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Spring training's Arizona golf Surprise: Cheap convenience in Sun Village's immaculate par 3

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
Sun Village Golf Course - Par 3 Golf Course
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Sun Village is a par 3 golf course that's receives obsessive conditioning. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

If you're in Surprise, Arizona to catch a spring training game, check out Sun Village, a golf course less than five minutes from the stadium that's just too tempting to pass up.

SURPRISE, Ariz. - The banner calls out to some spring training fans who pass it on the road to Surprise Stadium like a siren beckoning ships at sea. Or at least like a girl with a surgically enhanced bosom straining against a clinging white T-shirt luring you into Hooters.

"Golf - Public Welcome" it reads in big red letters.

If you've just watched the Texas Rangers or Kansas City Royals - Surprise Stadium's co-tenants - on one of those super-sun-intensity Arizona March days, and you like golf, a course less than five minutes from the ballpark is too tempting to pass up. If you're smart, perhaps you left in the fifth inning in a birdie bolt, knowing that the regulars are long gone after two at-bats max in spring training games. Or maybe you stayed the whole game, only to decide that the best way to beat the traffic is to avoid it by stopping to swing.

Sun Village is waiting for you. But it may not be quite what you expect.

Pass through the gate, and you've entered an adult-living community. No residents under 55 years of age allowed. Though all golfers are welcome to play.

The Sun Village golf course turns out to be a par 3. The upside is that it may be the most meticulously maintained par 3 in the West. Sun Village residents take their 2,000-yard, 18-hole course seriously. As seriously as most of us take cancer research.

Sun Village's community association recently hired Stan Swanton - the longtime greenskeeper at Gainey Ranch Golf Club, a private, 27-hole full course with a good rep - to be its full-time course superintendent. This is the equivalent of a corner store hiring the director of Homeland Security to prevent kids from lifting candy bars.

Of course, it means that Sun Village's par 3 has green fairways to die for.

This is the par 3 of all par 3s with more water on its back nine then 90 percent of full-length courses. Is it embarrassing to run through a sleeve and a half of golf balls on a par 3? Hell yes. It's even worse when old guys with arthritic hips are cackling as your balls go plop, though.

Come golf Sun Valley and watch kindly grandmothers turn their heads away to save you shame.

"It's hard on anyone the first time here," one assured me earnestly.

At least she also offered to send me some home-baked chocolate chip cookies in a care package. No joke.

That's the thing about Sun Village, it's a golf experience like no other. In fact, it's more of a life experience. Make that a Lifetime Movie.

If you ever saw the otherwise-largely-forgettable flick "In Her Shoes," when Cameron Diaz hides out in a retirement community after sleeping with her sister's boyfriend, you'll understand what it's like to golf in Sun Village. Sans the smoking hot blonde in a string bikini, of course.

Instead, you get a dignified gray-haired woman sitting behind the counter in the modest clubhouse, dryly observing, "I guess you won't be playing on the resident's rate. You look a tad young for that."

If you go in with the right spirit (i.e. several beers down from the ballpark), Sun Village turns into a most unexpected blast.

What the golf course lacks in length, it makes up for in long waits. Tiger Woods recently complained about slow play on the PGA Tour? You haven't even experienced slow play until you've played a par 3 full of retired folks with nowhere to go post-round.

There wasn't traffic on the tees. There were virtually tea parties on the benches. If you're into the kind of condo association gossip that often undid Morty Seinfeld, this could be your mini heaven, though.

It doesn't help that the course received the type of routing that a lost guy who won't stop for directions usually ends up on. After putting out on No. 2, you have to avoid walking to the tee that's almost right next to the green you just finished on (this logically enough is No. 5, not 3) and take a long walk through streets of low-lying homes, make a right and a left and finally reach the third tee.

"You'll get lost several times," the clubhouse lady assured me.

But at least you'll get to see several guys with socks up past their knees mowing their lawns along the way!

The Verdict on Sun Village golf

No one travels to play Sun Village. Unless they're going to a spring training game. Then, it's a fun stop, a fitting top off to the day.

You'll always remember the characters - and you'll play with plenty of them as the course fills up with regulars for $10 all-you-can-play golf in the afternoons. As an outsider, you'll have to fork over $14.

Even though you have to stop at a gate and get a day pass to enter the community for your golf round, it's a pretty welcoming environment. If you didn't happen to haul your golf clubs to the baseball game (and who does?), Sun Village's shop has full sets, including plenty of left handers, you can rent for $3.

When you go to return them, you'll likely find the golf shop door bolted shut. The shop closes at 4:30 p.m. sharp every day. Hey, this is an adult living community. You think someone's sitting in the shop while the early-bird specials go by?

So to return the rental clubs, you just stick them outside, up against the pop machine. At least that's what the hairdresser taking a smoke break told me.

Of course, by the time you get to the second hole, you'll probably feel a little silly about lugging around a complete set of irons. These aren't close to Tom Fazio's vision of a par 3. They're short and shorter. You'd be fine with a 9-iron, a pitching wedge and a putter.

Even then, there's a good chance you'll overshoot a few greens.

"Whoa, big guy," a regular called out from one tee over (they're not shy at Sun Village) as I airmailed a 90-yard hole. "This ain't Augusta. Don't be knocking out my window."

Welcome to Sun Village. You can't help but laugh and smile. Especially when you know you don't have to stay a while.

Surprise spring training hotels

There's a Hotel Inn Express that's close enough to Surprise Stadium to be hit by a mammoth home run blast.

If you want more luxurious and golf-centric lodging, Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa is 11 miles away with its plush, recently made over rooms and three full golf courses - including two Robert Trent Jones Sr. designs.

Fast Facts

There are 1,382 homes in Sun Village and more than 2,500 residents.

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Sun Village Golf Course - WaterSurprise Stadium

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Sun Village Par 3 Golf

    Carolyn wrote on: Jan 15, 2012

    It is fun, it is friendly, it is challenging to your short game. Water will eat your balls on the back nine. Great fun for warm up or practice round. But the, who isn't practicing??


  • Sun Village Golf Course

    Leo Gormley wrote on: Sep 19, 2011

    Can't wait to return to Sun Village and "our" par 3 golf course. Played all spring and summer in Washington State. All of my par 3's together don't add up to a decent round at Sun Village.


  • Sun Village Golf Course

    Sheila Bowman wrote on: Feb 14, 2011

    Having lived at Sun Village for 10 years, this was a kick to read and brought back pleasant memories of my days on this golf course.