DIY ‘country club’ brings golf to downtown vacant lot

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Terreno Baldio Country Club members use a full range of clubs on their improvised course. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Steve Weiss, a founder of Terreno Baldio Country Club, fully plays into his role as caddy while he jokingly advises country club member Katharine Simpson on her shot. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Katharine Simpson celebrates an under-par hole to the enthusiastic applause of the other club members. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Club member Zachary Harrow putts on the patch of green that marks the first hole. (Nicole Neri/DD)

With rapt concentration, Zachary Harrawood lines up his next putt. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Instead of real golf balls, Terreno Baldio Country Club exclusively uses whiffle balls in order to avoid damaging the cars and apartment buildings that surround the course. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Country club member Joe Brklacich lines up his first stroke on the course's third and last hole. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Joe Brklacich celebrates his third consecutive eagle on the course's third hole. (Nicole Neri/DD)

The palm tree in the middle of the dirt lot is Terreno Baldio's clubhouse. (Nicole Neri/DD)

A whiffle ball plops down in the dirt of a vacant lot at Pierce and Fourth streets. Cheers, laughter and jokes erupt.

A round of golf has started at Terreno Baldío Country Club.

To passerby, the club is barely noticeable. A few random patches of astroturf, a tire and some trash are strewn about the lot.

But on closer look — and to the carefully trained eyes of the country club members — the dirt lot has been transformed into a golf course.

Instead of grass, there’s dirt. There are three different holes, which are played three times each to count as a full 9-hole round. Artificial turf makes up the putting zone, indents of about 1/4-inch make up the holes. The “clubhouse,” as it’s referred to, is a beloved palm tree in the middle of the lot.

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s not meant to. Weiss said the official motto is “it’s the golf course of the people.” The course was designed to minimize impact and be non-destructive, non-invasive and as environmentally sensitive as possible.

“It’s the antithesis of Trump’s golf course,” joked Steve Weiss, while walking down to the putting green of the Sinagua hole. Weiss is a local artist and founder of the No Festival Required series.

The country club is the brainchild of Weiss and a team of friends. Although the course has been built and set up officially for just a few weeks, the concept started four years ago with a simple question: How do you activate a lot?

At the time, Weiss had seen it done with the Valley of Sunflowers project, but felt it could be done in a simpler way.

RELATED: Valley of Sunflowers undergoes last harvest, leaves lasting impression on community

“Why change the lot? Why not find a way to take the lot and celebrate what it is, which is a desert in the city,” Weiss said. Terreno Baldío, which means vacant lot or wasteland in Spanish, is near the lot where Valley of Sunflowers took place. This made him start to question what else could be done.

“They’re trying to change it from something it isn’t to something else,” Weiss said.

Weiss said the Snake Hole Golf Course in Apache Junction, a community built desert golf course was a big inspiration for Terreno Baldío. Snake Hole golfers use carpet squares to tee off at their course which is what inspired the artificial turf squares at Terreno Baldío.

With Terreno Baldío, low-impact is the goal.

“The whole application of everything but still being a lot, it had to be low-profile, low-impact,” local artist and country club member Katharine Simpson said. She does not typically play golf, but said it’s fun having this rendition of golf.

Simpson said she got involved two years ago when Weiss told her about it, and she immediately wanted to do everything she could to make it happen. She said it turned out the way she hoped.

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Zachary Harrawood and Leslie Barton celebrate Barton’s successful putt. (Nicole Neri/DD)

In 2014, Weiss, Simpson and local comedian Leslie Barton presented the idea as part of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art’s Good and Plenty awards. After they lost, community members came up and started helping by donating money and an 800-foot artificial turf.

The lot was activated with a few items: a tire, a kiddie pool held down with bricks, the donated astroturf, which is held down by washers, and a lot of whiffle balls.

“As a guy who’s been golfing my whole life this is really fun,” local artist and country club member Joe Brklacich said. “It’s actually got a lot of the challenges of regular golfing. It’s way more fun than I expected.”

Golfers can use a full set of clubs. Country club member and local comedian Leslie Barton used every one of her full set of clubs, which Weiss caddied for her.

“Maybe I don’t want to go to Encanto and apply to their rules,” Barton said. “I go here and I do my sweet nine holes and then I walk to my car and just leave.”

Terreno Baldío does have rules, and one major strict one: absolutely only whiffle balls allowed.

Despite the rules, there’s an element of organized chaos that can only come with a dirt lot. Wind might pick up a ball and move to a completely new angle mid-shot; tire tracks and trash on the lot pose as obstacles for the golfers; and people could interfere with the lot when the country club isn’t there.

Steve Weiss posted the country club's rules on the "clubhouse," a palm tree located on the vacant lot. (Nicole Neri/DD)
Steve Weiss posted the country club’s rules on the “clubhouse,” a palm tree located on the vacant lot. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Last Sunday, a stolen kiddie pool meant a lack of a “water hazard” on the Sinagua hole, but it didn’t deter the country clubbers.

Weiss said the course is designed to be used by everyone in the community, and to keep growing. A private Facebook group of country club members now has almost 100 members, and people who wander onto the lot can discover posted rules and a working course, so long as they can provide their own clubs.

Police officers showed up one day and questioned the golf course, but Weiss said they were fine with it once they realized the golfers were using whiffle balls.

Weiss said there are plans for the club to have a website, and possibly membership cards. His ultimate dream is to improve the clubhouse with some chairs and a palm leaves, he said.

“I got to work on it slow,” Weiss said. “My thing now is I don’t want to make it too much of an investment if it has to go away. But if it proves itself, then we’ll continue.”

He said he wants the Terreno Baldío to continue because it’s so non-disruptive.

“We’re going to do it until it disappears or until they kick us off” Weiss said.

Correction: December 9, 2016

An earlier version of this story misstated the depth of the indents that make up the golf holes. They are roughly 1/4-inch indents, not 2-inch indents.

Contact the reporter at Kara.Carlson@asu.edu.

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