February 26, 2020

Welcome to our “Where I played…” series, in which a resident GOLF staffer runs through a recent day at a course you might play in your future. Today, we’re pulling double-duty, breaking down both courses at Troon North in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Pinnacle and the Monument.

Knocking out 36 holes in one day is no easy task, especially when you’re playing in Arizona in January, where daylight can be a challenge. Luckily my group made it through a marathon day at Troon North in Scottsdale — but just in time. Here’s how we did it, and some learnings I picked up along the way.

1. First, the basics: Troon North has two 18-hole public courses, the Pinnacle and the Monument, both designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. The Monument opened in 1990 and the Pinnacle came in 1995, but for the most part they are pretty similar, although the Pinnacle gets a little more love in GOLF‘s latest Top 100 Courses You Can Play list. The Pinnacle is 25th overall (as well as the best public course in Arizona) and the Monument is 58th (as well as fourth-best in the state). Prices range from about $175 to just over $300 depending on what time and day you play this time of year (but gets much cheaper in the summer). There’s also a 20% discount off your second round if you book 36 in advance. You can find cheaper rounds in Phoenix, but these are two of the four best public courses in the state, if not the two best, for a reason.

2. If you want to play 36, especially in the winter, get there early and plan well. We were the first two groups off on a Monday morning, 8 a.m. and 8:10 a.m., and first balls went into the air with the temperature hovering around the mid-50s. We finished the first 18 shortly after noon and had time to sit down for lunch at the Dynamite Grille — I recommend the Tomahawk Turkey Club or Desert Dunes Mahi Mahi Tacos — before teeing off on the Pinnacle at 1:25 p.m. and 1:35 p.m. The last of our two groups finished just in time, too. Waning daylight was making the final few holes difficult, but we had a few minutes to spare before the sun set at 5:58 p.m. Barely.

A close up of the green of the 9th hole at the Pinnacle course.

3. Located northeast of Phoenix and 30 miles from Sky Harbor International Airport, the courses weave through rock outcroppings with dramatic elevation changes. Both courses have large bunkers and even bigger greens, and all 36 holes are splashed by saguaros and natural desert landscape. As for the conditioning, it’s superb. You won’t have any complaints there. Tee shots are intimidating — especially on the Monument — but there’s often more room on the fairways than what you first notice from the deceiving tee boxes. We started with the Monument before playing the Pinnacle, playing the Gold tees for both, which was roughly 6,700 yards. Speaking of the tees we played…

4. Pick the right tees for you! Troon North is no joke. It’s target, desert golf and it’s pretty difficult if you aren’t playing from the right tee box. The hardest part about playing there is getting off the tee. Like I mentioned before, there are plenty of deceiving shots, but fairways are bigger than you realize and greens are huge. Pick the right tee, keep it safe and have a blast. But now that we’ve covered which tees to play…

5. Don’t overlook the greens! While getting off the tee is the most difficult aspect of playing Troon North, that doesn’t mean the greens are easy. They are big and roll pure but are also slopey and fast. Buckle up and try to learn the right spots to miss.

6. Now for the most important part to our day: breakfast. If you arrive early, like we did, snag a breakfast burrito from the grab-and-go station near the putting green. They’re so massive you can split it with your partner or save some for the back nine. It’s also delicious.

Breakfast is served.

7. OK, back to the course. We’ll start with the Monument, which is where we first played that morning. When you are on a buddies trip and up late playing shuffleboard at a local pub the night before, beginning your day with a tee shot on this bad boy is like jumping in an ice bath. Then throw in the chilly temps and wicked winds we played in that morning, and that fairway looks even tighter. Take a breakfast ball if necessary and get off to a good start. Speaking of the Monument course, if you wondered why it’s called that, see if you can scope something out down the 3rd fairway in this photo:

A view from the tee box on the par-5 3rd hole of the Monument course.

8. Surprise! The Monument course has, you guessed it, a massive 25-foot boulder dissecting the middle of the par-5 3rd fairway, conveniently dubbed “The Monument” hole. They couldn’t remove this boulder when designing the course, so instead it became a landmark (and great photo op). Some players can go over it, but if you play a nice little fade you can work your ball right around it.

The famous boulder.

9. My favorite part of the Monument was its trio of short par-4s — the 4th, 6th and 15th. The 4th played 370 for us and has the widest fairway you’ll come across, but the approach gets tougher with a big green surrounded by two large bunkers. (I three-putted from 12 feet. Sigh.) The 6th is about 100 yards shorter than the 4th — we played it from 295 — and also has a large fairway that’s pinched by bunkers 75 yards short of the green, forcing you to lay up or go over them, but a deceiving bunker sits in front of the putting surface. You won’t need much more than a wedge, but that lone bunker plays with your head, as the front of the green sits several yards behind it. Make sure you use enough club. As for 15, it’s another shorty at just under 300 yards, but the fairway tightens severely at the green. If you wanna muscle up and try to roll one on, don’t miss, because it’s nothing but desert surrounding a narrow green, save for a few bunkers. (Oh, and if you’re long, those bunkers might save you, as they did for one of my playing partners who then chipped in for eagle.) Short par-4s are the best holes in all of golf. The Monument, with three great ones, is greedy in a good way in that regard.

10. One of the most daunting tee shots of the round — you are sensing a theme now, aren’t you? — comes at the par-5 11th. From an elevated tee the fairway looks minuscule, and from there you continue uphill to a green that favors a draw approach.

11. The 541-yard par-5 14th hole is a tough one for first-timers. There’s room off the tee, but it’s difficult to figure out where to place your second shot. The approach is one of the most picturesque you’ll find, as a huge outcrop looks over the green that’s guarded by deep bunkers. If the pin is tucked to the left, good luck. One of the best pictures you’ll take all day will be from around that green.

A view of the green on the par-5 14th hole at the Monument (with a difficult pin tucked to the left).

12. Check out Troon North’s website before you go. They have some great flyovers of both courses on YouTube. It will educate you on what’s ahead.  At the very least it’s better than that afternoon sales call.

13. Your last best view at the Monument will come on the long par-3 16th tee box, which plays downhill and from which you can see for miles.

The par-3 16th at the Monument course is long, but the views from the tee box go on for miles.

14. Last but not least, the Pinnacle. The first four holes are par-4s and the first two call for forced carries to the greens, but you get a par-5 and par-3 back-to-back on holes 5 and 6, and both are great. On the 5th, the fairway splits 150 yards out from the green, so you’ll have to decide your route to the green with your second shot. Pick the longer second shot that requires a shot over the desert and you’ll have a shorter approach with a great angle to a tight and narrow green. The 6th is a downhill par-3 to a wide green with little depth. There are huge bunkers hugging the front left of the green, which slopes left to right and funnels any balls missing short or right back down the hill. On a windy day, this exposed hole makes club selection super tricky.

15. The Pinnacle seemed to be slightly tighter than the Monument, especially on the front nine. You’ve been warned.

16. My favorite set of back-to-back holes kicks off the back nine. The 10th is a short-par 4 where you’ll have to stay short of the bunkers at the end of the fairway. From there comes an approach to an elevated green where misses to the right are in big trouble and short is either in the sand or rolling back down the hill. Next, the 11th, is no easy task. It’s a long par-5 that swings to the right and tightens around the green. A good drive gets you to the corner, but only the bravest (and longest hitters) will go for this green in two. A massive outcrop sticks up high to the left of the green, nearly on top of it, providing a stunning visual for your approach.

A view from the right side of the green of the par-5 11th hole at Troon North's Pinnacle course.

17. Let’s give some credit to the behind-the-scenes guys here. The course marshal at Troon North the day we played was great. While some marshals or rangers cruise around in their carts and do little beyond make witty jokes, it was at this point in our round when we ran into ours for the first time. Waiting at the 11th hole he warned us it was slow up ahead and that we might not finish, but he said he told the groups to hustle and that if we kept on them, our chances would improve. About an hour later he came by and said that pace had picked up and that we’d for sure finish, which we did. Don’t underestimate what a good marshal’s stern encouragement can do to pick up the pace for several groups. No one wants to play 16 or 17 holes, only to not finish. Gotta hand it to this guy for doing this job, being honest and getting players to pick up the pace. (Bonus: Ours, of course, also had the obligatory witty jokes.)

18. Just as the Monument wraps up with a memorable par-3 at 17, the Pinnacle does the same late in your round, this time with the 132-yard 16th. It’s a downhill shot with water short and bunkers left and right. The closing hole at the Pinnacle is a test. You need a strong drive to get a good angle at the green on this long par-4, which finishes with a difficult green bookended by bunkers. The Troon North clubhouse centered perfectly in the background is a nice aesthetic touch.

19. Enjoy! Troon North is public, but it’s also on the high-end of what you are typically going to pay when you play with buddies (or maybe it’s not). That said, if you play anywhere in Scottsdale in January or February you are going to have to pony up since demand is so high, so soak in your round. Play twice (like we did) and bring extra golf balls (like I forgot to).

To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.