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Chenal back on top among Arkansas Business readers.

AFTER BEING OUSTED FROM the top spot by Arkansas Business readers last year, the Chenal Country Club course in west Little Rock is once again sitting as the favorite spot for a round of golf.

Diamante Country Club of Hot Springs Village dethroned Chenal last year. But with the largest response of readers since Arkansas Business has been conducting the reader survey, Chenal managed to climb back to the top spot. There were a total of 382 individual responses (376 through a Web-based entry form, six on paper ballot).

To accentuate the closeness of the Chenal-Diamante contest, both received 137 votes for first-place. Only 11 different courses received any votes in the No. 1 position, while more than 80 courses were on at least one reader's top 10.

Votes are tabulated on a weighted scale of 10 points for a first-place vote, 9 points for a second-place vote and so on.

All reader polls are subjective and unscientific. And they obviously are influenced by where the readers live. The survey didn't ask readers to distinguish between private courses, including land development and resort courses, and public, daily-fee courses.

Chenal's 18-hole championship course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., one of the most famous names m the business. Chenal also has been ranked among the top 100 courses in the country by Golf Week. Chenal has seven lakes and features zoysia grass on its fairways and bent grass for the greens.

Chenal's second 18-hole, par-72 golf course, also designed by Jones, opens in June. Completely unlike the first Chenal course, the still unnamed course runs 7,314 yards from the back tees. The new course was carved out of the woods, and features a more natural terrain with several acres along the course set aside as protected wildlife areas. It will have more long and tight fairways and small greens.

The Diamante golf course, one of eight private courses at Hot Springs Village, is considered one of the most challenging yet flexible golf courses ever built.

With five sets of tees ranging in distance from 7,548 yards to 5,282 yards, the course challenges both low and high handicappers. Diamante's longest hole, the par-S 11th hole, stretches to 627 yards.

Golfers hit from zoysia fairways to bent grass greens that average 6,500 SF. Four large water hazards come into play, along with a number of grassy depressions and traditional white sand bunkers.

Diamante was Golf Digest magazine's choice as the best course in the state for four straight years, until it was edged out last year by Chenal.

Diamante was designed by Ault Clark & Associates of Kensington, Md., one of the country's premier golf course design firms. Ault Clark also designed Mountain Ranch Golf Club at Fairfield Bay, Cherokee Village South, Big Creek Golf and Country Club at Mountain Home, and the Thunder Bayou Golf Links at Blytheville, which opened last spring.

Diamante is followed in the readers' poll by two other Hot Springs Village courses: No. 3 Isabella and No. 4 Ponce de Leon.

Isabella, which opened in 2000, has been hailed as the best new course in the state since Diamante. An Ault Clark course with eight signature holes with water and mountain views, it plays at 7,160 yards from the tips. Isabella features spacious fairways, numerous greenside hunkers and plenty of slope and speed on the greens.

Ponce de Leon, which opened in 1989, is known by golfers as the "long and hilly" and continues to be a challenging course. The par-72 course measures 6,946 yards from the back tees.

Other Hot Springs Village courses making the list are Balboa, No. 7; Magellan, No.. 9; Cortez, No. 11; and DeSoto, No. 15.

Pleasant Valley Country Club at Little Rock fell to fourth last year with the phenomenal rise of Isabella, and this year it has been bumped down another notch with the growing popularity of Ponce de Leon.

PVCC, still one of the state's premier courses, underwent a $1.6 million renovation in 1999 that rebuilt its bent grass greens, reworked the bunkers and updated its drainage system. From the tips, PVCC is 7,103 yards. The course has 92 bunkers.

Big Creek at Mountain Home, a public course, fell from its fifth-place finish last year to sixth. The Mountain Home course features 55 white sand bunkers, and with four lakes and Big Creek, water comes into play on seven of the 18 holes.

The only other public course to make the top 15 was Mountain Ranch at Fairfield Bay, which has fallen to No. 13. When it opened it was generally perceived to be the best of the public golf courses in the state and was ranked No. 1 by Golf Digest and was in Golf Week's Top Golf Courses in America list.

Moving up from 10th place last year to No. 8 this year is Pinnacle Country Club of Rogers. Pinnacle's fairways are wide open, and water comes into play on 16 holes. Many of the greens are multi-tiered and heavily undulating.

The Country Club of Little Rock finish 10th in the poll.
Arkansas Business' Top 15

1 Chenal, Little Rock 2,073
2 Diamante, Hot Springs Village 2,009
3 Isabella, Hot Springs Village 1,353
4 Ponce De Leon, Hot Springs Village 835
5 Pleasant Valley, Little Rock 813
6 Big Creek, Mountain Home 582
7 Balboa, Hot Springs Village 420
8 Pinnacle, Rogers 383
9 Magellan, Hot Springs Village 350
10 Country Club of Little Rock 292
11 Cortez, Hot Springs Village 282
12 Hot Springs Country Club 268 *
13 Mountain Ranch, Fairfield Bay 188
14 Greystone, Cabot 148 **
15 Hardscrabble, Fort Smith 97
15 DeSoto, Hot Springs Village 97

Golf Digest's Top 10

1 Chenal, Little Rock
2 Diamante, Hot Springs Village
3 Pleasant Valley, Little Rock
4 Ponce de Leon, Hot Springs Village
5 Magellan, Hot Springs Village
6 Pinnacle, Rogers
7 Hot Springs Country Club (Arlington)
8 Country Club of Little Rock
9 Texarkana Country Club
10 Stonebridge Meadows, Fayetteville

Source: Golf Digest

* Includes both the Arlington and Majestic courses. Some voters didn't
differentiate between courses at the Hot Springs Country Club.

** Includes both Cypress Creek and Mountain Springs courses. Some voters
didn't differentiate between courses at Greystone.
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Title Annotation:Chenal Country Club
Author:Henry, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Mar 24, 2003
Previous Article:Clear Creek set to be among top private golf courses.
Next Article:Rounds of golf played in Arkansas on the decline.

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