SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Though the PGA Tour chooses TPC Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open there are more than 200 other golf courses in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, making for some tough decisions when planning your next golf vacation in the desert.
How should the traveling golfer narrow it down? As we see it, there are five can't-miss golfing experiences in the 480 area code:
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There are 36 holes at Troon North – the Monument Course and the Pinnacle Course – and both are as good as they are expensive during peak season (count on paying two bills or more). But they're always in terrific shape, especially during the winter.
The Pinnacle Course, which is set up against the base of Pinnacle Peak, is classic desert target golf. Fairways are more than generous, but approach shots must be fairly precise to reach these perfect undulating greens. The Monument Course, which is widely considered the better of the two, is named for the monument boulder on the third hole. With tees perched high above fairways, it has a few forced carries, but they don't keep it from being quite playable overall. Both courses feature great views of the valleys and some spectacular homes (that don't come into play). Practice facilities are outstanding.
Things at Troon North got even better in 2007, when original architects Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish renovated the courses, which included rerouting by switching some holes on the back nine. In the end, it made both courses easier to get around, plus they now have a little more of a links feel.
TPC at Scottsdale Stadium Course
Home of the most raucous fans on the PGA Tour, the Weiskopf-Morrish designed Stadium Course at the TPC at Scottsdale is something you'll want to experience. If for no other reason than to play the par-3 16th hole, even if you're not surrounded by 50,000 hecklers in pastel booing your tee shot or cheering your putt.
These days, the 16th is completely enclosed during the FBR Open, making it one of the most unique amphitheaters in all of golf. All you have to do is add a little imagination.
This is also a facility (which also includes the TPC Champions Course) that more than two dozen PGA Tour players call home. It's also where noted teacher Jim Flick bases his game-improvement clinics.
Grayhawk Golf Club
Another facility with two terrific layouts, Grayhawk Golf Club is definitely a Scottsdale standout. Both the Talon and the Raptor courses at Grayhawk have hosted numerous high-profile events, including the Accenture Match Play in the late 1990s.
Most recently, the Raptor Course has been the site of the Frys.com Open, which is part of the PGA Tour's Fall Series. This Tom Fazio-designed shotmaker's course has plenty of cool holes, including the short 330-yard 'Wee One' par-4 15th that provides the ultimate in risk-reward (stray drivers usually wind up in the desert).
The Talon Course, which is designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, gives Grayhawk a really nice 1-2 combination. Fairways are tighter on this course, but like its sister, conditioning on the tees and greens is usually immaculate.
Afterwards, check out Phil's Grill (named after Phil Mickelson) for drinks and great views of the golf course and nearby McDowell Mountains.
Westin Kierland Resort and Spa
With 27 holes, there's plenty of golf to choose from at Westin Kierland Resort and Spa. Since the course is designed by Scott Miller, most of the holes are pretty wide open and forgiving ... but it's no pushover, especially the Acacia Nine, which ends with a terrific risk-reward par 5.
If you're really adventurous, you can try your hand at one of the golf course's Segways instead of a golf cart. It comes with training, fortunately, and it's a pretty quick way to get around the golf course once you get the hang of it.
Another techie innovation at the Kierland: a sort of air-conditioning system on golf carts. The devices blow cool air on the back of your neck while you're riding, which can be a real godsend during one of Arizona's triple-digit days.
The resort is also home to the LaBauve Golf Academy, featuring top teachers Mike and Sandy LaBauve. The instruction at Kierland is rounded out with a top-notch clubfitting program, as well as the ForeMax golf conditioning program.
Talking Stick Golf Club
Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore designed golf courses are almost always excellent, and 36-hole Talking Stick Golf Club is no exception.
Named for the traditional wooden stick used on Pima Indian calendars, Talking Stick is a prime example of minimalist design. Crenshaw and Coore went for a links feel (as opposed to a desert feel) over on the longer, more difficult North Course. In excess of 7,100 yards, this par 70 has wide fairways, no trees and plenty of bunkers.
The South Course has a little more elevation change and some tree-lined fairways. A bit shorter, it's also more straightforward than the North Course. With designers like this behind them, it's no surprise that both courses are always in excellent shape.