finished work on Course 2. This guy has unbelievable knowledge of golf course architecture, turf management and designing for the challenge and enjoyment of all skill levels – Quintero’s a great example of that. The Oconee course at Reynolds Lake Oconee is another prime example that comes to mind – an incredibly interesting and aesthetically beautiful course that’s fun while providing a stern test of golf.
Let’s get this started
Following an early morning flight from Milwaukee to Phoenix International, my friend and 2019 North Hills Country Club Club Champion, Will, and I arrived with plenty of time to spare the day of our round at Quintero. We took full advantage, visiting several of the course’s most photogenic spots including the all-world par three 6th.
With no tee boxes in site (they’re all way above the green), well-spaced greenside bunkering, a nicely kept fairway approach area and massive green complex, I thought at first that it must be a short-game practice area. It’s a good thing Will had been here before.
We took the opportunity to head uphill where I was able to run dry my first couple drone batteries of the trip capturing some unique angles of a world-class golf hole.
When I told friends I was going to Scottsdale to play my first ever desert golf, everyone told me to bring extra balls. It’s target golf at its best, they said, and that was certainly the case at Quintero.
I thought I had my swing dialed in on Trackman prior to the trip. I was regularly hitting 10+ fairways/round and shooting in the low-to-mid-70’s. Even though that was from unrealistically perfect turf lies, in to a screen with no wind, putting or need to look for errant shots, I was fully expecting to play well and compete with Will and our friend and 2018 North Hills Club Champion, Charlie.
The fairways are not small at Quintero. In fact, a lot of them are 60+ yards wide, but anything missing the fairway is basically gone. Knowing that, and having the vast scale of desert landscape lingering all about creates intimidation. When you add in the strong winds we had for our round, let’s just say I was glad I listened and brought extra golf balls… Though I wish I’d’ve brought more than ProV1’s and TP5’s. I donated 11 ProV1-X’s to the rattlesnakes during my first round of the season.
The golf course
Quintero’s practice facility, about a 5- to 10-minute cart ride from the clubhouse, features a double-sided driving range that stretches over 300 yards and can be teed from both ends. Things were looking good there – I was hitting the ball long and straight – all systems were go.
The practice green near the first tee ran very similarly to the greens on the course. It was really quick, and very smooth. I had no idea what to expect of putting surfaces in the desert, and I was really impressed by Quintero’s well-kempt bent grass greens.
The very first tee shot of the day was elevated and in to a left-to-right, hurting wind – in fact, we didn’t have a single hole all day with wind at our back.
I lost my first two Titleists of the day on one – one right, the next left. So much for a welcoming handshake!
Tipping out over 570 yards and with a long carry over wasteland, the right-to-left running fairway on the par five second left a lot of room to miss laterally and was actually one of the most comfortable drives of the day for me, and one of my only hit fairways.
While there is a fairway straight ahead, it’s actually for the first half of the fifth hole and is not a split fairway, although if no one’s there it’s probably playable (albeit an even longer carry).
The third hole is a terrific example of the visual intimidation I referenced earlier. The fairway here is probably 75-100 yards wide at most spots, but beyond those borders is all lost balls – water left, desert right.
I thankfully had no idea there was wasteland in between the end of the fairway and the approach area, or there’s no way I would have gotten near this green in two.
This is one of the only areas of the course where water comes in to play.
The par four 5th introduces players to one of the factors that makes Quintero truly special: Its incredible elevation changes.
Playing directly uphill, the tee shot gives the impression you’re aiming directly in to the base of the mountain.
With views for days of the Sonoran Desert, the mid-to-long-range par three 6th features about 110 feet of drop in elevation and is one of the most picturesque golf holes I’ve ever seen.
The target is plenty large, and long from front to back, helping make up for all the questions swirling around in players’ heads about the plays-like distance. From ~ 180 yards, Will and I both hit 7-irons and had the distance just about right.
The eighth is an unbelievable par five, teeing off first to a wide fairway with plenty of room to miss left. The second shot then plays over wasteland, and significantly uphill between two peaks. I can’t imagine many could hit this green in two, making it a solid three-shot par five.
Like on six (and later on 16), the par three 9th features an unbelievably dramatic tee-to-green drop in elevation – about 60 feet, according to a past article on GolfArizona (link).
I hit a ridiculously good shot on this hole, landing the ball less than five feet from the pin. It fell from so high, though, and to such a small portion of the green that it one-hopped off the back. I didn’t care – it felt pure, and like one of my first real golf shots of the day, so I was happy.
The only par three at Quintero that’s not significantly downhill, the 13th doesn’t make things any easier on players. The tee shot here is long – around 180 yards from the first tees in, and needs to carry water to hit the green surface (Jones provided a bailout area short-right).
With the sun beginning to lower on our round and day one of my Arizona golf trip, the Peoria skies kept getting more and more beautiful at Quintero, and the great golf holes, ever-present winds and lost balls kept on coming.
The par four 15th is another stunner, and features one of the course’s narrower initial fairways and a tough to hit, elevated green. We both came up short on our approach shots, and both hit good sand shots from the deep front-right greenside bunkers.
The last of Quintero’s set of all-world par threes, the 16th plays at least 50 feet downhill (I’d think much more, but can’t find any numbers to support that online) to one of the most challenging of the course’s par three greens to hit.
While Jones’ beautiful greenside bunkering on the right side screams “Stay away,” it’s the left side that’s fraught with treachery as unplayable desert wasteland encroaches all the way to the left side of the green complex.
We both hit the traps about pin-high, and while Will was able to save par I was not.
The 16th provided a terrific backdrop for an obligatory drone selfie:
This was a tough round to put in the books, especially since my swing started coming around a little towards the end. The eighteenth played directly in to the lowering sun, another restricted fairway with long shadows creeping inward.
With around 200 total golf courses in the greater Phoenix / Scottsdale area, I’d be shocked if Quintero was not ranked one of the top overall. Indeed, Golf Digest ranks it number one among public courses in the state, and GolfWeek has it number two behind Coore/Crenshaw’s Saguaro course at We-Ko-Pa.
While we weren’t able to get on Saguaro during my trip, we were able to play the Cholla course at We-Ko-Pa. It was also spectacular, and with great changes in elevation and a wild, rugged yet refined aesthetic. I personally liked Quintero better, though, and in fact would put it immediately in to my list of the top 25 golf courses I’ve played.
While it is an incredibly challenging course, called out by its 148 slope and 75.3 rating from the tips, I think Rees Jones really hit it out of the park at Quintero. And it’s more than just the par threes, which on their own make it an unforgettable golf experience. It’s the way he incorporated the surrounding natural scenes, always framing key areas within the confines of mountain peaks, using elevation sparingly while meandering through the Sonoran Desert and building up to wow moments early and often.
Quintero Golf Club is bucket list worthy, and a true must-play for golf enthusiasts visiting the Greater Scottsdale area.
Location: Peoria, AZ
Slope/Rating: Black-148/75.3, Gold-143/73.1, Silver-137/70.7, Copper-127/68.4
Yardage: Black-7249, Gold-6875, Silver-6437, Copper-5807
Weekend Rates: Up to $385 (including cart)