The Gila River community in Phoenix and the Santa Ana Pueblo near
Albuquerque, N.M. have more than a few things in common. Both nations chose
to build resorts as part of their business development plans, entered into
partnerships with major players in the world of hospitality - resulting in
the Sheraton Wildhorse Pass Resort and Spa and the Hyatt Regency Tamaya
Resort & Spa, respectively - and both consulted award-winning golf course
architect Gary Panks to design their golf courses.
Panics' most noteworthy traits are his remarkably creative design talent
and sensitivity to the natural environment. He has designed courses around
the world, thanks in no small part to his ability to listen to and
understand other cultures.
"It was a great learning experience working with the Indians," said Panks.
"The first thing you want to do as a designer is learn about the culture
before putting pencil to paper. There was a significant difference between
the two cultures. It is gratifying to learn about the people and their ways
- particularly the pride they take in their land."
Panks also noted that "the tribes realize that [the] use of casinos to
generate revenue might not always be there. They are not only using golf
courses and resorts, but other businesses to provide meaningful employment,
etc., even before gaming goes away. They're investing in their future and
the future of their children."
One can tell that Panks understands the people for whom he worked in the
Southwest, simply by listening to him describe the courses he built for
them. "The Santa Ana Pueblo are closer to their agricultural culture than
the Gilas, simply because they are still farming their land. The Gilas are
part of this big metropolitan area," said Panks. "Although they both have
grassroots philosophies, the Santa Ana Pueblo are closer, and the Gilas are
further removed from, what their heritage was. They have sort of been
absorbed by the city of Phoenix. That presented bigger challenges than the
Santa Ana course. The Gilas had to deal with the city and all the issues
Another difference Panks noted is that the Santa Ana people had to be more
proactive about bringing business to their reservation, since it exists
"off the beaten path." Everything there is on a smaller scale than the Gila
River community. "They both have endeavored to build quality developments,
whatever that may be," said Panks. He pointed out that both hired the best
consultants in the industry to help them accomplish their goals, which of
course included hiring Panks.
"The Gila River project was started with the concept that the Gila River
would be recreated to flow through the property like it did at one time in
history. There are two courses there, Devil's Claw and Cattail. The Devil's
Claw course was created to look like the headwaters, through its elevations
in the terrain and even the plant colors," said Panks.
The second course at Gila River - which came online when hotel was built -
is the Cattail course. It lies on the flat desert floor, with some minor
elevation changes. It is a desert course with, as Panks described it,
"quite a bit of water to go with it." The Cattail course was intended, as
the river passes through, to be emblematic of what the desert really looks
like. Panks said guests equally favor both of the courses. PGA's Nationwide
Insurance tour holds an annual Gila River Golf Classic on the Cattail
The Santa Ana Pueblo course, Twin Warriors, is built on sacred ground and
presents an entirely different set of challenges. Panks had to route the
course around 20 different cultural sites: he described having an original
routing plan that had to be changed once he saw the maps for those sites.
Ultimately, Panks admitted, the new plan was much better than his original
The "Twin Warriors" name comes from the legend of twins who showed humans
the path to the Upper World, along the banks of the Rio Grande. With their
rainbow bow and lightning arrows, the Twin Warriors are leaders in war, and
defenders and protectors of all people in times of peace.
The Twin Warriors course is adjacent to the sacred Snake Head Mountain.
"Initially they wanted to keep a wide buffer zone between the mountain and
the golf course," said Panks. "We convinced them to bring the course closer
to the mountain. I pointed out that golfers wouldn't leave the course to
trespass on the mountain, so the course became a barrier between other
resort land and the sacred mountain, controlled by Twin Warriors staff. It
became a nice way to showcase the mountain and protect it, and it enhanced
the course at the same time."
Roger Martinez, director of golf operations at Twin Warriors, summed up his
experience working with Panks in a quote that can be found on Panks' Web
site: "Gary turned out to be the best choice Santa Ana Pueblo ever made. He
is the consummate professional but more importantly, he is a man of great
sensitivity, respect and honor."