Surpassing 800 in Scottsdale

This weekend, I decided to make a quick trip out to Arizona as an excuse to celebrate my 800th different course played. The Phoenix/Scottsdale region seemed like the ideal choice because it’s an area I hadn’t visited in a couple years. Also, it’s home to so many world-class golf courses (many of which I have still yet to play). Last but not least, in late summer there can be some decent values to find out there.

After considering all the options, I decided to play 36 holes at one of the area’s most well-known facilities…

TPC Scottsdale • Scottsdale, AZ • 8/27/16

Having watched the Waste Management Phoenix Open on TV a lot over the years, it seemed like the ideal time to finally play both courses at TPC Scottsdale. They had some decent rates available online, especially if I opted to play the Champions Course in the morning and the Stadium Course in the late afternoon. However, I wasn’t able to book times as a single on their site.

When I called to book directly with them, they let me know of a special going on right now. They were offering a 36-hole rate of $133 total. That was right about the same price as it would have been to book each round separately online. It wasn’t necessarily a huge savings, but what it did allow me to do was play Stadium in the morning. That made for a more proper 800th course, right on the number.

Stadium Course

I had an 8:30 tee time and was paired with a threesome of guys visiting from the East Coast. It was their first time playing here, as well, so we had a lot of fun together. It was busy out there on a Saturday morning, but they space the tee times nicely and we enjoyed a solid 4:20 pace.

Having seen the course on TV, I knew basically what to expect from it. I knew the topography of the property wasn’t anything super dramatic like some of the other area courses up in the rugged foothills. It’s flatter overall, but still has some nice definition and contours. There are plenty of native desert areas and the back nine especially brings a lot of big water hazards into play.

Even though I chose it as a milestone course, I actually wasn’t expecting to be blown away by TPC Scottsdale. And I wasn’t. It’s a very good course, but I wouldn’t call it “great.” It’s only a “must play” level course in my mind because of the PGA tour stop notoriety and the vaunted TPC affiliation. Otherwise, I’m naturally more drawn to the more dramatic scenery and topography that you don’t quite get here.

However, as I said, Stadium is still a very good course and there is plenty to like about it. The front nine is pleasant, though not necessarily too distinctive in its design by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. Then, the back nine definitely perks up. At the end, you get a fantastic stretch of finishing holes that help make the tournament such an exciting event.

Holes 1-14 are good. Holes 15-18 are great. The 15th is an excellent risk/reward par-5 with a big island green. The 16th is actually the weakest hole of this closing stretch, and I will elaborate on that in a moment. The 17th is an awesome short par-4 that is drivable for many. Just don’t go long or left into the water! The 18th is a demanding finisher that tempts you to bite off as much as you can on the tee shot. I always enjoy watching the pros play this stretch of holes and it was fun to experience it firsthand, even if I don’t have the length to really attempt any of those exciting risk/reward shots.

The 16th is interesting because it is the most famous hole here thanks to the tournament. This one hole has become an event unto itself with the huge stadium they construct around it and the throngs of rowdy fans that attend the tournament. Heck, even the scorecard features a picture of the 16th hole with the stand and crowds.

However, the “regular” version of this hole is rather basic. It’s a decent little par-3 and nothing that exciting. It really is amazing how the tournament has been able to make this one of the most notorious holes in golf because it really isn’t anything special. It is virtually unrecognizable without the stands up, which makes me wish they would consider erecting a permanent stand structure. Even if there aren’t thousands of crazy people in the seats, it would still be a cool experience to play within that arena. They could even pump in some crowd noise if you want to add to the gimmick. It may seem a little cheesy, but I think it would be a fun way to keep the “signature” in that signature hole all year round.

From tee to green, the Stadium Course was in very good overall shape for late summer. The tee boxes were great. The fairways were excellent, with soft and fluffy bermuda. There was not a lot of roll-out on drives, but I always had ideal lies to hit from. The rough was mostly good and sometimes punitive. Some areas were rather deep and balls got lost. Most places it would sit up nicely. The bunkers were fantastic with soft white sand.

The greens were sadly the weakest part of the course. They were well-kept with pretty dry and crusty bermuda surfaces as you might expect this time of year. However, they were rolling brutally slow. I don’t expect desert greens to be fast in August, but these were really slow and it did kind of take away from the overall experience.

Other than the slow greens and the very good, but not great, overall layout, I still enjoyed myself on the Stadium Course and I felt good about picking it for my 800th course. The price was right, the weather was surprisingly cool all morning (unfortunately, the pictures early on sucked with dark clouds above) and the service was good.

Some pictures from TPC Scottsdale (Stadium Course) (8/27/16):

Champions Course

After finishing on Stadium, I headed across the street to the Champions Course. Yes, they have different clubhouses. I had booked a 1:51 tee time, but figured I’d have some flexibility in the late afternoon since there likely wouldn’t be a ton of players out on the course.

The tee sheet looked pretty open around me, so I decided to grab a quick bite in the grille. Unfortunately, I showed up right behind a couple of big morning groups that had just ordered their food. They actually forgot about my order and it took over 20 minutes to make me a turkey sandwich! Even though the service was slow, I do have to admit it was a very good sandwich with smoked gouda on a tasty focaccia bun.

I knew there were some groups ahead of me and they had me booked by myself. However, I also knew that the guys I played with in the morning had also gotten a 36-hole deal and were planning to head over to Champions after they ate lunch at the Stadium clubhouse. I decided to wait a few minutes and join them again for the second round.

The afternoon was much hotter than the morning round, but still not as bad as I feared it would be in Arizona in late August. It maybe topped out around 100 at one point, but was never that brutal. Our pace was pretty good for this round, right at four hours.

The Champions Course is a nice sister course to Stadium. It can be played at more affordable rates and you get a similar layout and setting. There were some aspects that I liked here. There are more trees on the course and many of the holes are framed nicely. It might have more aesthetic appeal to some than Stadium. There are a handful of memorable holes like the 5th (split fairway par-4), 9th (nice par-5) and 18th (long and tough par-4 wrapping around a big lake). Otherwise, there isn’t a ton that jumps off the page here in terms of the layout done by Randy Heckenkemper. I would say it’s a good course, but not great and definitely not a “must play” by Phoenix/Scottsdale standards.

Champions was also in good overall shape from tee to green. The fairways, tee boxes and sand traps were all at the same high level as Stadium. They were watering a lot on the back nine, though, so there were a lot of very soggy patches. Where this course was weaker was in the rough. There were more dead patches here and a lot of places where they put in some new sod (like brand new). That was surprising since they are overseeding in less than a month, but I guess they want to get the pad of bermuda solid underneath again. Though the rough here was rather spotty in places, the main areas that come into play generally had good enough coverage.

The greens were again a let-down. As slow as they were at Stadium, they were even slower at Champions. Plus, they were still showing some signs of the most recent aeration, which made them rather bumpy. Overall, they were well kept complexes, just not ideal surfaces at the moment.

I was glad I got to play all 36 at TPC Scottsdale at a decent late summer rate. With the right deal, it’s worth playing both courses in one visit. Otherwise, if you have to pick one course here, definitely stick with the one as seen on TV.

Some pictures from TPC Scottsdale (Champions Course):

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