Every golfer knows about that itch to go hit some balls for a round, or even just some drives. Some get that itch every once in a while, but for others it comes every day, to the point where getting to the course has been as routine as a cup of coffee.

Since day one, people living in the city of Maricopa have been able to satisfy that craving without leaving town. It was there in the first subdivision to be developed here, Rancho El Dorado. The homes were built around a golf course because the vision was that Maricopa was one day going to have the population to sustain it.

Well, that day has come and then some. There are now two golf courses for locals to enjoy — The Duke at Rancho El Dorado and Ak-Chin Southern Dunes along State Route 238. The former provides a more casual option for golfers while the latter is higher end. Together, they take advantage of the location and vistas that Maricopa offers.

“I like the desert scheme that we have going on here,” said Bryon Gribbons, general manager at The Duke. “I think that’s a big draw, something unique that other courses don’t have. There are mountains all around.”

Gribbons believes that between these two courses, there is something for everybody to enjoy.

There are two holes at The Duke that are either popular or notorious, depending on whom you ask. The fifth hole is a complete island green with water all around it, so the ones who are able to hit the green love it while others might have different feelings. The 18th hole is a par-5 that offers high-risk, high-reward choices for golfers. They can go for the green early and have a chance for a low score, but the water to the green’s left means if they don’t get there, they’re in trouble.

For those just getting into the game, The Duke offers options. These include a flat monthly fee for unlimited golf balls for use on the driving range, the putting green and the chipping green. There are also four instructors on site who offer lessons and clinics.

The Duke also hosts numerous youth tournaments as well as the golf teams from Maricopa High School, Sequoia Pathway Academy and Heritage Academy. The hope is that the interest in the game starts to skew a little younger so it can continue to thrive for generations to come.

“We have an older clientele here because I would say it’s more of a retirement area with Province right across the street,” Gribbons said. “So we have a lot of father-son pairings, and even father-son-grandson groups coming out here. It’s fun to see all the different generations.”

In a typical year, The Duke hosts about 50,000 rounds, though that fluctuates based on weather and winter visitor activity. Gribbons said business has actually been better during the pandemic, since people were desperate for anything to do outside the house and golfing was as safe an option as they could get.

He’s excited for more hotels to start popping up around Maricopa, with the first being La Quinta at Copper Sky. With those comes new people looking for something to do, and a round of golf might be the perfect solution. Southern Dunes already has the Ak-Chin connection with Harrah’s Casino.

But there is some concern about what a rapidly growing population and tourist base could do when everybody wants to golf in one season and not the others.

“We’re not maxed out, but players-wise and community-wise we’re at a bursting point during the peak season,” Gribbons said. “Obviously in the summer it’s not as busy so there is plenty of room there, but in the winter it’s hard to continue to grow. We still are, which is a great thing, but with that growth comes some compaction in our tee sheet, where we don’t always have openings for people who want to come out. There’s only so much light in the day.

“If this course was in a different location, it would just be like the popular courses up in the Valley,” he said. “But there are a lot of people who don’t like to drive down here from their homes in the Valley just to golf.”

Some do, though. Gribbons estimates that 5% of the daily golfers at The Duke come from out of town. In fact, one of the draws for those people might be that it’s more isolated than the ones in the busy sections of Phoenix. Its parent company, Ahwatukee Golf Properties, has two other courses in the Valley, and some golfers have grown to trust the way they do business and give Maricopa a shot at providing something different.

“There are so many options for people that you want to retain every customer that you can,” Gribbons said. “That comes down to customer service, the food quality at the restaurant, the course conditions. We battle with that every day, to keep them up to par with all the other courses to keep people down here. You’re not going to have them here 100% of the time, and that’s fine. As long as they live down here, they’ll come back.”


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