Doubleheaders on the Tee
Usually 18 holes in one day is more than enough for me. But there are times when it’s not. Those days usually fall into one of two categories: I played well enough during the first round that I want to keep it going (which never happens), or I have friends visiting from out of town who just can’t get enough of golf in the desert. Lucky for them, and for me, there are plenty of options in Scottsdale that require getting in and out of the car only once on 36-hole days like that.
Take the Stadium Course at the TPC Scottsdale. It gets plenty of deserved attention for hosting the Waste Management Phoenix Open but the conditions are usually close to perfect, and everyone loves to play where the pros play. Right across the street is the underrated Champions Course. It’s much less expensive, very walkable and has five par 3s.
There may be no more surreal landscape than that found on the two courses at Boulders Resort & Spa. Yes, there are the fairways and greens you have come to expect, but you have never seen anything like the giant rock outcroppings found throughout the entire property. The back nine on the North Course is the longest and toughest with multiple par fours over 420 yards. The slightly shorter but tighter South Course has the edge in overall visual appeal, most notably on the fifth hole, which plays across a wash and directly at one of the famed boulder piles behind the green. Check out Rosie’s Rock near the tee on the par-3 seventh – it was named for the original developer’s wife and teeters precariously on top of another boulder.
The Talon and Raptor courses at Grayhawk Golf Club have exuded a cool vibe since opening in 1996, and the facility is home to some of the best in-between-rounds dining options anywhere (Phil’s Grill in the main clubhouse is getting a facelift but Isabella’s — across the street and in between the 10th and 18th holes on the Talon Course — is a great 19th hole setting). As for the golf, I prefer the Talon, where you cross a swinging bridge for the back tee (175 yards) on the picturesque par-3 11th, and try to hit an island green on the 125-yard 17th. The tougher Raptor has hosted multiple professional events over the years, including the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open as recently as 2009. Three holes (15-17) were completely changed late last year and a birdie on the 18th, where water lurks up the right side, is well earned.
If there is a bucket list 36-hole facility in Scottsdale that doesn’t host a pro tournament, it’s Troon North Golf Club. It set a new standard for daily-fee golf when its Monument Course opened in 1990; that standard was raised fives years later with the introduction of the Pinnacle Course. Neither has lost much ground since then: the Pinnacle Course is the Best Public Course in Arizona according to GOLF Magazine’s 2016-17 rankings, while the Monument is just three spots behind. Both courses unfold over a classic desert landscape.
The courses at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club share memorable views of nearby mountains from their location on land owned by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. The Cholla Course debuted 15 years ago and just completed a $1.8 million renovation, including new grass on all greens, new sand in all bunkers and a much-needed redo of the formerly frustrating approach to the par-5 eighth hole. The much more open (with some of the widest fairways in town) but no less demanding Saguaro Course, created by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2016.
Coore and Crenshaw also designed both courses at Talking Stick Golf Club located on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, where the flattish landscape belies the strategic demands off the tee and around the greens. The two are huge fans of links golf and injected some of that flavor on the North Course. You have to contend with more trees and water hazards on the shorter South Course. My favorite part is that both layouts are walkable, a rare trait here in the desert.
The other good thing about playing 36 in Scottsdale? Special deals also mean a golf doubleheader can save you a few bucks, even during the peak season between January and March. Consider all of these 36-hole pairings a day well, spent no matter the score.