TPC Scottsdale (Stadium) in Scottsdale, AZ
Tee Time: June 23, 2013, 8:34, 102 F, Breezy
Designer: Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish (1986)
Playing Partners: Steve Walker, Mike
Tees: Blue, Par 71 (71.1 rating/129 slope/6,525 yards)
Course Handicap: 12 (10.9 index)
Stats: 95 (42-53); 32 putts; 7/14 fairways; 3/18 greens; 4 penalty strokes
The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona is famous namely for one hole. You may have seen it before. It’s like the rodent on Groundhog Day. It comes out every February to a huge celebration, signaling the coming of spring. Only instead of hundreds of townspeople decked out in mittens and windbreakers gathering around a stage at Gobbler’s Knob to watch for Punxsutawney Phil to see his shadow, there are 20,000 sunbathing partygoers donning Rickie Fowler outfits and sun dresses, cheering for Phil Mickelson and booing Boo Weekley. It’s the 16th at the Stadium Course, and for four days each year during the Waste Management Open, this 162-yard chip shot is the most exciting shot in golf. A temporary arena with 172 skyboxes is erected for the crowd to pack in and boo every missed green, cheer for colors during the caddy races and down pints of beer during downtime. There is no other hole like it in all of golf. By mid-June things change dramatically. Patches of brown matted grass mark where the supports for the grandstands once stood and the stoic McDowell Mountains replace the shouting frat boys as the backdrop of the green. Stepping up to the tee and seeing no resemblance to this glamorous rockstar hole is striking, like seeing a porn star without makeup.
There are 17 other holes at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, in case you were wondering. And they do a pretty good job of providing that “PGA Tour Experience” that’s promised on the brochure. The back nine is as good as any and the greens are hands down the best in the state. This is definitely a “bucket list” course for me. I love watching the Waste Management Open every year (I’d say it’s one in my top 5 favorite tournaments on TV) and I’ve probably logged a hundred or so virtual rounds here from all the Tiger Woods EA Sports video games I’ve owned through the years. That actually is not as helpful as it sounds, considering that in reality I can’t hit it 400 yards off the tee and then drain the 45-footer for an eagle 2 every hole… yet (we’ll see how the TaylorMade RocketBallz Stage 3 plays when it comes out). The luxurious clubhouse is teeming with history. The past winners list reads like a who’s who of the modern Tour generation with names like Vijay Singh (1995 and 2003), Phil Mickelson (1996 and 2013) and the immortal Nolan Henke (1991). It’s obvious that this is a course built for massive galleries, even viewing it in its most natural state, stripped of the corporate hospitality tents, concession stands and TV towers.
The 366-yard 1st hole at the TPC Scottsdale is the ultimate buzzkill. Here you are, all jacked up on the adrenaline of playing a world-famous track that has seen the likes of Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson, and you have to lay up with an iron or fairway wood to avoid the wash bisecting the fairway 240 yards away. Tom Weiskopf actually did us all a favor, taking the driver out of our jittery hands to start. He probably also had all those nice homes that surround the first few holes in mind, keeping wayward tee shots out of their living rooms. The driver is allowed on the 393-yard 2nd. It is one of the few “wide open” holes, in that there is room to miss. Miss left and you’re back in the 1st fairway, not desert as is the case in most of the remaining tee shots. Miss right and you’re in a cul-de-sac, so swing wisely. The first par 5 is dangerously tempting. It plays a short 537 yards and a good tee shot brings the green much closer. But there are 4 sand traps to the right front of the green at varying distances as well as a waste area about 20 yards short, which turns a possible birdie into a lucky bogey. The short, par-3 4th is well guarded by several deep bunkers to a two-tiered green. Par is especially good when the pin is tucked into its Sunday location on the back right, as it was today. Every hole had their Sunday best pin placements, and it only makes you appreciate the pros’ putting up 64’s that much more. These pins alone are probably 5 to 6 strokes tougher than a friendlier location.
The green fee at TPC includes a yardage guide, complete with tips from the pros, though some tips are more useful than others. For example, the pro tip for the 5th hole from 1996 US Open champion Steve Jones includes the sentence: “…the left side is my main concern – it’s really tight over there, especially where the gallery is located along the left side.” Well, he is right in the sense that the left side is a gamble with a desert area full of prickly pears, but us weekend hackers don’t draw too much of a crowd. The 416-yard 6th can play shorter if you keep close to the sand traps, but those couple of fairway bunkers are a pretty hefty deterrent. The 7th, the longest par 3 on the course at only 190 yards (there’s your proof this course was built in the 1980’s and not the 2000’s), has a false front and some dangerous bunkers. The 8th can be made much easier by staying in the fairway, but our threesome all went left into waste area and made a par (me!), bogey and double from there, so get to the short grass. The 383-yard 9th is a friendly par 4 that leaves a good chance at a birdie to end the front side. The green is shallow, but since you’ll have a wedge in your hand, a 3 is possible.
A quick pit stop at the snack bar and it’s off to the 10th. I have bad, bad memories of the 385-yard 10th. My 9 aside, it’s not that bad a hole actually. It is the first appearance of any water. The back nine is the TV nine. This is the set of holes that makes the course so much fun, both on NBC and in person. So many exciting holes with a final quartet that sets up for fantastic late-round drama (except in our threesome, where Steve’s career-best 77 won the day easily). There’s the attackable 12th, 170 yards but with water to the right and rear waiting to swallow up anything too aggressive. The funky 552-yard 13th opens with a split fairway. Take it right, the narrower path, and reaching in two is possible. Take it left of the large, centered waste area and you’ll find a bigger landing spot but also a longer distance into the green. From there it’s pretty straightforward, but that tee shot is the definition of risk-reward. Take a bad swing and a 4 turns into a 7x. The only forgettable hole on the back nine is the 14th, a 419-yard hole par 4 that unfortunately feels like a placeholder between now and that fantastic foursome to close. The 16th got its own paragraph and it wasn’t even my favorite! Spoiler alert: it was the 15th. The drivable 17th is one of the more fun drivable par 4’s I’ve seen. At 292 yards, it’s a decent poke but there is plenty of roll to be had. The lake bordering the left side of the green adds a bit of bite to this otherwise simple hole. It’s straight and only has one hittable bunker, in the fairway 223 yards from the tee (the greenside bunker to the rear is avoidable). The closing 18th hole (the sidekick to no. 16’s superhero status) is as fun as any on the Tour. A long, pro drive is required over the lake that still leaves a long approach to a large, two-tiered green. We played the hole from the tips just to unleash our inner Phil, it’s a different game from there. Those guys are good.
#15, Par 5, 468 yards, 9-handicap, My Score: 7
Rich Beem is right on his pro tip for this hole: “You can make anywhere from a 3 to 7.” I chose to make the 7. My playing partner Mike nearly made the 3. There’s a pretty wide open driving area that the water chokes off around the 290-yard mark, but the green is reachable even with a drive of 250. It is the prettiest hole at TPC Scottsdale, unless you count all the blondes in spaghetti straps at 16. The real challenge is the approach to an island area. There’s a small layup spot just over the water and circular bunker on the right side of a green that slopes left-to-right. I really like the panorama of this hole I managed to get with the mountains in the background, water in the foreground and Mike’s great 2nd shot 12 feet from the pin in the center. Side note: this hole is drivable with a maxed-out Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’07 character.
Layout: A; the front nine is decent, but the back side is where this course shines. Combine that with the truest greens in Arizona (and the country, so far at least) and it makes for a great round. Never does TPC Scottsdale come off as unfair or harsh, if you shoot a bad score here there’s no one to blame but yourself.
Amenities: B+; a very nice clubhouse and the mango ice towels are always a nice touch. I do wish the snack shack at the turn grilled their brats instead of boil and bought some better buns. The practice areas are pro-quality, the cart girls are lovely and the men’s locker room is a cool atmosphere, thinking of all the greats who’ve laced ’em up here.
Staff: A; the best part is that not only was everyone friendly and knowledgable, no one ever came off as intrusive or butting in like a Best Buy employee. They let you enjoy your round and do their part to add to the experience.
Difficulty: C+; the cut line at the 2013 Waste Management Open was (-1), that should tell you how it plays for the pros. For the average golfer from the right set of tees, this course is not too difficult either . Your game determines your score, which is a refreshing experience when so many Arizona courses try to torture you with desert landscapes.
Scenery: C+; better than other desert layouts as the McDowell Mountains and Pinnacle Peak provide a good backdrop, but not as nice as other Scottsdale locations such as Troon North and the Boulders. Of course, if I judged “scenery” by the legs walking around Super Bowl weekend, it would be an A+ hands down.
Value: C-; at $75 in June, it still feels overpriced. You can get the same service for $50 in the summer, but there is that double-whammy of a Scottsdale and TPC premium. I wouldn’t mind coming here once a year or so, though not at the $299 high season rate. It’s very overpriced
Overall GPA: 2.93 (B); a bucket list requirement for any golf fan, it is one of the best experiences in Arizona even at the premium rate.