SCOTTSDALE, AZ - It could be an unsettling, but interesting encounter.
You arrive at Grayhawk Golf Club and behind the counter, a familiar voice says: "Can I help you?"
Puzzled for a second, it dawns on you that the voice coming from below that big mustache belongs to Gary McCord, CBS golf analyst and Senior PGA Tour winner. It just happens that McCord spends some time at Grayhawk as part of the Kostis McCord Learning Center.
"It has been known to happen," said Grayhawk's Director of Golf Joe Shershenovich. "Sometimes it may take the golfer a few seconds then he realizes who is assisting him. What we have at Grayhawk is just an atmosphere that promotes a down-to-earth experience - any golfer will have a good time even down to the classic rock that's coming to you over the loud speaker on the range.
"In January many parts of the country are blanketed in snow, but here in Scottsdale we have beautiful weather and Grayhawk is a great place to hang out whether you are an employee or a guest," said Shershenovich. "The big-name celebrities who come here really appreciate that everyone gets the same treatment."
Yep, Grayhawk, he says, treats everyone the same. From Michael Jordan winging in on a LearJet to the Scottsdale Airport, to Joe Bob from Dime Box, Texas, you will get the same first-class service at Grayhawk and all the high-end desert courses from Scottsdale to Phoenix to Tucson to Palm Springs in California's desert.
On this day Miller Barber, a veteran pro since 1958, was spotted in the parking lot at Grayhawk, changing his shoes and rummaging in the trunk of his non-celebrity-status Toyota Camry with Texas license plates. It was evident he had made the drive from Sherman, where he lives when he's not playing on the Senior Tour.
Barber is known as an iron man, having played in more PGA and Senior PGA events than almost any other golfer in history. In fact, his wife once said Miller wasn't happy unless he had a hotel key in his pocket. "Mr. X" headed into the 2001 season having played in 546 career events on the Senior Tour, easily more than any other player. He won 11 times on the regular tour and has 24 victories on the Senior Tour.
More golf stories later in this series of course reviews.
Today in the world of upscale daily-fee golf courses service is the name of the game. Player's assistants zero in on you the moment your foot reaches the ground, stepping out of your vehicle.
At The Raven at Sabino Springs I pulled in at the far reaches of the parking lot in Tucson to take a photo of a giant saguaro that appeared to be the victim of a hold-up, with arms lofted high in the air, and here comes a player's assistant sprinting to ask me if I had a tee time. This is neighborhood golf watch to the fullest extent.
The Raven at South Mountain in Phoenix has player's assistants, complete with walkie-talkies and headsets stationed at every par-3 hole. They will give you pointers, fix your ball marks and tend the flag.
The Ravens and The Boulders even have mist-making nozzles you can spray on your face, neck and arms in the heat of Arizona's summers. The Ravens will provide a mango-scented wet towel.
Over the next couple of month's this travel golf writer will chronicle a snowbird's trip that included seven of Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play list.
The journey started in the snowy and sunny spectacular Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristos region of southern Colorado, where I call home, to Tucson for a round at the Omni Tucson National, a week before the Touchstone Energy Tucson Open, and then to The Raven at Sabino Springs, ranked No. 61 on Golf Magazine's elite list.
Next stop was Palm Springs to stay and play at Marriott's Rancho Las Palmas' 27 user-friendly holes (that means you will smile when you total your score), then to Desert Dunes and the LaQuinta Dunes layout, right next to the heralded LaQuinta Mountain course (No. 57), that I enjoyed for a second time.
The third week included The Raven at South Mountain in Phoenix and the big boys of Scottsdale and Carefree, all ranked by Golf Magazine - Grayhawk's Raptor (No. 59) and Talon (No. 64), Troon North's Monument (No. 20) and Pinnacle (No. 42) and The Boulders' South (No. 73) and North (No.83).
If you aren't braindead after six straight days and rounds at these layouts you must be a pro. This is the essence of target, strategic desert golf with extremely difficult and sometimes slick greens. There are more humps in these greens than in a camel herd.
Tom Fazio's mountainous and undulating greens on the Raptor Course at Grayhawk scared me a whole lot more than the bobcat I came face-to-face with on The Boulders' scenic South Course. The bobcat just eyeballed me and plopped down for a rest. Fazio's greens never let me rest.
Then there's the spectacular scenery of the Pinnacle Peak region of the Sonoran Desert around Troon North to keep you busy with the camera, along with the famous Rosie's Rock, a huge granite ball, seemingly balanced on a tee on the No. 7 par-3 of The Boulders' South Course.
So stay tuned for a closer look at all these courses in the next couple of months.
Try and find one paying-customer golfer today who likes the dreaded golf-path only rule? You won't find one. You might as well walk, it would be a faster.
Cart-path only is one of the major proponents of slow play in the game today.
"We have golf-path only because we think the guy playing late in the day deserves to have a fairway that is just as beautiful as the guy who starts at 8 a.m.," said Grayhawk's Shershenovich.
Point taken. But ... you see those beautiful fairways and then you arrive at the green, and although it putts true, it's not so attractive with all the poa annua dotted throughout like leopards' spots.
So? Beautiful fairways? Ugly greens? Great scenery. Bottom line, you can't have everything. That's life.
You never know who you will see on the links of these high-end resort courses. John O'Hurley was playing Tucson National. He's the guy who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld and today hosts the syndicated TV show "Get Golf with the PGA Tour" and the "To Tell The Truth" game show.
Another interesting meeting on this trip was with an LPGA rookie, Jody Neimann-Dansie, who was practicing at The Raven at South Mountain. Her comments will be in that course review. She's set to play in her first LPGA event at the TakeFuji Classic in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
Ready for a change from valet parking? In Tucson try The Jeremiah Inn Bed & Breakfast. It's in the desert boonies in the north part of town minutes from The Raven at Sabino Springs. Bob and Beth Miner are your friendly innkeepers at 10921 East Snyder Road. Call 520-749-3072 or 888-750-3072 or email them at JeremiahInn@Juno.com. It's a great desert getaway with pool, spa and delicious breakfasts. Also check out: www.bbonline.com/az/jeremiah/
In the Palm Springs area another untraditional place to stay is the luxurious bed & breakfast, Lake LaQuinta Inn, just minutes from LaQuinta Dunes and Mountain Courses and the PGA West courses. Look them up at www.lakelaQuintaInn.com or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Inn will spoil you with great breakfasts and themed rooms. One is the St. Andrews Room decorated in Scottish plaids and golf books and wall hangings.
Your Innkeepers are Tim and Cecilia Ellis, located at 78120 Caleo Bay, La Quinta, CA. Call 888-226-4546 or 760-564-7332.
If you would like to rediscover the 1950s, the Ellis' also have a brand-new opening called Orbit In - check it out at www.orbitin.com.
You also can't beat the Marriott's golf resorts in the California desert including the Rancho Las Palmas, with its Spanish-styled casitas overlooking the golf course, and the Desert Springs Resort, a huge opulent place that's also first class. Check out: http://www.golfcalifornia.com/holland49.htm.
Rancho Las Palmas is located at 41000 Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage, CA. Call 1-760-568-2727 for reservations or look up the Marriott website.
In Scottsdale try the Sonoran Suites (www.sonoransuites.com), where you can stay in a furnished apartment complete with full kitchen and pool privileges. Call them at 888-786-7848 and ask about their golf packages.
The Four Seasons at Troon North (www.fourseasons.com) is located a minute from Troon North's 36 holes. It's ritzy, friendly and you might just have a view of Pinnacle Peak perfectly framed out your luxury casita. Don't miss the 24-person hot tub under the Arizona winter sky. Call 888-207-9696.
The Boulders Resort in Carefree also has luxury casitas overlooking awe-inspiring granite boulders (http://www.wyndham.com) and wildlife everywhere. There are walking trails among the huge rock formations and towering saguaros as well as 36 holes of the most scenic golf you will find anywhere. Call 800-553-1717 for reservations.
A snowbird's trip might just take you through Albuquerque, NM, on the historic U.S. 66. If so, don't miss Rudy's, just a block off Carlisle from I-40. Rudy's started in the Hill Country of Texas around Boerne, San Antonio and Austin and has the best spicy BBQ sauce you can find laced with huge hunks of pepper. Take home a big bottle of it and don't be a weenie and buy their "Sissy Sause"- get the hot stuff.