A few of my 4th Semester classmates got jobs working out at TPC Scottsdale partway through their enrollment at the Golf Academy. Seeing them come to school wearing their blue Nike golf shirts featuring the white TPC Scottsdale logo on the chest was like a status symbol. Even though it was a work uniform for them, we all knew where they were going after school, and we were a little jealous.
Now that the semester’s winding down and guys are starting to interview for other jobs, those blue shirts are slowly disappearing as loyalties shift elsewhere. I told a couple of them, “We’ve got to get out there and play before we graduate,” knowing that if I couldn’t get on with one of them, I was unlikely to pony up the $299-339 it costs to play the Stadium Course this time of year ($243.50 after 3:00p, which is more expensive than even Torrey Pines). Even in the heat of the summer months, greens fees can still be well over $100.
The Phoenix Open has been played at TPC Scottsdale since 1987, but from 1932-1935 and again from 1939-1955, the event was played at Phoenix Country Club (PCC). It was discontinued after the 1935 tournament until Bob Goldwater Sr. convinced fellow Thunderbirds, a prominent civic organization in the Phoenix area, to help run the event. Beginning in 1955, The Arizona Country Club alternated as event host with PCC until 1975 when Phoenix Country Club again became the event’s permanent home.
In the mid-80s, the Thunderbirds began looking for a new tournament site as a way to grow the Open, which was limited in size and number of spectators by the Phoenix Country Club venue. Many locations in Phoenix were considered initially but scrapped due to environmental concerns. PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman stepped in to help and eventually brokered a deal with Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater to secure land within the city of Scottsdale for a stadium-style course. They chose wisely. TPC Scottsdale is in a beautiful spot – set in the Sonoran Desert and surrounded by views of the McDowell Mountains.
Construction of the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale and the Stadium Course began in January of 1986 when the design team of Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish was directed by Beman to create a stadium-like design similar to that of TPC Sawgrass, which allowed all spectators a perfect view of the tournament action.
TPC stands for Tournament Players Club, and TPC Scottsdale became the 6th such club to join the network of Tournament Players Clubs. They were a dream of Beman’s to “embody the Tour’s rigorous quality standards, provide unparalleled venues for Tour events, and further advance the Tour’s charitable contributions.” TPC Scottsdale has hosted the Phoenix Open for the past 29 years and over 500,000 fans annually attend one of the most popular non-major events on Tour.
In November of 2014, the Stadium Course reopened following an extensive seven-month renovation. The project included the relocation of four greens, resurfacing all the greens, reshaping and re-grassing all the tees, relocating and reshaping all the bunkers, replacing the cart paths, and re-landscaping the desert areas. It now plays 7,261 yards from the Championship (Tour) Tees to a Par of 71 because it only has three Par 5s, a course rating of 74.7, and a slope of 142. Here are some of the highlights of the round:
Holes Worth Writing Home About
I wasn’t as familiar with the front nine as I was the back nine at TPC Scottsdale because over the years, I haven’t picked up the tournament coverage on television until right around the time guys are making the turn. You can really see what Weiskopf and Morrish were thinking when they built the Stadium Course.
Many of the fairways and greens sit well below hills and mounds on either side above, giving this desert golf course almost a valley-like feel for the players. It’s all so that the massive galleries that attend every year can get a better view of the action.
My favorite hole on the front nine was the 432-yard Par 4 6th. It’s a beautiful golf hole. You’ll want to play your tee shot between the first two, staggered fairway bunkers to give yourself a short iron in. I bombed my drive, had just 143 in, and made an easy two-putt par. The greens on the Stadium Course are pretty firm, and you might consider hitting one less club into several of the complexes if they’re not elevated, to allow for a little roll-out, especially if the pin is all the way in the back.
The one thing you couldn’t help but notice if you were watching the tournament coverage on TV this year was the new, bright white sand of the bunkers out on the Stadium Course. They really popped in HD! In all my golfing life, I have never played out of sand like this – so fluffy and powdery, that at this moment I’m still struggling to find the right words to describe their actual consistency. They reminded me almost of moist sea salt. And they were so bright that if you didn’t have your sunglasses on, the glare reflecting back at you would hurt your eyes.
Holes 16, 17, and 18 make for a great finishing stretch, and when we were coming in, the lighting was just about perfect. We were entering another gorgeous desert sunset. How can I not write about hole No. 16? It’s probably the 2nd-most famous Par 3 on the Tour next to the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, but it’s easily the loudest and the rowdiest. As we had hoped, the scaffolding was still up on the left-hand side (even if it was just a shell of its former self), and to get to the tee, we had to drive our carts through the same opening where the players entered to cheering and jeering fans seven weeks earlier.
We put our pegs in the ground right at 6:25p. The left side of the green was shrouded in shadow, but the right side of the green, where the pin was, just happened to be illuminated by a few remaining rays of sunshine. It was like something out of a movie – picture perfect. The hole measured 157 yards over nothing but desert to a front right pin. I hit an easy 8-iron that rolled to about 20 feet.
I was the only one in our threesome to hit the green, and I could almost hear the stands giving my buddies the business for not hitting the green like they would do for the pros during tournament week. I made another easy par, and now, I can always say that I parred 16.
Sadly, except for the hole itself, the mounds around and behind No. 16 have been all but destroyed by both spectators and scaffolding, and they’re still in the process of cleaning up the mess. Massive cranes are on-site to remove the scaffolding piece-by-piece, and I would guess it’ll be another month before it’s completely disassembled.
The only other hole I will write about here is the 442-yard 18th. The church pew bunkers on the left side don’t really come into play off the tee unless you can carry your tee shot 305 yards over the edge of the water, but if you think you can, make absolutely sure you clear them. You’ll have some praying to do if you have to hit your ball out of there. It’s all but impossible.
This past week, I felt like a Tour player. In a span of less than six days, I got to play two PGA Tour venues in the exact same order that they play them on the Tour. The Farmers Insurance Open is held at Torrey Pines (which I played last Friday) the last weekend of January. It’s followed by the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale (which I got to play on Thursday) the first weekend in February. I got to play both courses in back-to-back weeks too. Pretty cool.
The greens at TPC Scottsdale felt like bent grass, but we were told after the round that they were actually a Bermudagrass blend designed to play like bent. What tipped us off that they might not be bent was that they were really firm when we repaired our ball marks. Bent grass greens are usually soft, spongy, and more receptive to a divot repair tool. Either way, the greens were excellent – probably rolling between ten and 10.5 on the stimp. The course as a whole is in phenomenal shape, and frankly it should be for what they’re charging to play it.
While we were playing the 11th hole, one of my buddies pointed to a random bird and said, “Hey! Isn’t that a bald eagle?” Now, as an Arizona native, I’ll be honest that my first thought was, “No you idiot! We don’t have bald eagles in the desert.” I thought that because I’ve only ever seen bald eagles up in Alaska, but my wife tells me they also live in the mountains elsewhere in Arizona.
Sure enough, as I tried to get closer to take a picture, there is was, our majestic national bird in all it’s glory. What a sight! It had to weigh at least ten pounds and had that unmistakable white head and bright yellow beak. After looking for fish in the lake bordering the entire left side of the 11th fairway, it spread its wings and flew across the water to perch itself in a mesquite tree along 15 fairway.
One thing to keep an eye out for when you visit TPC Scottsdale: there’s a small practice putting green just off the first tee. You’ve probably never see it before because it’s usually covered by stands and scaffolding during tournament week, but feel free to roll a few. The green is in great shape.
This is usually where I talk about the best shot of the day, but today I’m going to write about the best par of the day. At 490 yards, the Par 4 14th is, without a doubt, the hardest hole you’ve never heard of on the golf course. Now, I didn’t make it any easier by missing just my 2nd fairway of the entire round. I found myself 260 yards out, in some heavy ryegrass rough, with the ball above my feet. Certain death.
I swung my 3-wood like it was a baseball bat and bunted one down the fairway, but I still had over 50 yards to a drastically elevated green perched high above me with a large, intimidating bunker between me and the hole. I hit a little pitch that came to within ten feet and made the putt for par. Whatta par! That hole was ridiculous.
My best shot of the day? I nearly holed out for eagle from 166 yards out on the Par 4 10th. The ball mark was right next to the pin, and to add insult to injury, I lipped-out the remaining ten-footer for birdie. No one in our group made a birdie until the 17th hole if that tells you how tough this course plays from the back tees. We’re all low to mid single-digit handicaps, and I’m playing to a +.8 right now.
While We’re Young
We teed off at around 3:15p and pulled our carts in to the cart barn at around 6:55p for a round of 3:40. It’s not usually that busy out on the Stadium Course, and we were one of the last groups still out on the course as darkness fell. The Stadium Course gets anywhere from 100-200 rounds per day depending on the season, but you’re required to use a caddie to keep it moving if you go out and play before twilight.
Next On the Tee
My Financial Management instructor is one of nine general partners who purchased the Golf Club at Johnson Ranch in San Tan Valley from a Scottsdale-based company back in 2004. Early in the semester, he made the offer that if any one of us ever wanted to play the course, “all you have to do is ask.” So we did. We’re planning on teeing it up out there in mid-April.