Verrado GC, Buckeye. Founders Course by John Fought and Tom Lehman, 2004.
This course has suddenly jumped up the rankings over the past few years, even as high as #5 public in the state, at one point. I can’t think of much bad to say about this course, and I’m certainly glad raters seem to finally be getting out to the west side, but that’s still a bit high in my estimation.
This is somewhat of a flattering desert course—it’s not easy by any means, but it doesn’t tend to beat you up or eat a ton of golf balls.
The 13th gets a lot of discussion going—less than 300 yards but straight uphill to a blind tabletop green with two tiers and a pretty severe false front. I think the green is a bit much given how blind the approach is—a shot that finds the green doesn’t need to be punished by being on the wrong tier and I’ve watched a few too many people go over the green and then not be able to keep their chip from running off the front in my rounds here. But overall I quite like the hole, which seems to bother most people simply because it boggles their expectations. It’s so short on the card it seems as if it should be a birdie hole. In fact, it’s a tough par.
But the best holes here embrace the natural features a little more gracefully—the 7th hugs a wash thick with bushes down its right side, pushing you to play to the left, which is the longer route and where all the bunkers are. The drive on the 8th is dominated by the view of a large exposed rock wall—there’s no need to challenge it at all, but it pulls your attention from a hole where your focus is really needed for a good drive. 12 plays artfully up into the saddle of two big hills with a small bunker in the center left of the fairway, right where you’d want your drive to be. And the 15th plays over a wash, down from a hill, then back up. Mixed in are some interesting holes that are somewhat more created—the 17th is a nice late par 3 that requires no more than a short iron and the 9th offers lots of options for how to play both the drive and the approach.
There are a couple of holes here that are just too far on the plain side for my taste and the greens are large and a little too flat to really make you have to think hard with your approach, let alone your drive. So it’s not in my mind the place to come if you only have a weekend and want to see what desert golf is all about, but it is a very good course and worth the drive for most anyone else.
Arizona 1st Decile 
Verrado GC, Buckeye. Victory Course by Tom Lehman, 2017.
The highest compliment I can pay this course is that I can’t think of anything else like it in Arizona. It’s no easy trick to be unique in course design and that’s doubly true in desert environments. This course mostly occupies an area that was previously used as a testing ground for Caterpiller earthmoving equipment and many of the holes feature exposed granite and unusual boulders. But what makes it different is less that visual and more the use of width, options, and mounding.
The course must be as wide as any course can be with the turf restrictions we have in Arizona and in general uses mounds and hollows and slope as defenses more than bunkers, especially around the greens. Though the course features numerous holes where rock walls and large boulders serve as dramatic features, it’s notable that to me the most memorable holes and features were just grass—the whaleback mound short right of the 10th green, which can help steer a shot back to the green if it’s coming from the fairway, but becomes a major hazard to contend with if you have missed to the right side. Or the deep hollow on the left side of the 11th, or the hogsback mounds down the middle of the 13th fairway, or the deep grass bunker running through the fairway on 17.
The greens here tend to the big side with a good amount of slope and in a few instances some significant tiers—the green on the par-5 8th is 50 yards deep with a Biarritz swale through the middle, and the right side of the 13th green is probably 4 feet lower than the left side. Other greens more subtly offer false backs and edges that sweep middling shots away. This keeps a good player honest and interested while remaining playable for higher handicappers, which is basically my ideal from a design perspective.
Arizona 1st Decile