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..
Arizona is blessed with the best of desert golf as Palm Springs does not have enough good land and New Mexico, Nevada and Utah do not have as many golf courses. Around Phoenix one will find the better golf courses of which Silverleaf, designed by Tom Weiskopf, is certainly one of them.
The clubhouse is one of the best modern clubhouses I have ever been in. Dining inside or on the terrace with a fabulous view of the eighteenth hole and the rocky mountains behind it is one of the better inland views one will ever find in golf.
As to the course, I have played it a dozen times with likely future rounds as I make an annual trip to Scottsdale and know a few members. Estancia, Desert Forest, and a few others courses in the area are better, but if one can manage an invitation to play Silverleaf, you will come away impressed.
The front nine is the easier of the nine with only the eighth hole a more punitive and difficult hole. The back nine kicks up the challenge quick a lot beginning with the tenth. The routing takes advantage of the various washes, rises and falls in the terrain, and gullies. Most of the reason for the increased difficulty on the back nine is additional length with the front nine being 3475/3273/3041 and the back nine being 3847/3596/3445. The front nine has two par 5 and two par 3’s while the back nine has only one par 5 and one par 3. Also, the back nine has the greater change in elevation with more land features to consider.
There are two sets of combo tees offering more options for players of different abilities.
The bunkers are appropriate both in number and placement. Most of the bunkers are on the larger side. Many of the fairway bunkers serve almost as guides as to the proper way for the average handicap player to play the golf course. The longer hitters can use the bunkers as a guide as well as clearing them provides a great advantage for the approach shot. There are a few holes with fairway bunkers in the center of the fairway yet there is adequate width to either side. The greenside bunkers are large and often deep although the sand is perfect offering one an above average chance at both escaping and having a chance for saving a stroke.
The greens are varied in size, greenside bunkering, rises, swales, tiers such that you will not feel that you have already played the green. Some of the greens are a bit disguised with back-stops or they appear smaller than they are. Some of the greens have false fronts and sections that are much faster than one would think. The conditioning of the greens are excellent as is the condition of the rest of the golf course. The green speeds can easily get to 14.
Unless the wind is really high or one is spraying the ball, this is a course that should not beat you up as long as you play the correct shots when a carry over a wash has to be made. In summary, the course is fair but has a lot of challenge to it.
Of the front nine, the holes I like the most are the fourth where the green slopes away from you on this short par 4 of 375/355/296. The fifth is a nice longer par 3 of anywhere from 254 to 164 yards to a well defended green surrounded by bunkers. The sixth is a par 4 of 423/416/399 where there is a carry over waste land and the bunkers splitting the fairway. The brave person drives down the left to shorten the hole a bit and have a better chance of keeping their ball on the green which is sharply tilted right to left. The seventh is a long par 3 slightly uphill and again well surrounded by bunkers to an undulating green.
The best hole on the front nine is the eighth, a long par 5 of 569/540/504 where the longer players can play for a well-protected green in two as the hole plays slightly downhill. The average length player either decides to lay up down the left side as a wide wash has to be carried which dissects the fairway diagonally from right to left or try to carry the wash on the right side which is less of a carry. However, carrying the wash leaves a more difficult angle to the green and having to carry those bunkers on the right side. The smarter play is always to lay up down the left.
I do not care for the ninth, a short downhill, driveable par 4 with an overly done contoured green.
The tenth is perhaps the hardest hole on the golf course as the wind is typically in your face. It plays ever so slightly uphill at 477/441/429 with another wide wash to carry that dissects the fairway diagonally left to right. The green is one of the more difficult ones to hold and putt due to a false front and a large greenside protecting bunker.
There are numerous nice elevation changes on eleven-thirteen and the holes are well defended with strategically placed bunkers on the fairway and greenside. The greens are tricky and one must land on the right spots with some greens fronted by deep bunkers, some angled, and some elevated. The thirteenth, a downhill par 4 of 418/395/388 has a green that does appear to be below the small pond that is hard against the right side of the green. Guarding the left side of the green are bunkers that make a recovery shot more daunting due to the proximity of the pond behind.
The downhill fourteenth, a par 5 of 576/540/521 where the approach shot must carry the wash and bunkers to a green that is crowned in the middle. Anything hit slightly longer than the center of the green is likely to run-off the back while a ball hit short of the middle will likely stop. Like many other greens, the putt is quick going down towards the gully below.
The fifteenth has the best green on the golf course, a dogleg left par 4 where the second shot plays downhill to a green with a bowl in the front. If one ends on the upper tier and the pin is in the bowl…good luck. A ball struck that lands in the bowl will stay within the bowl due to the severity of the slope.
Sixteen is another par 3 that can play as long as 234 and as short as 175 requiring another carry over a wide waste/wash area to a green that also visually looks as if it is in a bowl sloped steeply back to front and left to right.
Seventeen is a nice par 4 of 436/415/384 that one must avoid the three bunkers on the right which is the direct line to the green or the longer hitter has to both carry them but stop his drive before another wide wash. The green is elevated with a fronting bunker and slopes from back to front and right to left. It is another visually attractive hole.
Eighteen is the best hole on the golf course. Playing from an elevated tee over a wash at 498/466/445 the longer player will take on the challenge of hugging the left side of the fairway. The green is well below you on this fairway sloped right to left and there is one final wide wash to carry to get to the large green. For the longer hitter this hole is not an issue as long as they do not lose their ball into the desert on the left. For the average hitter, the wise play is to lay up about 80-100 yards from the green in front of the wash to a flat area. I have seen more pars made by laying up and one putting whereas I have witnessed many double bogies for the player who cannot pull off the shot to carry the wash. The terrace of the clubhouse is right behind you and most people are glancing to see how the players do.
A round at Silverleaf is played with marvelous views of the surrounding desert with views as long as thirty miles on a clear day. One will also see perhaps some of the largest houses they will ever see. One house had a compound that seemed to be nearly a quarter-mile long off the fourteenth hole. One can either get more inspired or depressed by those houses. But for me, the houses add to the experience of playing Silverleaf, one of the more playable and enjoyable golf courses. There is adequate challenge and playability to the course with the greens providing their own drama.
Members of Silverleaf have to be thrilled and visitors will have a day that will be very memorable.
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