The long-awaited solution to the Arizona Biltmore’s development dispute has finally ended. And this translates to great news for fans of one of Phoenix’s most treasured and historic courses, the 18-hole, par-72 Adobe Course. Originally built in 1926 and designed by William P. “Billy” Bell, the course is among the oldest in Arizona and the least changed from its original routing. Every U.S. President from Eisenhower through Clinton has played the course, continuing a tradition of celebrity golfers who have stayed at the adjacent Arizona Biltmore Resort.
For the past ten years the Biltmore’s owners, Kabuto Arizona Properties, have sought solutions to developing a small portion of the course and a few acres of adjoining property in order to complete plans approved by the Phoenix City Council. The plans call for luxury townhomes to be built at the far north end of the course. This plan ultimately prevents developing the entire course, an option Kabuto never wanted to resort to. Disputes about the plan among homeowner associations, Biltmore residents and neighboring interests have consumed nearly a decade of courtrooms and zoning hearings, all of which have delayed the long-awaited improvements.
The end result is a subtle re-routing of the 18-hole course being directed by local golf course architect Forrest Richardson.
“Our first priority is to preserve and restore,” says Richardson, who has authored a book on golf course architecture which includes several chapters dealing with the history of golf and the influence of early ‘Golden Age’ architects, those practicing from the 1920s through 1930s. “Billy Bell was a master at bunkering. His work when The Arizona Biltmore Resort opened was quite breathtaking. We’re bringing back his masterful style of bunkers and making improvements to the greens for the same result.”
Richardson has brought in the expertise of noted Bell historian, Tommy Naccarato of Southern California. Naccarato has studied Bell’s work, including his brilliant bunkers at the famous Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, a design he co-authored with George Thomas. According to Richardson the new routing will bring back many of Adobe’s fairway bunkers, all of which had been left to grow-in with grass by previous owners of the course. “Tommy played the role of a ‘forensic’ bunker architect,” notes Richardson. “Using old aerial photos and walking the course he found features we never knew were there.”
The work being completed this summer involves the building of a new Hole 10, practice tee, a short, 100-yard bonus hole and a large short game practice green. Next summer the balance of the changes will unfold, including a new string of holes from the 15th through 18th and many restored bunkers. Richardson’s plan keeps the yardage about the same, but adds interest and restores variety to what has become somewhat of a ‘tired’ parkland course. Even so, the Biltmore has done well to compete with newer target style courses springing up across the Valley. “Authenticity always wins,” notes Richardson. “The Adobe Course is a golfer’s delight because it has so much traditional shot-making, and it’s golf right in the heart of the city, not 40 miles away from the office.”
The Adobe remains open even during the work and is expected to remain open next summer, although some holes may have temporary greens while improvements are underway. The adjoining Links Course is not affected by the work.