Troon North's Pinnacle Course, hole 10
Fred Vuich
Friday, January 09, 2009

Looking down as you fly into Scottsdale, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a remake of the hit movie Signs, as thousands of sylvan columns and circles stand out against the Sonoran Desert. But this is no movie set -- the landscape is under a different direction. Here, the auteurs go by the names Fazio, Weiskopf and Crenshaw, to name but a few.

As home to 200 golf courses and more than 40 PGA Tour players, Scottsdale was the epicenter of the 1990s course-building boom. But that giddy era has ended. The land supply is largely exhausted and water rights are expensive and difficult to obtain. Any future projects are likely to be on Native American lands exempt from rules that forbid local courses to water more than 90 acres of grass. Yet the fact that Scottsdale golf is approaching a watershed is not immediately apparent, since lush fairways lurk behind practically every cactus.

A 20-minute drive east of downtown, on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation land, you'll find We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, a 7,225-yard Scott Miller design that opened in 2001. Free of water restrictions, We-Ko-Pa (from the Yavapai phrase for "Four Peaks Mountain") shuns slender fairways and silver-dollar-sized greens for more authentic reminders of the desert. A 50-foot-high boulder rises like a tombstone in the fairway of the 606-yard 10th, while a small wall fronting the green at the 587-yard 8th neatly mirrors the shape of the Red Mountains in the distance.

Nick Faldo's design at Wildfire Golf Club, northeast of Scottsdale, opened in 2002. The Faldo Course (6,846 yards, par 71) lacks the sweeping grandeur of We-Ko-Pa, but more than 100 bunkers -- 106 to be exact, but who's counting? -- make for a claustrophobia-inducing layout.

The 341-yard 8th hole typifies the style of an architect who played with machine-like accuracy. A 150-yard-long bunker inhabited by the loneliest cactus in Arizona guards the right side, while two lonely bunkers nip the fairway like a Victorian corset 250 yards off the tee. From there it's just a wedge to a green guarded by a phalanx of five more bunkers. LPGA star Carin Koch is a regular here, and low-handicapped, high-octane rocker Alice Cooper has hosted his celebrity tournament at Wildfire.

Two miles southeast lies the Stadium Course (7,210 yards, par 71) at the Tournament Players Club, created by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish and the site of the Phoenix Open (now the FBR Open) since 1987. Vijay Singh defends this month -- January 26 through February 1 -- before an expected 500,000 spectators.

The 162-yard 16th hole was the scene of one of Tiger Woods's most memorable -- and certainly loudest -- career moments: his ace in front of a thunderous, beer-fuelled gallery in 1997. Andrew Magee improbably aced the 332-yard 17th in 2001 -- it's thought to have been the first hole-in-one on a par 4 in Tour history.

Crib Sheet: Scottsdale
WE-KO-PA GOLF CLUB
Greens fees: $150-$180
480-836-9000
www.wekopa.com

WILDFIRE GOLF CLUB
Greens fees: $130-$175
888-705-7775
www.wildfiregolf.com

TPC OF SCOTTSDALE
Greens fee: $208
888-400-4001/480-585-4334
www.tpc.com

GRAYHAWK GOLF CLUB
Greens fee: $185
480-502-1800
www.grayhawkgolf.com

TALKING STICK GOLF CLUB
Greens fees: $110-$160
800-939-7998
www.troongolf.com

TROON NORTH GOLF CLUB
Greens fees: $258-$296
800-939-7998
www.troongolf.com

For more information, call 800-805-0471 or visit experiencescottsdale.com.

The TPC is a second home to many Tour pros. Golf director Russ Norris once found Tim Herron fishing in the lake that envelops the famous island green on the 501-yard 15th. Norris knew the lake was chock-full of golf balls, but Herron proved there were a few fish in there, too.

Grayhawk Golf Club, just northeast of Scottsdale, opened in 1994 and regularly hosts CBS announcers Peter Kostis (a GOLF MAGAZINE columnist) and Gary McCord, as well as young hotshots Aaron Baddeley and Paul Casey and Oakland Athletics pitcher Mark Mulder.

Grayhawk was Phil Mickelson's backyard until he moved to Southern California last year. His memorabilia still festoons Phil's Grill, the laid-back 19th hole. The atmosphere is positively anarchic compared with the starched collars over at the TPC. On the range, classic rock is pumped from speakers disguised as boulders.

Both Grayhawk tracks are on GOLF MAGAZINE's Top 100 You Can Play. The impressive Talon Course (6,973 yards, par 72) was designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, and Tom Fazio's Raptor Course (7,108 yards, par 72) once hosted Woods's charity tournament (winner takes home a cool mil!). Raptor's closing hole -- a 521-yarder with an approach over water -- isn't made any easier by the gallery in Phil's Grill.

Both courses at Troon North Golf Club also are on GOLF MAGAZINE's Top 100 You Can Play. The Monument Course (7,028 yards, par 72) is another Weiskopf-Morrish creation. Opened in 1990, it's the town's most popular track. Weiskopf won the British Open at Royal Troon in 1973 and built "Postage Stamp," the 140-yard 16th, as a nod to the famously tiny 8th green at this year's British Open venue.

The newer Pinnacle Course (7,044 yards, par 72) was Weiskopf's first solo design, and like the crusty veteran himself, has both harsh and forgiving sides. The 6th, for example, is an inviting 299 yards, but canyon-like walls flank the green, the back of which falls off 150 feet to a valley.

Celeb sightings in Scottsdale aren't limited to Tour pros and wrinkly rock stars. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley are semi-regulars at Talking Stick Golf Club, a 36-hole facility designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The North Course (7,133 yards, par 70) is more intriguing than the South, as bunkers are used to create enough optical illusions for a revue at the nearby Casino Arizona.

Golfed out? Many Major League Baseball teams go to Scottsdale for spring training, including the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs (www.springtraining.com). Nothing goes better with 18 holes in the morning than nine innings in the afternoon.

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