ASU Karsten

6,288 yards, 124 slope from the ASU Yellow “Champion” tees

Course:  The Karsten course is located at Arizona State University in Phoenix, AZ.  It’s the university’s course, but was primarily funded by Karsten Solheim, who founded PING.  The course was designed, or as he says, built, by Pete Dye in 1988-89.  I happened to be in the area recently and since I’m a big fan of PING, Pete Dye and the cool logo/colors of ASU, I decided to check out the course.

Deciding on which single course to play while in the Phoenix area is a very difficult thing to do.  There are a ton of great options, as Phoenix is obviously one of the golf capitals of the country.  TPC Scottsdale, Troon, We Ko Pa, Talking Stick; the list goes on and on.  Lots of great courses, great designs and perfect weather.  Obviously this is a location that should be considered for any golf trip, and after realizing all of the terrific options out there, I will find a way to get back.  But this time, I was looking for value since I needed to rent clubs and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish 18 holes.  This is where Karsten really stood out; for about $100, I got to play 18 holes with a set of (PING) rental clubs and an ASU hat.

The course itself provides many Pete Dye characteristics.  Mounds converge to form dog legs, steep angles and curves, severe bunkers carved into green sides and fairways and some times trouble along the entire side of a fairway.  A few blind shots and many many tempting risk reward shots.  There were only a few forced carries over desert areas on your tee shot, so the course was tame in that respect.  Fairways would widen and narrow.  Pot bunkers would appear out of no where and I didn’t realize they were there, until I landed in them.  The greens were lightning fast.  Yes, you can see Dye throughout and the best way I can characterize his theme here is subtle and consistent.

The time period when Dye built this course is also interesting.  Course architecture was just staring to experience a revelation of sorts, as Dye a couple others started breaking the mold with their own style.  This course almost screams Dye, as I imagined he was still intent on expressing his style around this time.  Juxtapose that with a course like Bulle Rock, which is one of my favorites, where Dye was more subtle with his design.  Yes, the topography at Bulle Rock allowed that to happen automatically, but it’s more than that.

I was able to walk on and teed off as a single.  The cart girl met me at the First hole and with beer pretty cheap, I was on my way with 2 of them.  To keep hydrated of course.  Rental clubs were K15’s, blue dot for some reason.  No graphite, which I just don’t understand.  No course has graphite shafts in their clubs for some reason.  I know it costs more, but would it hurt to have a bag or two with them for some variety?  The only course I was impressed with the rental club situation was TPC Louisiana.  They gave you the choice of Callaway or Titleist, bag make up and putter type.  That’s the way it should be.

The First is a 341 yard par 4.  It’s a slight dog leg right that goes gently downhill to a sunken green that is amongst a crowd of mounds that have bunkers on the right and far left of the green.  It’s a nice opener, with the real challenge of making sure your approach is on line or else you risk hitting one of the mounds, which can throw your ball in many different directions.  At the very least, you’ll likely have a tricky lie to deal with.

Second shot territory at the First.  The left side of the green is ahead, but goes well beyond the mounds on the right.

The Second is a short 296 yard par 4.  A few bunkers run across the fairway about 230 yards out, but the green is fairly large set to the left of the fairway.  I started hitting the driver well.  It was very light and seemed to really kill the ball without trying too hard.

Tee shot at the Second

The Third is a 373 yard par 4.  It’s a dog leg left, where a larger bunker guards the inside of the dog leg.  The fairway is narrower to the green, but the green is pretty large.  The fairways are surrounded on both sides by Dye’s patented mounds, creating a sunken fairway effect.  If you hit it too far to either side, you’re dealing with a nasty side hill lie or worse, it bounces to the outside of the tree line.

Tee shot at the Third

Near the dog leg at the Third

The Fourth is a 389 yard par 4.  This is the number one handicap hole, mainly because your tee and approach shots must be dead on accurate for any chance at par.  There’s a deep large pot bunker in the center of the fairway you must contend with on your tee shot, then the green is set to the left of the fairway with water along the entire left side.  Any approach that hooks, over cooks or is flat out too long goes in the drink.  And oh yeah.  Mounds every where and a narrow fairway.

Tee shot at the Fourth
Approach shot at the Fourth

The Fifth is a 462 yard par 4.  At this point, I actually looked at the score card to determine whether the course had any holes other than par 4’s.  This hole is actually a little different because it’s longer than the the holes before it.  The Fifth dog legs right after the tee shot.  A large bunker area runs along most of the right side of the hole while the green is tucked into a hill side to the right of the fairway.  There’s also tiny pot bunkers around the green, which look cute but can be a pain to get out of.  I ripped a 5 wood on my second shot that dove into one of those pot bunkers pin high; I didn’t realize it was there (although it shows up on the score card).

Approach shot at the Fifth.  Yeah, the power lines were prominent on many of the holes.

The Sixth is a 176 yard par 3.  There was a big short grass bail out area short of the green and a large bunker area way to the right, so I felt this hole was rather easy; just hit it straight and if you come up short, you have a nice lie for an up and down.  Of course, the green had a lot of undulations, so putting was tough.

The Sixth.  Yep, more mounds.  

The Seventh is another par 3 at 132 yards.  It’s shorter, but there’s a large bunker you likely have to carry to get to the pin.  The green is large, but don’t sleep on it.  As with most of the greens, they were fast and tricky.

The Seventh.  With the scenic power plant in the distance.

The Eighth is a 323 yard par 4 and is one of the more Dye-esque holes on the course.  There is a large bunker area along the right side of the fairway that is actually lower than the fairway (complete with stairs and railroad ties, throwing balls that land on the ties likely OB).  The right side has mounds with steroids; severe steep hills, one after the other to the hole.  My tee shot put me in that area and I hit a gorgeous hybrid shot out and towards the green.  The problem is I couldn’t find the ball; no idea if it stayed right of the fairway or rolled off fairway to the left, or long of the green.  You’ll get a bunch of blind shots here and as I was trying to play fast and get all the holes in before dark, was by myself, and never played the course before, I suppose it happens every now and then you lose a ball or two.  This one was painful though, as I really liked the shot.  The fairway narrows to the green in a bottleneck, but the bump and run is accessible here, giving you different options to the green.

The Eighth

The Ninth is a 399 yard par 4.  There is a large lake that runs along the entire right of the fairway and you must also carry on the the tee shot.  I had issues with the water on this hole, so forgot to take photos.  You need to stay left and I think that got me slicing, so it wasn’t a good scoring hole for me.  I blame the rental clubs.

The front 9 was challenging without becoming too much of a typical desert target golf experience.  It’s very much a Pete Dye track, with his personality injected into a links style design.  The routing left a little to be desired though.  Ranking the front 9, it would be 8, 4, 9, 1, 5, 7, 3, 2, 6.

The Tenth is a 478 yard par 4.  It’s not a dog so much as it’s a zig zag.  The fairway ends, juts left, then goes straight to the green.  Bunkers surround the tee shot area, but the tee shot ended up being tougher than the approach.

For the Eleventh through Seventeenth, you cross under the street and it ends up being a few minutes in a cart.  It was actually good for me, as I was still hot from the mess at the Ninth, so I had some time to settle down and start things off right.  The Eleventh is a 363 yard par 4 that dog legs slightly right.  Bunkers are on the right of the fairway for the first half of the hole, then they switch over to the left side of the fairway.  One of them is a deep sunken bunker just left and short of the green.  That 5 wood came through again for a nice approach and I felt I was back on track.

Approach at the Eleventh

The Twelfth is a par 3 at 161 yard par 3 with an elevated green.  Two large bunkers are on the left.  I believe the hole description on their website says left is, “jail without a key.”  Well I showed them.  Some how, I hit it left of the green, pin high, on the sliver of grass between the two immense bunkers.  I had a clear shot at the pin and got the up and down.  So take that, hole description.  I guess I’m a jail escape artist, or something.  Let’s just move on.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 308 yard par 4.  At this point, I had to start doing the math.  The course needed the cart and clubs back at 5:30, claiming it would be too dark by then to be on the course.  I didn’t believe them because it was so light out, but regardless I got stuck behind a two some and wasn’t sure how many holes I would get in.  My cart also started fluttering.  Uh, lots of interesting developments, but I soldiered on and let the cards fall where they may.  The Thirteenth actually had a lot of similarity to the Eighth, as there was a bunker running along the right side of the fairway, mounds along the right and a green that was just behind a bottlenecked fairway, but this hole also had a bunker in the center right in the front of the fairway.  Also, the green is lower than the fairway and set to the left a little.

Tee shot at the Thirteenth

Unfortunately, things came unhinged at this point.  It started to get dark quickly and my cart would only go 1 mph.  Photos didn’t come out after this hole, but I kept playing.

The Fourteenth is a 488 yard par 5.  Yep, the par 5’s finally get around to showing up.  The hole is more of an arc to the left rather than a dog leg, with bigger than usual mounds going along the sides of the fairway.  The green is free of obstructions from the fairway, but there is a false front that made me think my approach went in the hole, but instead was on the fringe about 15 yards from the cup.  Just keep that in mind when you play this hole.

The Fifteenth is a 419 yard par 4.  The tee shot is elevated to a narrower fairway that gets even narrower as you get closer to the green.  There is water along the right side of the fairway near the green and the green is slightly downhill from the fairway.  This is one of many greens that are either partially or almost completely hidden by mounds.  Similar to PGA West Stadium, Dye rewards repeat play by not revealing the green in its entirety from the fairway.  This is a regular occurrence in links courses, forcing you to figure out the best way to attack the green.  It’s done pretty well here.

And with that, the cart died completely on my way to the Sixteenth.  A call to the clubhouse was fruitless, no answer.  A call to the grill room also no answer.  So, I grabbed the cart bag and started the half mile trek back to the clubhouse.  I had to get the rental clubs back before everyone left for the night and it was starting to get pitch black.  I walked the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth, but didn’t get to play those holes.

A brief description of the remaining holes.  The Sixteenth is labeled their “Signature” hole, which is a 217 yard par 3.  There is water along the entire right side and a couple bunkers are left of the green to keep you honest.  And the green sat a little downhill from the tee area.  The Seventeenth is the second par 5 at 537 yards.  You’re definitely swinging the long clubs now.  A narrow fairway and severe rolling hills define this hole, which also dog legs left.  This is one of those long-and-straight-shots-are-only-hope holes.  The Eighteenth takes you back across the street right next to the Ninth, on the other side of the lake, so water runs along the entire side of the left side of the fairway.  The green turns left with the water so that it’s offset from the rest of the fairway.

I was finally picked up at the Eighteenth fairway with apologies from the ground crew.  Gave them the rentals, got in the rental car and headed back to the hotel.

Ranking the back 9 of the holes I played, I’d give it 11, 13, 10, 12, 14, 15.  

Generally, I was glad that I played the course because of its distinct Dye charm and some of the character he put into the holes.  Switching from parkland to desert golf is quite an adjustment, but the course was fun.  The routing didn’t work, though, which resulted in a feeling of repetitiveness and made you scratch your head at times.  Some may not like all the blind shots, as it was tough to keep track of your ball, considering the rough and all the nooks and crannies of each hole created by trees, bunkers and mounds.  Aesthetically, the place was laid back, but even that wasn’t able to suppress the industrial surroundings and loud nearby streets.  I will also say that the design was complex enough that you could play it several times before figuring anything out.

With all that being said, I’d probably play this course frequently if I loved in the area.  The value is great, as all of the other courses I was interested in had higher green fees than I paid for my round, hat and rental clubs.  The cart girl was great, the practice facility was nice and I was able to race around the course in a couple hours until that evil cart got in my way.

Gripes:  The cart was terrible.  Apparently, they’re upgrading next season.  The rental clubs were a bog head scratcher for me.  It cost $60, but I got the K15’s (2 years old) and inexplicably blue dot.  I asked for graphite, but apparently that wasn’t happening.  Really?  Even for the course that the founder of PING funded?  I already talked about the power lines and traffic noise.  There should probably be less of a distance gap between the Championship and Back tees.

Bar/grill:  Large with lots of tv’s.  Love the old school concrete architecture.  I think it’s not opened that late, though.

Clubhouse:  Also large.  Lots of ASU stuff, so I think it doubles as some where you can buy all the shirts, hats, etc. for the university.

Practice area:  Very comprehensive.

Getting there:  I believe it’s off the 202 loop, about 20 minutes outside downtown Phoenix.

Nearby:  ASU?

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