ASU Karsten: A Delightful Place to Spend a Day
Recently, noted golf writer Dan Gleason visited us and played a round of golf at ASU Karsten. We want to thank Dan for sharing his impressions, and we hope you’ll enjoy reading his article about his experience at our golf course.
ASU Karsten: A Delightful Place to Spend a Day
By Dan Gleason
Whenever I play the ASU Karsten Golf Course in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be able to go back and be in college again for just one more wild football Saturday night.
When I was a contributing editor for Golf magazine and later for Golf Digest — and while writing for just about every national golf publication that existed (if there was a Golf for Midgets, I probably had something in there) I played hundreds of really good courses. I never pulled any punches if a course was overpriced or overrated, so that when I said nice things about a course, readers knew they could trust my opinion to be sincere, whether they agreed with me or not.
So when I tell you that Pete Dye’s ASU-Karsten Golf Course is among a handful of my favorite all-time campus golf courses, realize that I am not a gusher, and keep in mind that I have had the pleasure of playing a lot of good college courses. I put the ASU course right up there with Stanford’s beautiful track, with the U of Iowa’s Finkbine (my alma mater), and Jim Colbert’s heralded namesake layout at Kansas State.
This lovely, well groomed course is in a pretty part of town, southeast of downtown Phoenix, handy to the 202 and 101 freeways. The Sun Devil football stadium is in full view, a few blocks west in the backdrop. Since opening in 1989, this has been the proving grounds for the likes of Phil Mickelson and other ASU All-Americans such as Billy Mayfair and Grace Park, and a lot of other fine college players.
For me, there is no one single factor that puts the ASU’s Karsten course into elite company; it’s a combination of things: a great variety in the layout; the excellent conditioning in which I’ve always found the course; and because even though there are some really long, tough par fours, several others are short enough to give up frequent birdies. The birdies are there not just for the single-digit player, but also for the average Joe and Jane. Yes, the course is challenging, but if you use your head and keep your tee shots in play, this course not only won’t bash your brains in, you will also come away with a really enjoyable day on the links.
Another variable is that there is a lot of grass on this course; it’s not what you might expect when you think of a Phoenix area course. That is, it’s not a desert target course inundated with giant cacti and thorny brambles. There are big hardwood trees, and almost wall-to-wall grass, which makes it seem very Midwestern and reminds me of home.
Again, I love the variety of the holes—some short par fours, some long par fours; short par threes and one long par three. Straightway, tight fairways but also plenty of doglegs, so that placement is usually more important than power when it comes to scoring.
Unless you play the “professional” tees, you come right out of the chute with a hole you can birdie with a short or mid-iron second shot, a dogleg hole with a slightly downhill approach shot into a low-lying green. It’s only 301 yards from the middle tees and 340 from the champion tees (the second set). If you can put your approach below the hole and not have a slick downhiller, you can get started with a par or even one up on Old Man Par and have that psychological cushion.
Hole #2 is another short hole that can give up a birdie, as long as the drive doesn’t reach a big, deep fairway bunker. Number 5 is one of those monster par fours, (493, 462, 421 and 363 all the way forward), which is why it is good to come to this hole with a previous birdie in your pocket. The 9th and 18th holes both use the same dramatic lake, on the right and left sides of those respective fairways, for a great finish on both sides—fairly long par fours with tough approaches into peninsula greens where the six-letter word “splash” has produced some four-letter expletives.
Other long par fours include the 10th (498, 478, 440 and 409); 15th (not as long as the others, but moderately long and with water lurking on the right side approach). But along the way there are some other shorter par fours, and a par five that can be reached in two if you don’t play on tees beyond your abilities. This is one of only two par fives on the course, so par is 70, which is nice for the ego when you tally up the final score. There is one relatively long par three but the rest of them are reasonable length.
No two holes seem quite alike to me, something I’ve noticed in all the Pete Dye courses I’ve played. While Dye is renowned for being contracted to build really tough private courses, this is a very fair course—not a pushover, but one where most players can score well if they are on their games. It’s what golf ought to always be—challenging enough never to bore a player, but always great fun.
A lot of college kids work at the course and the service is really top notch. So is the restaurant food—from snacks to burgers to full meals served indoors or out on the patio.
All in all, from the moment you step out of your car in the parking lot, start to finish, ASU Karsten is an absolutely delightful place to spend a day.
For more information on ASU Karsten Golf Course, visit www.asukarsten.com or call (480) 921-8070
Dan Gleason, a former contributing editor to Golf Digest, is an award-winning, Scottsdale, AZ-based writer and book author. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a wide array of national magazines over the years. You can contact “Writer Dan” by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 520-219-8881.