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Worth the trip: The Rim Golf Club in Payson, Arizona offers a luxurious experience

Scott BordowBy Scott Bordow,
The Rim Golf Club in Payson, Arizona - hole 9
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The ninth hole at The Rim Golf Club, a 533-yard par 5, plays to an elevated, split-level green. (Courtesy of The Rim G.C.)

PAYSON, Ariz. -- For 10 years, The Rim Golf Club was like the Faberge egg on display at a museum.

You could look at it. You could admire its beauty. But you could not touch it.

The 7,115-yard, par-72 layout about 75 miles northeast of Scottsdale opened as a private club in 1999. It remained that way until the recession forced its owners to generate more revenue and open the course to the public in the summer of 2009.

The result: Weekend hackers now receive the opportunity to play one of the most beautiful –- and demanding –- golf courses in Arizona. They discover a facility that takes your breath away and luxuries you won't find at the neighborhood municipal –- like magazine racks in every bathroom stall.

"People are blown away, really, at a lot of things," said Bobby Trunzo, director of golf at The Rim Golf Club. "First of all, they're amazed the drive is as easy as it is. Then they get here, and they're kind of awestruck by the facility, the quality of the golf course and the conditions."

The 148 members of The Rim Golf Club still come first. The public isn't allowed on the golf course until after 10 a.m. And even then, Trunzo takes care not to fill up every available tee time.

"That's been one of the challenges for us and the staff," he said. "We have to find a way to make sure our members still have special treatment. That's why we don't herd people through here like cattle and pump in 150 rounds per day."

Consider yourself blessed if you get a starting time. Fees range from $99 to $120, depending on the time of day.

The Tom Weiskopf-Jay Morrish design is so easy on the eyes, particularly the unobstructed views of the Mogollon Rim, that sometimes, you forget the numbers on the scorecard.

But make no mistake, beneath all that beauty lurks a monster that will test your game and your patience. Generally, private clubs cater to low-handicap players. Morrish and Weiskopf designed The Rim Golf Club with that in mind.

Five of the par 4s measure 450 yards or longer. Two par 5s that stretch beyond 575 yards. Compounding the difficulty, most of the holes play uphill. And if the wind happens to be against you, well, you better hit the heck out of your 3-wood.

"There are some holes that are incredibly long," said Dave Bosley, a member of The Rim Golf Club for six years. "On the other hand, there are a number of holes even a 10-handicapper can play with a drive and a wedge."

So says the scratch golfer. Trust me, there aren't many of wedges pulled out for approach shots. And that's with the balls traveling an additional 10 percent because of the 5,000-foot elevation.

Now, that's not to suggest The Rim Golf Club is unplayable. Far from it. But it's crucial, given the elevation changes, that golfers pick the right set of tees. Take the par-3 eighth hole, guarded by a lake to the left of the green. It plays 225 yards from the tips but only 158 yards from the gold tees.

"This is one of those courses you need to play multiple times to get a feel for it," Trunzo said. "The first five, six or seven rounds I played here, I was kind of overwhelmed by the course."

Even then, The Rim Golf Club ranks as a must-play because of the scenery, the course conditions -– its bentgrass greens are among the best in the state -– and the completely different feel from desert golf in the Valley around Phoenix.

Just appreciate the views and accept that your scorecard might get beat up. The Rim Golf Club is worth the trade-off.

The Rim Golf Club: The verdict

There are dozens of first-class courses in the Valley. But golfers will do themselves a disservice if they don't make the 90-minute trip to Payson and play The Rim Golf Club. It is, simply, an incredible experience in every way, from the service to the scenery to the golf course itself. If you're traveling to Arizona, put it on the itinerary. You can thank me later.

Stay and play at The Rim Golf Club

The city of Payson offers several chain hotels and restaurants, but golfers can also stay in Scottsdale and make the drive. The top dining option in Payson, Fargo's Steak House, sits less than a five-minute drive from the golf course.

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The Rim golf course - hole 13The Rim Golf Club - hole 16

Scott Bordow is the golf columnist for the Arizona Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @sbordow.

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

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