Ironwood Golf Course, Our First Desert Course

The May 2004 issue of The Peak published three articles about the first golf courses in our area. In the coming month, we will be republishing these three articles, which are entitled: “The Tale of Two Desert Courses,” “Ironwood Golf Course, Our First Desert Course” and “Desert Forest Golf Course, a Desert Classic.”

April 2004


Ironwood Golf Course Postcard, c. Late '60s.

Ironwood Golf Course Postcard, c. Late ’60s.

We wondered if any articles about our area’s golf courses had ever been published in The Peak. GPPA has published many issues of The Peak since 1983 and after a diligent search, I found “Our First Desert Golf Course” by the late Don Schoenau . Don served as editor of The Peak and president of GPPA. Don loved to write about the history of our community. Don’s article, which appears below, was published in the January 2000 issue of The Peak.
Les Conklin, current editor of The Peak has lived in the area of Jomax and Scottsdale Roads since 1983. He recalls seeing individuals hitting golf balls at Ironwood Golf Course during the ’80s, but the club did not appear to be in operation. In March 2004, Les visited the location of the Ironwood Golf Course. At least part of the Ironwood Apartments is still there. The remnants of fairways and greens are gone, replaced by homes, some of which are under construction.

The picture to the right from an Ironwood postcard that The Peak recently received from Tim Howard who lives near the course. Thank you, Tim. Our guess is that it dates to the late ’60s or ’70s. The back of the postcard reads, “Ironwood Golf Course, On the Desert, Located in Giant Saguaro Forest and other beautiful desert growth. As you enter Desert Foothills Scenic Drive, north on Scottsdale Road to Carefree and Cave Creek, Arizona, turn west on Jomax Road to the most unusual Golf Course in the world. Play or Relax. We Welcome You. Max and Fitz Durham.” Les comments that the postcard shows the course pretty much as he remembers it.

Don’s original article, which was first published in the January 2000 issue of The Peak, appears below. A few photos that Les took during his recent visit have been added. We hope you enjoy it.

Barbara Copeland, Assistant Editor, The Peak, 2004

Ironwood Golf Course, Our First Desert Course

By Don Schoenau

Ironwood Golf Course

Circular area, right-center of photograph, is a “green,” made of oiled sand. Courtesy Don Schoenau, 2000.

In 1950, a retired executive from Union Carbide by the name of Fitzgerald Durham came to north Scottsdale and purchased 80 acres of land. This plot of land was bordered by Pinnacle Vista on the north, Jomax on the south, 64th Street on the east, and 62nd Street on the west. The area was Maricopa County and would not become part of Scottsdale until the mid 1980s.

You must realize that at this time Scottsdale Road was a dirt road north of Pinnacle Peak Road, and Jomax Road did not exist. Fitz solved that problem by constructing a trail to his property, which he named after his wife, Maxine, and sister, Josephine, hence Jomax Road. A sign at the junction read “Golf Course.” As a hobby, Fitz built a 9-hole, par-three desert golf course. He brought in fine sand to be used in the place of greens and then poured silicon oil over the sand to hold it in place. Fitz also had a tool known as a drag that was used to keep the fairways cleared of desert growth. The greens were kept smooth by gently sweeping them.

Ironwood Golf Course

A few of the Ironwood Apartments remain, 2004. Courtesy Les Conklin.

I recently visited what was left of the old course and was amazed to find greens that were at least 40 feet in diameter, some with the poles still in the holes. Some of the original tees remain. One of the tees still had an old ball cleaner nearby. Small metal birds remain on some of the tees, indicating the direction to the green. The rest of the course was pure desert with scraped fairways.

According to Fitz, all you needed to play the course was a seven iron and a putter. Many played the course with only a putter. A hole-in-one was rewarded with a prize of silver dollars. A golfer who used a putter for the entire round set the course record. Tournaments were frequent on weekends.
The clubhouse as a small two­ story building with living quarters upstairs. At times, hamburgers, cold drinks and a pool table were available. After golfers finished playing, they retired upstairs for refreshments and bet on the exact second that the sun would set on the horizon. Fitz never lost his bet!

During the 1950s, the course attracted many snowbirds. Free beat-up golf clubs were available for players to use instead of ruining good clubs. Fees for the round were $1.00 for the entire day. Two retired men maintained the course and flags were on each hole. Some of the golfers stayed at the 20-room Ironwood Apartments (later turned into condominiums) that were constructed next to the golf course.

Ironwood Golf Course

Sign for new development at former location of Ironwood Golf Course. Courtesy Les Conklin, 2004.

Also scattered throughout the course were concrete posts. The posts were covered with canvas to provide shade for the golfers and picnickers, who sat at the picnic tables.

When Fitz grew old, he sold the golf course to a retired man by the name of Nenver Rietveld, who continued to operate it. Nenver had several wells drilled. He established the Ironwood Water Company, serving the golf course as well as neighboring residents. Three wells were drilled, the deepest being 1,500 feet producing about 2,450 gallons of clean clear water per minute. The well at the old clubhouse, which is still operational, was 900 feet deep and only produced 20 to 30 gallons per minute. When Scottsdale annexed the area, they took over the wells and were able to supply the local community with water.

In the old days, Herb Drinkwater (longest reigning mayor of Scottsdale) and the JCs (Junior Chamber of Commerce) held rip-roaring golf parties at Ironwood. Sunday was the busiest day of the week. After Fitz’s death, the golf course had several other owners before being abandoned.

Credit. I thank Nenver Rietveld and Buck and Rhoda Coughlin for providing most of the information used in writing this story. Don Schoenau

Related Articles

The Tale of Two Desert Courses  Article

Desert Forest Golf Course, A Desert Classic   To be published in the November issue.

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Author: The Peak

Published on behalf of the Greater Pinnacle Peak Association by the editorial staff.

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