Opened in 1988, the Canyon course at Forest Highlands was created by the design duo of Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. It is currently the premier golf course in the State of Arizona.
The Canyon is one of two courses on the Forest Highlands 1,100-acre site (the Meadow course is the other layout which opened in 1999). As the name implies, it is set amongst Ponderosa Pine, Oak and Aspen trees at 7,000 feet above sea level.
Host venue for the 2006 US Mid-Amateur Championship, the Canyon is routed through the forest and every manicured bluegrass fairway is tree-lined. Changes in elevation, streams and naturally, canyons are all features of the course. There are also some amazing vistas to drink in around the course.
The Canyon course at Forest Highlands has some stunning holes and perhaps the best is the 9th, known as “Valley”, and it’s also the signature hole. This 466-yard par four double-doglegs to a green with water to the right of the putting surface. Another great hole is the 17th, called “Aspen”. It’s a short par four where you drive over a small stream and then dogleg left to a pretty green nestling in the trees.
The Meadow is good layout but the issue is that it must compete against the highly successful Canyon Course -- which Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish also designed. The issue for many facilities is if more than one course is likely to happen -- it's far better off to have two different architects do the work so as not to have one course be seen as inferior to the other. That was the brilliance of Mike Keiser when creating several uniquely different courses at the Bandon Dunes complex in Oregon.
Unlike the Canyon Course which is routed through rugged canyons and rocky outcrops -- the Meadow is as its name states. The holes are not as varied as those on the big brother layout and the general sense I left with was feeling the experience was rather empty.
Similar to movies it's often best to realize sequels very rarely equal or exceed the original. It's best to get a different director and create a completely different vision. The Meadow provides more golf holes -- just not memorable ones.
by M. James Ward
Since its opening over 30 years ago the Canyon Course at Forest Highlands has received much praise. Clearly, the course has its advantages. One of the main ones is being located at an elevation of 7,000+ feet. For those who want to leave the searing heat of the Phoenix metro area the escape in summer time to Flagstaff is a most welcome benefit. Just keep in mind -- temperatures can swing dramatically -- even in the late spring and early fall it's very possible for snow to fall.
The most enduring element of the design comes from the realization that at the given altitude the golf ball will travel considerable more distance. Knowing that the course is summer retreat for owners of property and their guests -- the design duo of Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf created a smart routing that includes no less than six par-3 holes. Starting at the 4th hole and ending with the 14th -- every other hole is a par-3. The designers knew full well that to create par-4 holes -- especially long ones -- would require a good amount of acreage and the impact that the higher elevation would cause to happen.
The first third of course is rather benign -- nothing to really get the pulse going.
Things do change when you get to the dog-leg left par-4 7th. The 476-yard-hole allows for the bold play as the hole turns a good bit to the left and for those who succeed a much shorter approach. The par-3 8th that follows is a solid hole to a green that is well protected.
The most striking hole -- visually -- comes at the 9th. You begin play from an elevated tee and the view is nothing short of mesmerizing. The par-4 of 466 yards descends into a valley area. There is a solitary ponderosa pine which adds a good bit of character to the hole. Two bunkers are in the drive zone and must be avoided. Morrish and Weiskopf created a first rate putting surface connected to the par-5 18th hole. The approach must fly over a frontal water hazard and the pin can be placed in two different areas -- back right is most challenging.
The back nine weaves its way around a cluster of homes which are pushed far enough back away from the actual play. The holes in the stretch are satisfactory but not especially compelling from an architectural standpoint.
The concluding two holes are well worth noting.
The par-4 17th is an excellent usage of the terrain and provides the opportunity for a driveable par-4 for the most capable of players. At 387 yards you begin play from an elevated tee -- the hole turns sharply left and for those who wish to take a shot at the green must carry a series of ponderosa pines that guard the left side. There's an alleyway of fairway provided for those who can successfully carry the ball in that direction. To the architect's credit -- there's also a safe play to the right leaving an approach with a more demanding angle. The brilliance of the hole is that there's not one bunker included. The land is artfully used and the strategic calculations a player must make are top shelf for sure.
The concluding par-5 is just under 600 yards and brings you home in fine fashion. The fairway has two sections -- getting in play is essential as this allows more choices to be made. Players able to work the ball right-to-left off the tee can follow the shape of the fairway. The green hugs a tree line and there is a protecting pond that's well-positioned. There is a landing area provided for those playing the hole as a three-shot sequence. Long hitting players can opt to go for the green but the play must be well-executed because the slightest pull to the left will mean a quick donation to the Forest Highlands ball fund.
Morrish and Weiskopf did a fine job in creating a fun course meant for the day-to-day audience of seasonal property owning members and their guests. The Canyon Course has been often touted as being one of the best courses in Arizona and for a time a member of various top 100 courses in America. I don't doubt the merits of the course and salute what the architects did with the final routing. However, the quality of the golf throughout the Grand Canyon State has certainly come up considerably since the courser first opened and for me personally given the sheer number of courses I have played in the state I would no longer have it among my personal top ten. Interestingly, for many coming to Arizona for the first time may not realize the sheer diversity in terrain in the Grand Canyon State - especially at higher elevations. Creating a course that provides total elasticity for those generally playing there has worked very well. A second 18 was also added a few years later and is located on more flat meadow type land.
by M. James Ward
Forest Highlands could easily make my Top 10 list. Designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, the property is nestled in among tall pine trees that frame the snowcapped San Francisco Peaks in the distance. Elevation changes abound at Forest Highlands, and many of the holes play downhill through those towering pines. The course is only open in the summer, and we were blessed with a perfect day. We were blown away by this golf experience. Larry Berle.