Pictures From left: An old saguaro cactus on SunRidge Canyon's back nine, a golfer takes aim on Troon North's Monument Course, and sunset on Boulders South.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Of all the host cities I've visited during the week of their PGA Tour event, none are ever as galvanized as the Phoenix-Scottsdale area during the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
It doesn't matter who you speak with during your trip: someone at the bell desk, security personnel in the airport, or staff at a golf course, they're excitedly telling you about their open plans. At SunRidge Canyon in Fountain Hills, one gal I met serving burgers told me she bought her boyfriend matching outfits for Christmas just to compliment their tickets to the TPC.
Having attended the event last year, complete with 16th hole passes and an evening at the Bird's Nest, I spent my time visiting area golf courses, most of which enjoy a nice stimulus of rounds during their peak season.
I stayed at Talking Stick Resort, an ideal base for golfers during tournament week or baseball spring training (the Salt River Fields are just across Highway 101). Located on Salt River Pima Maricopa Native American land, it's a new property and the rooms are spacious and slick. Multiple restaurants, from cafes and buffets to chic fine dining mean you can try somewhere new every meal. They're large pool area even attracted some pool-goers despite weather that didn't peak past the mid 70s (surely plenty warm for those visiting from the north). The casino, which has plenty of 24-hour tables and slots, also includes a large poker room. Every I walked by, whether it was 7 a.m. on my way out the door to a tee time or midnight coming back from a night out, it was packed to the gills. The great juxtaposition of Talking Stick is that the hotel and casino is stylish and modern, while the two Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-designed golf courses onsite are minimalist and subtle. While lots of fun with wide playing corridors and no real estate onsite, they're certainly not of the spectacular nature like Boulders or Troon North but consistently pleasant.
Talking Stick is flat, but more mountainous golf is nearby. A big reason why I came out to Scottsdale was to visit SunRidge Canyon, a course that's flown under the radar in recent years but has received new local ownership. The club also just announced that instructor Jim McLean will debut a new golf school here. Located in Fountain Hills, SunRidge rolls spectacularly down and back up rugged canyon terrain. The front nine plays mostly downhill, while the back nine trudges back up. The 18th hole, a dogleg left over bunkers that heads uphill to an elevated green is as tough as a closer as I've played in the valley. Thankfully, the course also has some of the prettiest views in the valley on both nines.
Speaking of picturesque, I also had the chance to head north and play both Boulders South (where I used my camera more than my golf clubs) and Troon North's Monument Course for the first time. Joining me for the round at Troon North were three Norwegians in town to get a winter golf fix in the mornings and head to the tournament in the afternoons. If you think Troon North's sticker price at over $200 is pricy, my cart partner Oliver confessed to me that amount of cash converted to Norwegian Kroners gets you on a pretty ordinary course back home. In Scottsdale, it gets you a peak season 9 a.m. tee time on arguably the top golf course in the country's most visited winter golf destination.
Shortly after, I zipped down Highway 101 to Phoenix for a twilight round at Arizona Grand Golf Resort, a resort course minutes from downtown Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport. While narrow in spots, the course really gets going on the final six holes with a natural stretch along the South Mountain Park nature preserve that has trails filled with mountain bikers and dog walkers. While the Phoenician sits on camelback Mountain's slopes, from Arizona Grand's elevated 18th tee, you get an entirely different perspective of the valley with views of the Phoenix Skyline and Camelback that's worth the green fee.
Lastly, after three multi-round days and multi-beer evenings, I had an 8 a.m. tee time at the 27-hole Phoenician Resort, which sits at the base of Camelback Mountain about a mile from downtown Scottsdale.
With little sleep and sore muscles from 36 holes the day before, two notable events occurred within the first four holes on the Canyon nine: the first time I can recall skipping my ball off the water (unintentionally of course, I wasn't summoning my inner Vijay) yet still saved par; then on the fourth hole I skulled a drive off a rock and watched it sail straight over my head over a fence and out of bounds.
I hardly ever drink Bloody Marys on the golf course. But when the cart gal showed up soon after my follies, suddenly I was in the mood.
Spot-on conditions at this posh, AAA Five Diamond Resort has been commonplace for years. But one of the new developments at the Phoenician compared to when I was last here two years ago is the new Relish Burger Bistro, located right above the pro shop. Relish serves a variety of kobe beef burgers or alternatives like salmon and tuna patties. I opted for a Cowboy Burger: which came with onion rings, bacon, jalapenos, onions, cheddar cheese and steak sauce. I even had them throw on a fried egg for a little extra protein - plus a side of fried pickles.
It was an odd order for me, but nothing stranger than I'd already seen on the course that morning anyways. I'd officially seen and eaten it all in the desert, and it was time to head home.