Sun City Willowcreek, Sun City. George Fazio with Tom Fazio, 1973.

Don’t come here expecting to find traces of the architect Tom Fazio became once he went out on his own. To be honest, I find it a little odd that Del Webb got Tom’s uncle out to Arizona to design this course (along with the executive course that leaves from the same clubhouse) as this, along with Edgewood Tahoe and a course at Turtle Bay on Oahu, are the only George Fazio designs west of the Central Time Zone.

It goes to show there’s only so much anyone can do within the constraints of a master-planned community where, no doubt, the golf course corridor was decided on long before any Fazio ever saw the site and not for reasons having anything to do with golf. Most of the Sun City courses are pretty alike, and as such I tend to slot them together into their own decile, more or less. But play enough of them and it’s clear some are better than others.

The courses at Sun City Grand, for example, are 25-30 years newer than Willowcreek and have more humps and hollows and obvious features, but I’ll take the relative simplicity of this course any day. The bunkers here are deep enough to make you think about your shots, every hole exists in a two hole-wide corridor, which is much preferable to the mostly single hole corridors at newer courses, and the older courses can be walked, which you can’t as easily do at so many newer courses where you tend to cross a road after every third hole.

#4 has no bunkers but a push can find a pond to the right side

Both nines play out and back from the clubhouse with a small creek dividing the holes and the occasional pond. The back nine here reminded me a bit of the inward half at Pebblebrook at Sun City West, though I suppose I should have that the other way around, given that this course came a decade earlier. In any event I suppose the similarity is mostly thanks the the Sun City planners. In terms of actual holes I was actually reminded of a different Sun City West course—the 14th at Willowcreek is a 327-yard par 4 with a blind water hazard if you drive too far; in that way it reminds me of the 14th at Trail Ridge, a slightly longer hole, but similar in that you need to be careful with how far you hit your drive (or, as with the hole at Willowcreek) keep it well left to avoid a penalty that is largely blind from the tee.

The most notable hole at Willowcreek, to me, may be entirely benign to many. The 15th is a 180-yard par 3 and while there appeared to be several potential tee boxes to choose from, the day I played the setup crew had put the markers on the tee box directly behind a good size pine tree. On the fifth, a shorter hole, I noted the right third or so of the green was blocked from view by trees, but a short iron would easily clear the branches—that was a visual hazard, more often than a physical one. At 15, however, from this particular tee, the entire green was blocked from view and, given the length of the hole even getting over the tree with the tee shot is a concern. All the more so because even clipping the tree is likely to result in a shot that finds the water. There’s a tee box to the right of this one with a clear view and the shorter tee box to the left also with a clear view so why they are even bothering to maintain this tee, let alone put the markers there, is kind of a mystery on a course played mostly by seniors and that tips out at a slope of 122.

You can see the bunkers framing the green from the tee at #15 but the green itself is blocked by this tree, at least from this tee box

But for the most part this is a pleasant walk with just enough interest to make you feel like you earned the good score you’re likely to shoot. There’s not really much difference between this course and a basic muni. It’s not the kind of course to go out of your way to play, even if you live here, but you’ll probably have a nice enough day if this is where you find yourself.

Arizona 9th Decile [2022]

The green at #12, looking down the fairway of #13 (left) and #16 (right)