SCOTTSDALE, AZ - While the PGA Tour only uses the TPC of Scottsdale for one week, the Stadium course maintains top-notch playing conditions for most of the year.
"What's unique about the TPC of Scottsdale is people think we're only in tournament condition around the Phoenix Open, but you can play Phoenix Open conditions nine months out of the year," said Russ Norris, Director of Marketing, about the par-71 championship course that will be hosting the Open January 21-27.
The added beauty of the Stadium course is its playability. Just ask Mark Calcavecchia who set PGA Tour records during the 2001 Phoenix Open for the most birdies in a 72-hole tournament (32) and the lowest four-round total of 28-under par 256 total, breaking the 46-year-old mark held by Mike Souchak, en route to winning his third title in this event.
The superb condition, along with the 27 Tour pros who call the course home, its elite practice facilities (that also houses the Nicklaus / Flick Game Improvement clinics) and the warm winter weather, help bring the top golfers out to the desert each year.
"They talk it up amongst themselves and that's why we get a great turnout," Norris said.
The Phoenix Open also hosts the most spectators of any golfing event in the world. More than 400,000 attendees spend some time at the course that was built in the TPC's stadium design for the purpose of hosting the Phoenix Open just like its sister course, the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Verda, Florida.
"The reason we draw such large crowds is because we don't limit ticket sales," Norris said. "It was designed with mounds all over the course to create a natural bleacher setting."
The mounding also creates some awkward shots for the golfers who play around 50,000 rounds a year on the course. While Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish built the course in the middle of the once barren Sonoran desert in 1986, the natural terrain of the area doesn't come into play much. There are plenty of carries over the desert from the tee box, but little desert on the course that measures 7,089 yards from the back tees (with three other sets ranging from 6,508 to 5,455 yards).
"Being a desert course, it's not target golf and pretty friendly," Norris said. "It's more parkland or links-style vs. desert target."
The real problem surrounds the fairway.
"Stay out of the rough," Norris said. "It's four inches now and will be six for the Open." Once the tournaments over, though, they cut it back down gradually to help with the speed of play.
The rough isn't the only hindrance in trying to break Calcavecchia's record. The difficulty of the course "depends on your handicap and where you play from as to where you're going to end up," Norris said. "It's different from the tips, from the whites and the ladies. It's truly different and you can get in trouble easy."
Trouble comes in the form of 72 bunkers that are deep and strategically placed in the fairways and around the greens that are rather large, but feature many tricky twists and turns and run fast. Desert vegetation- such as saguaro cacti, mesquite and Palo Verde tree - are scattered about the course and water comes into play on six of the holes, including three of the last four.
This closing stretch is what really makes this course fun - for golfers and spectators. Eagles and birdies are possible down the stretch but bogeys and doubles are more popular.
"The last four holes," Norris said, "are where you win or lose the tournament." Or your own round.
No. 15 is a reachable par-5 of 468 yards from the blue (501 yards for the pros) and a great risk-reward hole with its island green. There's water all along the left side from the tee box to the second shot and all around the undulating green with one of the state's largest Palo Verde trees at more than 42 feet looming over the back of the island.
As if this hole wasn't enticing enough for the pros, American Express offers $15,000 to the player whose second shot is closest to the hole on Saturday and Sunday; the last two years, the winning shot has been inside four feet.
The short par-3 sixteenth hole (143 yards from the blue; 162 yards from the back) was considered the rowdiest on Tour, with more than 20,000 (mostly college) fans cheering on every shot to the green that is surrounded by five bunkers.
Tiger Woods made the hole even more famous in 1997 when he aced it and the crowd roared from the moment he hit the shot until he pulled it out of the cup. The TPC is trying to make the hole less rowdy by placing man-made bleachers and moving the beer stands to different locations, but it's still a vocal audience.
No. 17 also made news last year for a hole-in-one: Andrew Magee banked his drive of Tom Bryum's putter for the first known ace on a par-4. But the 292-yard hole (332 yards from the tips) isn't without its dangers. Water surrounds the left and backside of the green and a splattering of bunkers in the fairway make the drive (for those not going for the green) tricky.
The finishing hole is the way they should be: a long par-4 with a drive over water (more the farther back you play it) with a deep bunker guarding the right side of the green and a large slope spilling off the left side of the putting surface. And for the tournament, there's about 50,000 people surrounding the putting surface, making those winning putts even tougher.
No matter the round, whether it's the last Sunday in January or any of the others, the TPC of Scottsdale lives up to its goals.
"It was designed to be fun and playable for golfers and challenging for the pros," Norris said.
A real Desert course: If you're hungry for 18 more holes, the TPC has the Desert course just across the street. Properly named, the desert comes into play on every hole on the shorter, more playable course with green fees around $50 (a lot more affordable than the Stadium which charges up to $200). During the summer months, you can play both courses -and get lunch in-between - for $75.
TPC of Scottsdale, Stadium Course
Yardage: 7,089; 6,508; 6,049; 5,455
Slope/rating: 135/74.5; 124/71; 120/68.9; 122/71.6
December 31, 2001