Different Views and Different Renovations in Scottsdale

After I finished at We-Ko-Pa (Cholla) on my day trip out to Arizona last week, I worked my way over to my second destination for the day. I did stop for a quick lunch at Silver Mine Subs, which just happened to catch my eye along the drive between courses. It turned out to be one of the best subs I’ve ever had, and I’ll definitely make it a point to go back there on future visits to Scottsdale.

Speaking of Scottsdale, it is home to the next two courses I played. However, the courses and settings are pretty different, which goes to show this golf town does have some golf diversity…

The Phoenician Golf Club • Scottsdale, AZ • 5/30/19

There were a lot of good deals to consider for my second round, and I actually booked this one through TeeOff.com using their Monday After Major promo code following the PGA Championship. Though a lot of courses I had interest in playing offered some good deal times, almost all of them were available to only 2-4 players. As a single, that doesn’t help me at all. However, The Phoenician had a single spot available at noon. With the promo code, it ended up being only about $28 out the door. That’s a pretty nice price on a resort course that can be extremely expensive during the winter season.

It was a little busier than I expected when I arrived around 11:00, but it really was just the tail end of the morning play still going out. They were nice enough to move me up to an 11:40 tee time and I was joined by three other singles. Two of them dropped out along the way, leaving us as a twosome on the back nine behind some slower groups. We never saw anyone behind us and we still enjoyed a good overall 3.5 hour pace.

I was curious to play this course because it just reopened last year after a major renovation. This used to be a 27-hole facility, but it was totally redesigned into an 18-hole course. The website makes it sound like the layout is entirely new. I couldn’t tell you for sure because I never played it before, but most comments I saw online seemed to indicate a lot of people prefer the way it plays now compared to before. I don’t believe this is the first renovation here either. GolfAdvisor lists Jack Snyder and Ted Robinson, Sr. as the original architects in the 1990s and then a renovation by Forrest Richardson and Ted Robinson, Jr. in the 2000s. Phil Smith oversaw this latest transformation.

Even though they did remove some of the more dramatic holes along the hillside, it sounds like they took away some of the quirky and challenging qualities that people weren’t fond of with the old course. I could see a few “dead” holes along the front nine that looked like they were interesting. Otherwise, I can’t really detail what has changed. I can only speak to what I experienced with the current layout.

I have to say I was fairly underwhelmed throughout most of the front nine. This side is a pretty traditional residential/resort layout with no changes in elevation and holes spread amongst houses, resort villas and local streets. There are a few nice water holes like the 4th and 9th, but nothing too distinctive if you ask me.

Then, the back nine is where The Phoenician gets interesting. The routing is a bit tangled and confusing at times. I should mention that, and that’s probably to be expected with what seemed like a pretty spread-out 27-hole course being reworked into a new 18-hole design. It’s a long drive from the clubhouse to the 10th tee and then it is important to follow the signs between holes after that.

Otherwise, the back nine of The Phoenician is fun and scenic. It provides some decent changes in elevation as you play along a rocky desert hillside. You are provided some nice views of the city and some enjoyable hole designs. The par-4 13th is the one that stood out to me. It is a short one situated on the most elevated part of course. It will be drivable for some long hitters, but it falls off sharply along the entire right side, so you have to be careful no matter what strategy you play.

The 15th is a nice par-5 with a dogleg left design and pretty approach shot. It is one of only three par-5s on the new par-71 course. The 17th (short par-3) and 18th (risk/reward par-5) are nice finishing holes with water hazards very much in play and they are more in the resort/residential style of the front nine as you work your way back to the clubhouse.

The course conditions were good and it’s definitely starting its transition into summer. I felt the front nine was getting a bit more dried out than the back, which is still reasonably lush throughout. The whole course provided firm conditions with plenty of roll-out on drives, along with great lies to hit from in fairways. The tee boxes were good. The rough was not much of a factor at all. The bunkers were also very good. The greens were pretty much healed from the recent aeration, but still maybe a tad bumpy in spots with the bermuda starting to take back over. They were pretty firm and rolling at medium speeds.

Even if it is new and improved (depending who you ask), The Phoenician still won’t fall in the conversation with some of Scottsdale’s top-ranked courses even though it is priced like some of them during the peak season. It’s a fine mid-level course at what looks like a rather nice resort, and the back nine is definitely enjoyable. It kind of reminded me of Lookout Mountain. The courses are pretty different from one another, but it’s kind of a similar set-up with parts of each course being pretty cool and both being attached to resorts.

I would recommend The Phoenician at the right price unless you happen to be staying at the resort, in which the course is definitely worth checking out while there.

Some pictures from The Phoenician Golf Club (5/30/19):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

I still had plenty of daylight after finishing at The Phoenician, so I looked online and saw that just about every course around had open tee times and pretty decent late afternoon rates. That almost makes it harder to decide, but I ended up at…

McDowell Mountain Golf Club • Scottsdale, AZ • 5/30/19

I ended up booking the 4:00 tee time through their site. The rate was $31, but it included either a sleeve of golf balls or a lunch food item from the snack bar. The timing wasn’t good for food, so I just took the sleeve of Callaway Supersofts. I ended up teeing off by myself, but then caught other groups after a few holes. I joined a twosome ahead. One of the guys left at the turn, so again it was me and another single stuck behind some slower groups. And, it was also yet another 3.5-hour round to complete my most evenly paced day ever!

I really didn’t know much about McDowell Mountain going in, but it is a course I’ve heard fairly good things about over the years. I also wanted to play somewhere with only one course since I knew there wouldn’t be enough time to knock out two courses at one of the area’s many double-course facilities.

Like The Phoenician, McDowell Mountain has undergone its own renovations. It was originally designed by Randy Heckenkemper and it was called Sanctuary Golf Course at West World. It sounds like it was once a more challenging layout than it is today. Phil Mickelson and Steve Loy took over the course in 2011 and decided to renovate it into something a little more playable for the masses. Heckenkemper was brought back into oversee the alterations. They did apparently stretch the course out to add the back tees, which would balance out some of the other steps they took to soften the layout. Some bunkers will filled in and fairways were widened. The nines were also flipped during the renovation.

Again, I can’t speak to any before-and-after comparisons. I can only say I found the current McDowell Mountain to be somewhat underwhelming. It’s a fine course with a nice desert setting, but it also feels like kind of Desert Golf 101 with no real distinctive features. Also, what should be a scenic setting is definitely marred by some big electrical towers that run right through the middle of the course. There are no significant changes in elevation here, so the surrounding views are never super spectacular, especially when those towers and power lines are always in view.

Admittedly, I was coming of a morning round on the stunning We-Ko-Pa Cholla Course and then also a fairly dramatic back nine at The Phoenician, so a more simplified desert course like McDowell Mountain was destined to underwhelm me without any real “wow” factor to be found. It’s not a bad course by any means. I would categorize it as one of many good local courses in the greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area, but not one that destination golfers need to go out of their way for.

Most of the best holes at McDowell Mountain also come on the back nine. The par-5 13th has some nice features with a Dye-esque shelf and some mounding running along the right side with a desert wash below. The 14th and 17th are both solid par-3s, though my favorite par-3 here was actually the 8th.

The 18th is an interesting finishing hole. The hole itself isn’t anything that amazing, but it does have a rather unique feature to point out. It is a par-5 that doglegs right and plays slightly uphill toward the clubhouse. To the right is the big driving range. Running along the right side of the fairway is a big rock-lined waste bunker that acts as a border between the hole and the driving range. OB stakes are on the right edge of the bunker as anything right of it would be in the range. It’s kind of an odd, yet distinctive, design idea to help make up for what is actually kind of a poorly laid out part of the property where the 18th tee boxes are there unprotected at the end of the range. Just hope there are no bombers with slices over there practicing when you are getting ready to tee off!

The course conditions were decent and it is pretty well on its way toward summer conditions. Things were firm, dry and fast with the bermuda turf already coming back in strong throughout. Overall, the fairways and tees were nicely maintained and I always had great lies. The rough was mostly pretty good. The bunkers were too thin and crusty, though. The greens very firm and often bumpy, so the aeration (which I believe is happening as I write this) should do them good heading into the hotter months.

If you aren’t picking up what I am laying down, McDowell Mountain is a fine course. It’s just nothing too special in an area full of special courses.

Some pictures from McDowell Mountain Golf Club (5/30/19):

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