SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA – I arrive at what’s called “the loudest hole in golf” and I’m greeted by silence. The legendary 16th on the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale, where just a few days earlier over 30,000 boisterous fans filled every seat of the grandstand they erect annually for the Phoenix open, is eerily silent when I arrive.
A few workers are quietly dismantling the stands. It appears they’re too busy to notice me.
The 162-yard, par-3 16th is recognized as one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour. Not because of the degree of difficulty but rather because it’s here that normally reserved golf fans turn college football rowdies and taunt and insult PGA stars whose tee shots don’t land on the hole’s postage stamp sized green.
It’s a tradition both players and fans seem to relish.
“The most striking thing about the 16th is the crowd cheering like it’s a football game,” PGA star Jonathan Kaye once said. “The crowd really pumps us up.”
As I settle into the tee box, I try to imagine what it’s like to have 30,000 people just hoping you hit an errant shot so they can hurl insults at you.
Even without the crowd, my heart rate quickens and my grip tightens as I stand over the ball. The menacing bunkers that guard this precious piece of Arizona golf real estate suddenly appear bigger than the green itself.
As the ball leaves the club, I have a good feeling about the shot. I follow its progress as its sails majestically over the left edge bunker and admire it landing gently on the green. A smile creeps across my face as the ball rolls to about 10 feet from the flag.
Phew, I think.
Left: Scottsdale’s courses offer a variety of unique challenges. Right: Birdies come in the real form on Scottsdale courses.
Then suddenly, the silence is broken by the sound of applause, which is quickly followed by someone shouting “you da man.”
The crew apparently stopped working while I was in my backswing and was now saluting my effort.
“That felt good, didn’t it?” shouts one of the workers. Actually, everything about Scottsdale golf feels good.
The 100 or so pristine courses located in Scottsdale are the finest collection in America. And the almost 100 others next door in neighbouring Phoenix aren’t bad either.
Locals will tell you there’s not a bad golf course in what’s known as the Valley of the Sun. And the millions of vacationing golfers attracted here each year to play seem to endorse that boast.
Scottsdale’s courses range from typical desert layouts to rollercoaster designs that snake through and around the breathtaking foothills that ring the Valley.
There’s never a bad view from a tee box here – the McDowell Mountains and landmarks like Camelback Mountain guarantee stunning diversions.
Naturally, some Scottsdale courses are better than others. But picking which one you like best is akin to choosing your favourite child.
Certainly TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course ranks among the best –and most popular with tourists for sure thanks to the hype over the 16th hole. The 6,525-yard Stadium Course is the result of two brilliant architectural minds, legendary PGA star Tom Weiskopf – now one of golf’s premier designers - and design guru Jay Morrish.
Weiskopf and Morrish collaborated on a number of Scottsdale projects but their Stadium Course masterpiece and the two courses they designed down the road at Troon North – the Monument and the Pinnacle – stand out from the crowd.
More than 40 PGA Tour players regularly practice and play at the TPC Scottsdale complex, which is located right next door to the Canadian operated Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort, itself a gem.
Left: One of the victims of errant golf shots are the cactus trees. Right: This photo courtesy of the Phoenix Open shows crowd at the 16th.
Although the Stadium Course’s16th hole is what everyone talks about, the other 17 are equally impressive. Weiskopf and Morrish spared no creativity creating a course where both touring pros and visiting duffers like me feel right at home.
The course, which opened in 1986, is always in meticulous condition – the best on Tour, PGA pros will tell you. It first hosted the Phoenix Open in 1987 and the event has grown to become the largest attended tournament in the world.
The designers test your accuracy on every hole – stray just a bit off the tee and you’ll be tip toeing through thick rattlesnake infested desert brush looking for your ball; hoping the notorious Teddy Bear Cactus doesn’t hug you with its Velcro-like thorns.
The back nine, starting with the “broken” dog leg right 10th, is the real challenge here. Six of the back nine holes feature water and the par 5, 15th even finishes with an island green. But don’t worry if you score high on 15 and 16, the short par 4 17th usually rewards players with a birdie – low handicap players routinely look for an eagle on this 292-yard softie and pros like Andrew Magee have been known to score a hole-in-one here. I was happy with my par.
Once you’ve played the Stadium Course, you can’t wait to get over to Troon North – located down the road next door to another Canadian hotel icon, the Four Seasons Scottsdale - to experience Weiskopf and Morrish’s Monument and Pinnacle designs.
If these two beauties fail the thrill, check your pulse.
The Monument, my favourite, is 7,070 yards of pure raw beauty, incorporating the area’s dramatic high desert landscape with lush fairways and greens. Monument is often dubbed America’s No. 1 daily-fee course by recognized golf publications and Golf Digest claims Monument is the “best conditioned course in America.” High praise indeed but well earned.
Pinnacle, which Weiskopf designed on his own, ranks right behind Monument in every category, and its greens are recognized as “the best in America” by Golf Digest.
Golf doesn’t get much better than this.
The biggest challenge on these courses is concentration, which is always being put to the test by the jaw-dropping surroundings, the multi-million dollar homes owned by rock stars and sports icons that line the fairways, and the odd hawk or eagle that watches you from high on their rocky perches.
Weiskopf oversaw an “upgrade” of both the Monument and Pinnacle courses a few years ago and the “new” features confirm that even perfection can be improved.
The final four holes at Monument are now my favourite in the golf world – and the 18th is a perfect ending to a perfect golf vacation in Scottsdale.
Our favourite Scottsdale golf courses:
- Troon North Monument: This is a Tom Weiskopf gem that offers the best four hole combination - 15 through 18 – in the golf world. Simply stunning! Monument’s sister course, Pinnacle, is every bit as good but Monument is what we’d play if given the choice.
- TPC Stadium Course: If it’s good enough for the PGA Tour, then TPC Stadium is good enough for me. The 16th hole at TPC Stadium is what everyone talks about but the other 17 holes here are pretty impressive as well.
- We-Ko-Pa Golf Club: An unusual name and an unusual course designed by Scott Miller. But We-Ko-Pa is one of my favourites in Scottsdale, even though it technically resides in Phoenix – close enough!
- Phoenician Golf Club: Part of the remarkable Phoenician Resort, this course offers up some challenging holes and some of the best scenery in golf – Camelback Mountain is never out of view on this remarkable course.
- The Golf Club at Eagle Mountain: This course is a natural beauty – its 18 holes blend in beautifully with the natural brilliance and the surrounding beauty challenges your concentration from tee to green. Like all other Scottsdale courses, your accuracy will be put to the test here.