Located less than a 30-minute drive north of downtown Scottsdale, the course at the Silverleaf Club – named after an historic mining claim filed on the property in the late 19th century – is the centrepiece of an upmarket residential development, winding its way around both the Horseshoe Canyon and Upper Canyon in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains.
Designed by Tom Weiskopf and opened for play in 2002, this 18-hole layout makes the most of the natural landscape to blend in with its surroundings. In the words of the architect: “The spaciousness of the land allowed us to shape a course that follows very natural contour lines, while at the same time providing fun, challenges and views that are simply stunning.”
Highlight holes include the driveable short par four 9th; the water-laden par four 13th (where the green seems to sit below the level of the lake behind it); and the tough, 498-yard par four 18th, which shares a dramatically elevated tee with the 16th. All three par threes feature long, middle and short distance tee positions which are rotated daily to keep golfers guessing..
The Valley of the Sun includes the entire metro Phoenix area and there's a plethora of courses throughout the area. One architect who has been a major contributor to courses in the area is Tom Weiskopf -- the former PGA Tour star and winner of the '73 Open Championship. Weiskopf started his design career in partnership with Jay Moorish and the duo produced a number of top tier layouts.
Weiskopf opted to go solo and start his own design business and that success carried onwards.
One of the most underappreciated of his efforts is Silverleaf. The course is blessed with rolling terrain and while the desert is always something to pay attention to when playing, Weiskopf has seen fit to make sure there are various options for players of varying handicap levels to determine the best line of attack on each and every hole.
Getting the right mixture is central to courses in the desert environment. Desert golf can be ramped up where the difficulty meter makes such layouts only playable for the best of players. The flip side is having pedestrian designs where the differentiation in shots is not really brought to bear. Silverleaf achieves that marriage very well.
Weiskopf has been a firm advocate for playability in many of his most recent designs but Silverleaf is located in a private setting and the design details are certainly plentiful. You see this right off the start with the 1st hole. A trio of bunkers are placed in the center of this dog-leg right par-4 of 445 yards. The player must decide how aggressive or cautious you wish to be.
The interesting thing about Silverleaf is that it has only three par-5 and three par-3 holes. The key is being able to handle the range of quality par-4's. Weiskopf has included a range of quality items. In a number of cases the holes swing slightly to either right or left. Working the ball correctly off the tee is a valuable asset when executed with precision.
One of the best stretches of the course comes with the par-5 8th. Weiskopf gives stronger players the option in getting home in two shots but there must be solid execution to do so. There is a desert wash to think carefully about and the green hovers ever so near a native area that must be avoided. Birdie is possible -- but never assured.
At the 9th Weiskopf includes his usual design element -- the short par-4 that can be driven. The smart play for many is a lay-up and short wedge. The burden placed on the player to decide smartly is a quality element Weiskopf forces upon the golfer to determine.
When you make the turn you encounter the long par-4 10th -- once again the fairway cuts off with native desert terrain separating the two segments. Strong players need to consider the conditions on whether driver is the club to use. The green is wonderfully angled so getting the approach figured out is crucial to avoid a possible three-putt.
The ending stretch is well done. The par-4 15th starts a strong quartet. Again golfers are challenged at the tee to decide what kind of line of attack they will pursue. Choose wisely - the penalties for indecision can be painful. The 16th is quality drop-shot par-3 that is well defended at the green. Weiskopf ends the course with two strong par-4's -- the 17th plays longer than its listed 436 yards and the green is one of the strongest at the course angled around a protecting bunker on the left side.
The concluding hole at Silverleaf is both a scenic and strategic wonder. The view from the elevated tee at the 498-yard par-4 18th gives you a gorgeous view of the immediate area. Weiskopf provides a hole that turns ever so gently to the left -- a trio of bunkers await those who push their tee shots to the right. The fairway does neck down so those wanting to drill a long ball had best include a real accuracy connection. If you miss the fairway you once again face a desert wash area that separates the fairway from where the green is located. Plenty of decisions to reach to finish a round in top form.
Tom Weiskopf has a number of top tier designs to this credit -- and during his time together with Jay Moorish. Silverleaf is well done -- fun holes and a routing that takes you to all sections of the property. Those who come to Scottsdale and can gain access to play at this private club will encounter a layout that's well done.
by M. James Ward