The Stadium course at TPC Scottsdale opened for play in 1986 and Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish fashioned it. They were commissioned by the City of Scottsdale to design a municipal golf course that would also test the world’s best players. The designers should take a bow as they have achieved the objective with flying colours because TPC Scottsdale is one of Arizona’s most popular golfing venues and also the long-term, modern-day home of the Phoenix Open.
The Phoenix Open has been known by many names since its inception in 1932: The Western Open, the Arizona Open, the Ben Hogan Invitational and the FBR Open to name a just a few. The tournament was hosted at the ultra-private Phoenix and Arizona Country Clubs before the event moved to the municipal TPC Scottsdale in 1987 where it has remained ever since.
The Stadium course at TPC Scottsdale was excavated and sculpted from the Sonoran Desert and is one of the most popular courses with the pros. Contrary to the earlier TPC courses that were tight and tough, TPC Scottsdale is as open and friendly as a Labrador puppy. The McDowell Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to a course that has very little in the way of elevation change. The greens too are relatively flat with only subtle contours and often they can be reached with a bouncing approach shot. Nobody has won the Phoenix Open on more occasions than Mark Calcavecchia and during the 2001 event, he recorded a cool 28-under-par for his winning total. The cumulative total for Calcavecchia’s three Phoenix Open victories at TPC Scottsdale is 69-under par. Not bad… even as a bowling score!
Perhaps the most memorable hole on the 7,216-yard Stadium course is the par five 15th, which is in the mould of the famous 13th at Augusta National. Water lines the entire left side of the hole and the island green is reachable for the long hitter but so is the surrounding water. The par three 16th is a popular viewing hole for Phoenix Open spectators who create a human amphitheatre around the tabletop green which is ringed with deep bunkers. A drivable par four has become a trademark for Weiskopf and Morrish and they have designed a cracker at 17 where water on the left side of the green waits to catch errant drives.
The par four home hole is dominated by water, 200 yards of which must be carried with the tee shot. Sandy Lyle became the first European winner of the Phoenix Open in 1988 after Fred Couples (tournament leader by a stroke with only one hole to play) pulled his drive into the water. Freddie’s scrambling five resulted in a sudden death play-off with Sandy Lyle. The third play-off hole brought them back to the 18th and Couples once again dragged his drive into the water. This time Freddie could only manage to card a six and Sandy’s bogey five was enough to secure victory.
The second track at TPC Scottsdale is called the Champions course and Randy Heckenkemper laid it out over the top of Scottsdale’s former Desert course. The Champions opened for play in Nov 2007 and is already receiving positive accolades. Many people think the Champions is a better course than the Stadium but, with nearly 25 years of tournament history, we think the Stadium course will remain the most popular track at Scottsdale, at least for the time being.
Second day at Scottsdale and after a morning tour at the Ping Factory visiting everything including the Vault Room and giving a ride at both courses at Grayhawk, I went to TPC with no tee time and not sure if I was going to be able to play. But after lunch I was able to fix a tee time and play it.
As I have sent many customers here I knew it was good, but nothing too special regarding beauty and landscapes. But all the same it is a PGA Tour Venue and just standing on the 16th tee was going to be special even without the stands and 200,000 crazy drunks shouting.
I teeid if off around 2:30pm on my own and on the back 9 was able to go through some groups not to make it that slow. Luckily on tee 11th I found 2 friendly canadians who invited me to join them and the back 9 ride was much more enjoyable.
The first thing I wish to say is that this one is a very good course and "shows" it is a PGA Tour Course, it is not easy and the green complexes demand sharpness and creativity. I really liked that. I made a mixed between the Championship tees and the following ones to make a nice demanding 7000yds which didn´t play that long due to summer conditions and altitude which makes the ball go a little bit further.
The second thing to makr is how different front 9 and back 9 are: the front are sort of flatter lacking maybe of special holes except maybe par 5 3rd and par4 8th but all the same a great challenge. The back 9 are nice, better, more fun and with a bunch of great holes. Some approach shots show to be "easy" but even a narrow miss can lead to a very tough recovery shot.
Par 4 11th is the first great hole with water on the left side all the way. Par 3 12th downhill is very tough to judge distance and water all around the green, any miss gets wet. Par 5 13th is very good were a good tee shot gives you a bigger chance, water on the right side comes in play for a poor tee shot.
The best of this course comes with the final four holes (I know many will have seen them on TV):
- Par 5 15th with island green (includes a little bit more than just greens and bunkers) is a perfect risk/reward one, were a decent tee shot will alow you to go for it. But the miss is water, be aware of that.
- The Famous 16th played downwind for a 9 iron and if the stands were there, I would have been whistled loud! Decent bogey after a fat tee shot.
- Short par 4 17th is IMO the best hole of the course to play, because with a regulanr driving distance you can get home bt the green is extremely tough and that is why many miss to the right from were you can send your chip to the water if too greedy.
- 18th is a 450yds par 4 which I played from the very back, you carry water with the tee shot but not a big deal. Second shot can be difficult due to a narrow entrance for a long iron.
It will be different to watch it on TV next year and be familiar with many of the shots. This is why many courses get a lot of visitors, people want to play the ones the Pros play and feel how far their game is from them.
It is one of the most liked in my short tour and I even thought of a replay as was able to score a decent 78 with 3 balls on the water on the back 9.
If you travel to Scottsdale, it is a must play but not because of it's quality or beauty but because it is a Tour course and it is always good to check what the Pros play although beginning of February shows a very different set up, different grass (ray grass overseeding) and a cooler climate.
Club house elevated facing 18th is quite nice for a drink after golf. And the practice facilities are one of the best features on the premesis, some practice greens for chipping, a huge putting green and range. Is it worth? OF COURSE!
I played this course about 13 years ago in June because I was staying in the adjacent Fairmont Hotel and paid a slightly reduced rate. I hired some clubs and got paired with a Canadian chap who was keen for a relaxed round.
Whilst on the putting green, we were called up to the first tee box on the loudspeaker which added some gravitas to the occasion and of course some nerves too!
Unfortunately as we were playing the course about 4 months after the Phoenix Open, the course was not in great condition. I found some of the fairways to be quite burnt and patchy and was expecting it to generally be more manicured than it was. Of course this was 13 years ago, so the course may well be in better condition at that time of year now.
It is strange playing TPC Scottsdale without any of the stadia, and so without it being there, I thought the course itself was a bit ordinary. The 16th certainly looks unrecognisable without the thousands of fans jeering. The only real holes I felt that stood out were the par 5, 15th which was excellent and the 18th which meanders nicely to the green after a squeaky tee shot over a fair carry of water.
A great experience to play, but I probably wouldn't make the pilgrimage again.
Television can be a tremendous asset for courses that on closer inspection are not especially significant -- but because of the wherewithal to stage a PGA TOUR event the fanfare can be a real catalyst for golfers to seek them out.
Last week's event at Torrey Pines South is one example of that. It's not special in terms of the architecture despite a stellar location alongside the Pacific Ocean. The same holds true for TPC at Scottsdale. Here you have a big piece of property capable in hosting vast throngs of people. When people ask where's the biggest tailgate party -- head to Scottsdale for the golf event because it's nothing less than massive.
The golf design is simply low level design with a few holes of note sprinkled within.
When you compare what TPC at Scottsdale provides against the other upper echelon courses in the immediate area you simply scratch your head and wonder what's with all the fuss. Like I said, television exposure has clearly helped the course's profile.
The land is frankly unexceptional. Everything has been sculpted to provide differentiation. The greens do feature tucked locations on a number of holes but when the world's best are playing a top tier level you can likely count on some serious low scores happening.
The front nine is fairly straightforward but far from memorable. The inward half of holes is more daring and water does play a key role on several of the holes.
So much of the fanfare is tied to the circus-like atmosphere at the par-3 16th. Frankly, the hole is simply ho-hum but because of the complete surrounding with gallery stands the atmosphere is simply grandiose with mega-noise always present.
If anything, the short par-4 17th is smartly done -- especially when the pin is placed in the far rear "tongue" location. When that happens any tee shot that misses right will be fortunate to get within 20 feet for the approach. The closing hole has been upgraded over the years and driving the ball in the fairway is no longer a sure thing. Too bad the final four holes at the layout could not have been carried out elsewhere.
Given what the course charges there are numerous other superior golf locations to consider. For those wishing to be part of a major party scene head to TPC at Scottsdale at tournament time because you will not be disappointed. Just take the clubs elsewhere.
by M. James Ward
Front 9 is somewhat flat & boring, while the back 9 is full of exciting and memorable holes.