If the sumptous offerings of the five star Kai restaurant weren’t enough, and they surely were, a glorious, fiery sunset in the west silhouetted the mountains in the distance and my dinner companion’s face and hers is not a face you want to disappear for too long.
The momentary natural splendour of the red flame burning behind her at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa in Chandler, Az., near Phoenix, underscored the distinct feel of the Sonoran Desert that is so prominent there, as is the Gila River Indian Community’s heritage and culture.
The taste of that heritage was never more prominent than in Kai, a word for seed in the language of the Pima tribe, which comprises the Gila community along with the Maricopas.
The taste of a region steeped in history is one that shouldn’t be missed, even if you don’t order the signature Grilled Tenderloin of Buffalo from the Cheyenne River Tribe at Kai.
A few years ago, I recall being mesmerized by the tales of cultural concierge Ginger Martin about the ground on which we stood, where the history of her people, which she cares so deeply for, comes alive in a modern setting.
Martin’s history lesson is one worth taking to help understand how culture and heritage weaves into a 500-room resort, a two-and-half-mile replica of the Gila River, four pools with waterfalls and waterslides, the Wild Horse Pass Casino, Rawhide western town and steakhouse, equestrian centre and renowned Aji Spa.
That taste of the Gila River community extends to the Whirlwind Golf Club, carved into the desert setting with the Sierra Estrella Mountains off in the distance.
“It definitely has the southwest desert flavour and they incorporate a good bit of the native feel too, which is really cool. It’s especially prominent at the resort, but it’s incorporated in our facility, as well,” said head professional Jason Sanders, adding that members of the community played a big role in the presentation.
“A lot of the naming is native. All the holes are named after what the natives actually saw as they walked through,” he said. “They named holes after specific events that happened throughout their history, or certain geographic points that are relevant to them and their community.
“The first hole of our Devil’s Claw course is called Greasy Mountain because, as you’re teeing off, it’s pointed right at what they call Greasy Mountain. All of our stones, our tee markers, have the Pima language. The idea was really to hold on to that,” said Sanders.
That culture weaves into 36 holes including Devil’s Claw and Cattail, both Gary Panks designs that, from the right tees, are playable for all skill levels.
“Devil’s Claw is really neat because it takes you away from the resort, away from civilization, kind of sticks you out there in the middle of the desert,” said Sanders. “It’s awesome. It’s a little more target golf. It’s got some deep bunkering out there and some undulating greens.”
Devil’s Claw, the site of a Nationwide Tour event for a number of years earlier this decade, stretches between 5,540 and 7,029 yards, including the par three seventh hole – “Vag che dagi Shudagi” or Dragonfly Falls – that plays 160 yards from the tips.
“It’s over water the whole way and there’s a waterfall guarding the right edge of the green and bunkers left. It’s a little downhill, elevated tees and some really cool rocks. It’s definitely a beautiful hole,” said Sanders.
The Cattail has more of a resort feel to it, stretching from 5,383 yard to 7,218 and, like Devil’s Claw, is par 72.
“It’s a little bit more lengthy, but I think a little more open, It wraps around the resort,” said Sanders, adding that another par three, the 15th – “Matkukdish” or Horn Toad – stands out in his mind.
“It’s also a downhill tee shot over a large ravine with the resort staring at you from the right and some cool bunkering around the greens,” he said.
For more information, see the websites, www.wildhorsepassresort.com, or the Arizona/Phoenix section at www.ultimategolf.ca for specials.