Courses and Travel

Woods Is in the Wrong Desert

If last week in San Diego proved anything, it's that order has been restored. The stars are back in alignment. All the deafening static about the FedEx Cup and square-headed drivers and the Golf Channel finally quieted and fans were treated to what they like best -- Tiger Woods in the victory circle.

It was vintage Tiger, starting with the make-a-statement eagle at No. 9, followed by the exclamation point birdies down the stretch, which not only gave him a Torrey Pines three-peat, but made it seven consecutive wins on the PGA Tour in tournaments he's entered, the second-best run in history. Logic would tell you that with all the excitement and momentum going for Tiger and the PGA Tour, Mr. Woods would take the one-hour flight to Phoenix for the FBR Open and keep the ball rolling.


Instead, Tiger has once again opted for an 18-hour flight to the Middle East to play in the Dubai Desert Classic. Pffffffft. That's the sound of tires deflating. What a letdown. To boot, he told Peter Kostis after his San Diego win that he's not sure when he'll be back on the PGA Tour. Perhaps at Riviera in L.A., or maybe the Match Play in Tucson. Who knows? Ah, the quest for history -- the pursuit of golf's most cherished, impossible-to-imagine streak -- and the protagonist says, "I dunno. We'll see." Sort of sucks the life right out of it.

Tiger, I'm sorry you won't be making it to my hometown this year. For those of you who are thinking about a trip to Phoenix, Scottsdale or anywhere else in Arizona's Valley of the Sun, you'll encounter all of the golf, restaurants and nightlife you can handle. With approximately 330 days of sunshine a year and nearly 200 courses, finding a game around here isn't too hard. Narrowing down your choices is a bit tougher.

I recommend doubling your fun at the following facilities, each of which sports 36 holes. None are cheap, but if you want pure desert golf, the five must-plays in and around Scottsdale are:

We-Ko-Pa With the addition of the new Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw course, We-Ko-Pa now boasts 36 desert-framed holes that are free of homes and roads. The original course features dramatic split fairways and arroyos that slither through the property and are bracketed with dense, thorny plants. The new track is a rarity, a desert layout where walking is encouraged and where subtlety, risk/reward options and majestic mountain vistas are served up in equal measures.

Troon North Still the king of big-time public golf in Scottsdale, Troon North doles out two dynamic desert layouts, the 16-year-old Monument, a Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish collaboration, and the 11-year-old Pinnacle, a Weiskopf solo job. Pinnacle is perhaps the tougher test of driving and features deeper bunkers. Monument has more memorable holes, including No. 3, which features its namesake giant boulder in the middle of the landing zone.

Grayhawk For years, it was better known as the hangout of Phil Mickleson, Gary McCord and Peter Kostis, and for its stone-shaped speakers piping out classic rock on the range. These days, it has settled into its role of possessing the most versatile tournament tracks around, offering a perfect blend of strategy and scenery. Strong players praise the Tom Fazio-designed Raptor, which will host the PGA Tour's Fry's event this October, while those looking for maximum variety gravitate toward the Talon, a 1994 David Graham/Gary Panks design.

The Boulders Tucked away in the charmingly named town of Carefree, some consider the North course the better, fairer test, thanks to its collection of sturdy par-4s, but first-timers should not miss a round on the South, with its handful of cactus-strewn holes that literally climb into ancient, six-story-high sandstone rock outcroppings.

TPC Scottsdale With the installation of a caddie program late in 2006, tourists can now feel like touring pros as they stride across the Stadium Course's fairways. They can gaze at the McDowell Mountains and imagine they're Vijay or Phil, hunting for eagles at the island green par-5 15th and drivable par-4 17th. In between, they can tackle the rowdiest par-3 in golf. Stadium's companion, the shorter, easier Desert Course, is undergoing a re-design and will reopen late in 2007, but it will continue to be one of the region's best bargains.

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