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Talking Rock Bucks Trends with Great Course & Community Vibes

By: Steve Habel


15th Hole at Talking Rock

During the past year or so, there have been plenty of stories about the so-called end to the successful golf-based residential development, with naysayers opining that there are too many such communities sitting unfinished or with goals unrealized thanks to overbuilding, underperformance and the unstable economy.

But there are communities that are bucking that trend, and that's a positive move on the road to recovery for the golf-course construction industry.

Comanche Trace in Kerrville, Texas, had such a demand for property and new homes (both primary and secondary) that it built an additional nine holes - designed by Jay and Carter Morrish - to augment its well-received, 18-hole original track fashioned by Tom Kite in conjunction with Roy Bechtol and Randy Russell. In Duncan, Okla., a select handful of homes are under construction at Prospectors Ridge, the residential arm of development at the Territory Golf & Country Club, a facility that has seen its membership boom where other clubs are scrambling.

And then there is Talking Rock. Located in the mountains about 15 minutes from vibrant Prescott, Ariz., this development is a private, high-country master-planned community wrapped around a splendid Morrish-designed course. With Prescott National Forest in its backyard, Talking Rock has seen little change from the days when native tribes occupied the land or when stagecoaches rumbled across area trails.

In times when many developments are on life support, Talking Rock is thriving thanks to its combination of location, overall amenities package (golf course included), and an overwhelming sense of community and togetherness among its residents and members.

Since the first of the year Talking Rock has sold 45 lots and a total of more than 600 units in the seven years since its inception in 2002. "And things have really started to pick up in just the last 60 days," said Jim Jones, the community's director of sales. "Like everyone else, we had a period of time when things were slower than we wanted, but just in the past few months we have seen a key momentum shift."

There are more than 300 homes already built in Talking Rock, and the community's residents (full-timers and second home-owners) are a close-knit bunch. Activities outside the norm, such as a Wednesday spaghetti supper and bingo, bring residents together more often.

At the heart of the community is the inviting Ranch Compound, Talking Rock's version of a high-country clubhouse where people meet for recreation, connection and comfort. "We have a great group of people out here, and it seems like the more they do together the more they want to do together," said club general manager Jim Leisenring. "Talking Rock is really a place where you can belong."

Jay Morrish's Fair & Challenging Design

A big part of the draw to Talking Rock is Morrish's golf course, a 7,350-yard track that winds through more than 1,000 acres of preserved open space. With its rolling terrain and tree stands, the layout follows the natural contours of the land.

"At Talking Rock we were given the freedom to design the holes where they wanted to go, without resorting to modern tricks or gimmicks," Morrish said. "The course is a pleasure to play and to walk. It feels like it's been here for years. I know it will please and challenge golfers of every skill level."

Generous landing areas, well-placed bunkers and greens that are clearly visible from virtually every fairway shot define Talking Rock. The 18-acre practice area has six acres of tees and dual putting and short-game practice areas at each end of the range.

Talking Rock's front nine is highlighted by the 221-yard par-3 third, two demanding par-4s (the 461-yard fifth and 454-yard eighth) and the 641-yard par-5 sixth.

On No. 3, the green sports a false front and is flanked by deep bunkers. No. 5 (the longest two-shotter at Talking Rock) is played downhill to a fairway between two massive bunkers before rising up to a putting surface engirded by sand on all four sides.

Ranch Pool at Talking Rock

No. 6 is a massive dogleg-left that is a true three-shot hole - it has 10 bunkers spread from landing area to green to snare wayward balls. On No. 8 an area of native grass encroaches on the left side of the landing area, but the hole opens up to allow a run-up shot if needed.

Big hitters will want to take a stab at reaching the green in two on the par-5 542-yard ninth, but be aware of the lake that comes into play at the front-right of the green and bunkers that await an overly aggressive shot that goes through the putting surface.

The best chances to score at Talking Rock are on the back-nine. Birdies can be had on the 416-yard par-4 10th (as long as you avoid the tiny bunker fronting the green) and the classic risk-reward par-5 at the 563-yard 11th.

No. 12 is a 399-yard par-4 with the only bunkerless fairway on the course, but it's split by native grasses and has a ridge-perched green. The 14th, a 454-yard par-4 and the longest on the back-nine, plays from an elevated tee to a wide fairway, making it play a bit less than the carded yardage.

You'll have fun on the 337-yard 15th, a downhill, drivable par-4 with spectacular views of Granite Mountain where even well-struck shots short of the green allow for an easy pitch to a receptive and 41-yard-deep putting surface.

The closer is a 589-yard par-5 that bends to slightly to the right and away from a lake along the left. The green here is guarded by two massive bunkers (both bigger than the putting surface itself), so be conservative if you want to leave the Talking Rock with a pleasant feeling.

In April 2009, Talking Rock was named one of Arizona's Top 25 Courses by Golf Digest. Ranked No. 19 on the 2009-2010 "Best in State" list, the venue moved up two spots from its 2007-08 position. It was the first course in Arizona recognized for being designed, built and maintained in compliance with the Environmental Principles of Golf under the Integrated Golf Course Management Plan.

While many may feel that the success at Talking Rock is debunking the recent trend of golf course-based residential communities, we opt to take the "glass-half-full" tack; we're hopeful Talking Rock is a trendsetter.

Stay & Play Option

This spring Talking Rock began a stay-and-play offering inclusive of all the amenities enjoyed at a high-end resort yet within a more exclusive setting. The package includes a one-night stay for two in a fully furnished, 2,000-square-foot ranch cottage with golf and countryside views. A welcome basket with fine wine, gourmet snacks and vouchers for Coops - the community's coffee shop and café - help ensure a comfortable visit.

During their overnight stays, guests can choose between a round of golf and a massage at the community's private fitness center. Guests will also be treated to dinner at Morgan's Bar and Grill at The Ranch House, a recent recipient of Wine Spectator's Award of Unique Distinction. The package costs $450 for two.

The package also allows guests access to the other amenities at Talking Rock, including miles of hiking/biking/jogging trails, a fitness center, regulation lap pool, and various dining options.

Talking Rock recently announced a partnership with Horizon Air, which has added daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Prescott Municipal Airport for easier access to and from the community from faraway places, ticket discounts and other special promotional offers strictly for residents and guests.

For more information, visit www.talkingrockranch.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Business District magazine in Austin and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns.