19th Hole

Jeff Lessig
Director of Golf
Verde River Golf & Social Club
Rio Verde, AZ

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It all began with a Skins Game 

As summer closes and we again look ahead to the relief of another fall and winter season, I’m always reminded of my first. November snow is falling at the Canterbury Golf Club in Cleveland, Ohio, and the television in the golf shop is tuned to NBC where Vin Scully is explaining the rules for the first ever televised “Skins Game” from some place called Desert Highlands Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson will play. We haven’t seen anything like this before.

The course is a moonscape and the television is in love with it. Stunningly beautiful, impressively rugged and intimidating. Original. That’s what golf looks like in Arizona? Wow. Canterbury’s head golf professional, Duff Lawrence, has been recruited for that role at Desert Highlands and suddenly I’m going with him. A couple months later in January 1984, with Ohio turf still stuck in my spikes, I’m pulling cactus thorns from them.  That’s how and how fast Arizona golf happened for me.  

On that Thanksgiving weekend so many years ago, a national audience bracing for winter witnessed an extraordinary foursome in a riveting competition in the Arizona desert. From my seat, those two days lit a fuse.  

A modern era of Arizona golf was born and its momentum mushroomed into an unparalleled collection of course and community developments and a golf industry here that none would have predicted.

To be sure, there existed master planned communities with golf course centerpieces at the time, but the genius of the Skins Game at Desert Highlands was of course, the scale and unique nature of this innovative event broadcasting Arizona desert golf nationwide over two holiday weekend days with the four most compelling players of that era. Today we take the television exposure for granted. Then it was fresh.

The effect has been profound. Reflect for a moment on the stimulus our game created in an economy that relies heavily on real estate and tourism.  The economic engine of home sales and re-sales, golf course lot premiums and increasing home valuations, construction jobs and materials and the consequent tax revenue generated by communities boasting top quality golf as their heartbeat can be traced back to a single, seminal event. More elusive yet undeniable is the role golf has played in the image and cachet our destination enjoys.

Today, we’re home to a “who’s who” roster of PGA professionals, golf management companies, golf manufacturers and technology companies, merchandisers and retailers, golf media, course designers, world-class players, big name instructors and many of the industry’s true innovators.

Having enjoyed tenure at some of the Valley’s best, I’m excited to continue my journey with our newest golf and lifestyle centered community, Trilogy® at Verde River™.  Many of you will know that, under the watchful eye of local resident and PGA legend Tom Lehman, Verde River Golf & Social Club has enjoyed some strategic enhancements to an already exceptional course over the past two seasons. As the excitement builds towards the opening of the resort club (expected late fall, 2017), I can say that my passion for Arizona’s remarkable golf industry only grows stronger. It’s great to be part of it.

Jeff Lessig is the Director of Golf at Verde River Golf & Social Club.  Reserve your tee times or learn more at VerdeRiverGolf.com or call 480.471.3232.