More than 30 memebrs of Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., play golf for a living, and a handful of others could if they so desired. The club has no tennis courts, no swimming pool and no social memberships. It is a golfer's club, for a certain type of golfer. The range is blanketed with ProV1s and lined with so many millionaire pros, says CBS announcer and founding member Gary McCord, that "If you need a ride on someone's airplane, you just go in the locker room and holler, 'Is anyone going to Dallas?' "
The club championship, naturally, is a beast of a tournament, as unforgiving as the stunning landscape of massive boulder formations, jagged rock washes and stubbly cacti that compelled Phil Mickelson to shape his first course design here, with Gary Stephenson, in 2001. Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, has never won the title, and members like to recall the time the Aussie finished 10th in the club championship the same week he placed ninth on Tour. The co-champions that year? Ben Hayes and Bret Guetz, no doubt stalwarts on your fantasy golf team.
The reigning king of the Rock is PGA Tour pro Kevin Streelman, a former Whisper Rock caddie-turned-member. Tour regulars Todd Demsey, Chez Reavie and Billy Mayfair have also claimed bragging rights. Says Mayfair, a five-time Tour winner: "It's a bit like winning a mini tour event."
But every club has a club championship.
The most maddening exam at Whisper Rock isn't its club championship but rather an annual sacrificial slaughter known as the Battle of Attrition. Held in January, it is a test of skill and courage whose warped parameters bring to mind equal parts Salvador Dali and Pete Dye, or a U.S. Open layout — on acid. The tees are stretched to 7,417 yards, the holes are cut on precipices, and the greens, which are as receptive as the wing of a 767, exceed a terrifying 13 on the Stimp. Though as Trent Rathbun, Whisper Rock's director of golf, points out, "Once you get past 13, does it even matter?"
The "B of A" is a four-man team event — Jim "Bones" Mackay, Phil Mickelson's caddie and a 2-handicap at the club, has anchored a winning side with his deadeye putting — but it also rewards individual play. The event reflects the fun-first sensibility of the Rock, or more precisely the daffy, slightly demented ethos of McCord, who helped establish the place eight years ago.
A four-time senior club champion, McCord is also the club's de facto director of hijinks and, with the blessing of club owner Gregg Tryhus, social outreach ambassador. McCord brought J.B. Holmes to Whisper Rock in January 2006, when nobody, not even McCord, knew Holmes. (They met through a mutual friend.) The announcer was struck by the kid's length, but not struck dumb. He decided to stage an elaborate ruse.
"On the range we saw Geoff Ogilvy, Fred Couples and Paul Casey," McCord recalls. "I said, 'J.B., when we meet these guys I want you to hit the first few balls as hard as you can.'
"So we walked up," McCord continues. "I said, 'Guys, listen, I want to introduce you to a new guy on the Tour. I've been working with him a bit and I'm trying to tell him he needs some more clubhead speed if he's going to compete on the PGA Tour.' The back of the range is 378 yards, and there's an upslope at about 370. J.B. got up and flew the first one all the way back there. I said, 'Geoff, look at that! See how short his swing is? I need to get him longer!' He hit the second one, and it also went 370. Couples walked away and said, 'Oh, my gosh, not another one of these guys.' "
To put it mildly, the Battle of Attrition is McCord's kind of golf tournament: fun, absurd, but still golf at its core, and thus worth trying to win. "One year I was paired with McCord and two other guys, and we were on the seventh hole of the Lower Course, a very difficult par-3," says CBS's Peter Kostis, another founding member. "I hit a shot in there about 12 feet from the hole. No one else hit the green, and their low score, before I tried my putt, was 6.
"The pin is always cut right on a shelf so if your ball doesn't hit the hole it goes 40 feet down the hill," Kostis continues. "McCord said, 'What are you going to do with this putt?' I said, 'I'm going to try to make it.' He said, 'No, no, aim two feet right. Lag it so we can make a team par and get out of here.' We argued about it, and finally that's what I did — I aimed it out to the right. I lagged it maybe two and a half feet, three feet right, but I lipped out my par putt. It went 40 feet down the hill and I made a 7. Every hole is like that." In other words, every putt is a stomach-churning, make-it-or-chase-it proposition, much like the ubiquitous "volcano hole" in miniature golf.
Whisper Rock is a stern test even under normal conditions. That nearly 200 of its 555 members have handicaps of 5 or better is impressive given how often they find themselves chipping for birdie. The Lower (Mickelson) Course, with its small, undulating, Pinehurst-influenced greens, is rated 73.3 from the way-back tees, while the newer, Upper (Tom Fazio) layout is at 73.0. "A 6-handicap at Whisper Rock is probably like a 1 or a 2 at most clubs," says club champ Streelman.