By: Andrew Penner
Clinging to a precarious one-up lead with two holes to play, my Spidey senses told me I was in some trouble. The remaining holes played right into my long-hitting foe’s hands. To top it off, after playing five rounds in five days, there wasn’t much left in the tank. But, thankfully, I had already convinced myself of this: win, lose, or draw, everyone who pegs it up in Scottsdale is already a champ.
Cheesy comments aside, playing golf in a gorgeous, desert setting – especially when the majority of Canada is frozen hockey-puck solid – is never a bad thing. Indeed, when most Canadians are swinging snow shovels, people in Scottsdale are swinging 7-irons. Yes, indeed, golf and Scottsdale go together like cake and ice cream, gin and tonic, beer and wings…you get the idea. With over 200 courses to choose from, the sun-soaked region is, hands down, one of the greatest golf destinations in the world.
The icing on the cake, for us, was scoring a couple of tickets to the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. Dubbed “The Greatest Show on Grass,” the event is a spectacle unlike anything else in golf. Over 170,000 booze-fuelled golf fans fill the grounds on Saturday alone. My “foe” (okay, let’s just call him my 18-year-old son who hits it to the moon) and I needed to witness this “show” for ourselves.
Naturally, it’s the upscale tracks such as the TPC Scottsdale, Troon North, Grayhawk, and The Boulders that lead the pack in these parts. These are dynamite desert courses that golf pundits have salivated over for years. However, first on our schedule was We-Ko-Pa, the only course we played that was not in Scottsdale proper.
Located on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation near Fountain Hills, the pure and pristine desert layouts at We-Ko-Pa are, in one word, awesome. It would take a few paragraphs to mention all the accolades that this 36-hole facility has garnered over the years. The Saguaro Course – a modern classic designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw – is easily one of my favourites in the Valley of the Sun. However, the original Cholla Course, which features a smattering of one-of-a-kind holes that tumble and roll through the arid desert, is also first-rate. With no houses to hit, windows to wreck, or cars to clobber, we could swing free and go for the cheap seats on every drive. If my “foe” and I had to pick a favourite, We-Ko-Pa would be it.
“I’ll give you two shots a side,” I naïvely quipped as we hit a few putts on the practice green at We-Ko-Pa. Unfortunately, my generous offering failed to take into consideration his recent growth spurt and subsequent power increase. “You got it, dad,” he winked. “I’ll try and go easy on you.” The little brat lied, of course.
After trading blows for the majority of the round, he rolled in a 50-footer for birdie on the postcard-pretty 14th – a beautiful downhill par-3 with a sweet mountain backdrop – that finished me off. However, the round at We-Ko-Pa was a great start to the trip. The weather was fantastic, the company couldn’t have been better, and, bottom line, it felt great to be shooting golf balls…as opposed to hockey pucks.
Shockingly, “the old man” got off to a blazing start at The Boulders the next day. Perhaps it was stunning boulder and cacti-peppered nature of the place (or the fact I got beat like a rented mule the previous round), but I really could do no wrong on the first six holes.
Unquestionably, if you love world-class desert golf with all the fixins’, The Boulders is the place for you. Featuring two renowned courses and one of the most luxurious resorts in the entire southwest, The Boulders, which is located in North Scottsdale, never disappoints.
Right on cue, my nasty, cacti-killing snap hook made an appearance on the 7th and I was never the same. This opened the door for junior to go for the takedown. He obliged. On the beautiful finishing run at The Boulders (we played the South Course) he delivered the decisive blows. And I, well, absorbed them. Score it a 2-up lead for the kid.
With a couple of super-fun rounds under our belt, it was time to head into the heart of Scottsdale to experience a trifecta of Scottsdale desert classics. Our final three courses – where “we came, we played, and he kicked my butt” – were the Westin Kierland, a 27-hole facility that boasts solid resort golf, the Champions Course at the TPC Scottsdale, and Grayhawk.
Unfortunately (for me), Jordan’s hot putter and 300-yard bombs showed no sign of letting up. At the Westin Kierland, which boasts player-friendly resort golf that won’t, supposedly, beat you up, I got beat up. Jordan strung together another solid round and forced me to play dirty on the 17th hole, an outstanding par-4 with a back tee just steps from the massive hotel. After stuffing his approach shot to two feet, I purposely did not concede his putt. (Hey, I could still hole out from the bunker, right?). Needless to say, he wasn’t impressed. So much so, in fact, that he crushed a 330-yarder on the 18th and sank a ten-footer for eagle to close me out. Apparently my strategy didn’t pay off.
The payoff at Grayhawk is impeccably-maintained, tough-as-nails desert golf holes that are highly memorable. Both courses at Grayhawk – The Raptor and The Talon – feature gorgeous shaping, punishing bunkering, and plenty of ball-hungry water hazards. Unlike the Westin Kierland, which plays more like a parkland layout, Grayhawk is desert all the way. A miss means saguaro and jumping cholla cacti will harass you. In my case, it was also my son. Chalk up another loss for the grizzled vet.
True, at this point I was sufficiently humbled. But I had one more pie to eat. Closing out our golf – before we could witness the pros lay a lickin’ on the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale – was the venerable Champions Course at that same facility. Not nearly as brutish as its famous big brother, the Champions Course has, nonetheless, a definitive mean streak. Although there are some homes and buildings that encroach here, the quality of the golf holes is high. Incidentally, both courses at the TPC Scottsdale maintain tour-quality playing conditions throughout the year, however, the Stadium Course ($299 in peak season) is nearly triple the price to play.
Motivated by the fact that the best players in the world were next door on the Stadium Course (or was it just the swing lubrication?), I pieced together a nice round and had Junior on the ropes for most of the day. But with a 40 to 50 yard advantage off the tee, Jordan is, rarely, out of a match. And he kept pushing. On the 17th, a 600-yard uphill par 5, the kid, with a ho-hum swat with his 4-wood, knocked it on the green in two. Me? I had a full 9-iron in for my third. I mean, how can I compete with that? As I discovered the next day while watching the insane show at the Phoenix Open (we had the unforgettable experience of watching Phil Mickelson shoot 60), I can’t. And, to be honest, I’m OK with that. Because, as I said at the get go, everyone who swings a golf club (remember the alternative?) in Scottsdale is already a winner.
Andrew Penner is a professional photographer and freelance writer based in Calgary, Alberta. You can visit him at www.andrewpenner.com.