Toby Ingleton escapes from the UK for a week of Arizona sunshine
Readers from more predictable climates might find it difficult to understand the UK’s obsession with weather, but when summer golf plans are repeatedly interrupted by high winds, rainstorms and even snow, one develops an instictive attraction to weather reports.
A visit to Scottsdale and its wall-to-wall winter sunshine is therefore a journey into a desirable unknown. GCA's hosts at the Arizona Board of Tourism advised that the state has had just three inches of rain this year, which could hardly be enough to fuel the centrepiece at Fountain Hills. Alarm bells about golf and water resource immediately start ringing, but that’s another story (and quite an impressive one, in Arizona’s case).
In golf business, developers often talk about the importance of ‘cluster’ destinations. In some rare examples, say Bandon and Barnbougle, a single golf resort may be so desirable that it can survive without support. But in most cases, visitor numbers are likely to be boosted where there are numerous courses and other activities. With over 200 courses in the Greater Phoenix area, clustering doesn’t even begin to describe the amount of golf on offer.
And while Arizona may not have a beach, it’s got pretty much everything else on offer including, according to a recent TV show, the number one thing you must do before you die. I was too busy playing golf for that, but hopefully have a few years left to fit it in. Arizona is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with hiking and mountain biking particularly popular and plenty of desert excursions for thrill seekers. It also has a lively nightlife, typified by the Living Room at the hip new W Scottsdale Hotel and fantastic restaurants such as the Spotted Donkey at El Pedegral and Mastro’s City Hall Steakhouse in downtown Scottsdale.
So, what of the golf? With seven courses visited, I barely scraped the surface, but this was a fine introduction to desert golf.
Three of the tracks played were associated with resorts, the North and South courses at The Boulders, and two of The Phoenician’s three loops of nine, the Desert and Canyon. Both of these resorts occupy top 40 spots in Golf Digest’s latest Best Golf Resorts in North America poll and it’s easy to be won over by the outstanding service.
The Phoenician has some strong holes, the par-five second hole on the Desert springing to mind with a large bunker cutting into the approach zone and adding risk to the rewards of attempting to reach the green in two. The routing is constrained by the desire to accommodate 27 holes on the property, but one of the solutions, carving tee boxes into the side of Camelback Mountain, provides for some excellent views. The resort is also notable for its teaching facilities, expertly headed by Director of Golf Instruction Michael Lamanna.
The Boulders is more what you’d imagine desert golf to be. Architect Jay Morrish has done a fine job of intertwining golf within the natural landscape, most impressively on the South course where the rock outcrops feature abundantly, and are an aesthetic delight. The local desert rule employed by most clubs – taking a lateral drop when balls are lost in desert areas – is much-used unless you are one of the fortunate few with laser guided tee shots.
Next on the agenda was the tour triumvirate of Troon North (Pinnacle course), Grayhawk and TPC Scottsdale. Unexpectedly, each of these three had a strong individual identity. Troon North offers sweeping views over Greater Phoenix. The current Pinnacle course is a composite of the previous Pinnacle and Monument courses, re-configured by original designer Tom Weiskopf to allow for easier walking, among other things. It’s encouraging to hear of rising demand for walkable courses, particularly in a region where many are most definitely not. Breathtaking vistas are shared by impressive properties, at times a little too close for comfort, as my opening tee shot demonstrated.
TPC Scottsdale is far from having been crafted by nature and, a few holes holes aside, isn’t typical desert golf. However, it has been superbly designed to demand strategic thought and offer enjoyment in spades. Morrish and Weiskopf collaborated on the design, with input from Howard Twitty and Jim Colbert. Many cooks didn’t spoil this broth. The closing holes at TPC Scottsdale represented the best four-hole stretch of the week. A short par five to an island green, the famous stadium sixteenth (which alone attracts a crowd of 23,000 during the FBR Open), a reachable par four and the final hole where your line over water off the tee reflects your bravery.
Between the resort and tour courses we took a trip to Longbow Golf Club. Interestingly, many of the journalists that accompanied me were underawed – perhaps as a result of the relatively flat, uninteresting terrain. Personally, I found this perhaps the most pleasant of surprises. Ken Kavanaugh has crafted a very thoughtful and intelligently-bunkered course that finds you thinking before reaching for the driver on many holes. And with green fees from as little as US$35, it certainly wins the value-for-money vote. Most golfers would cut off their non-leading arm to have such a high quality, accessible and affordable facility on their doorstep.
A more detailed look at courses in the Scottsdale area will appear in the January 2010 edition of Golf Course Architecture.