Away Game

An Arizona Affair

May 2009

It wasn't exactly love at first sight. On past trips to Scottsdale, I've found golf there overpriced and claustrophobic: long, expensive rounds and too many prayers for tee shots to "get a kick" off a rooftop.

My most recent visit was different. It took a sweet deal, some nice surprises, a conscientious forecaddie and a couple of close encounters with coyotes (see "Local Knowledge"), but this was an affair to remember.

One of my goals this time was to keep the cost down. Staying at the recently renovated Xona Resort Suites in north Scottsdale, I used its "golf experts" to help me coordinate my itinerary.

I asked for "good golf at about $100." They were willing to work with me, but this was peak season in Arizona (Jan. 1 through April 5), and even in to-day's economy it looked as if $100 was unrealistic. So I increased the target price to $125. Now I was getting closer.

Golf Guide

Map By John Burgoyne
* Star listings from 1 to 5 are derived from readers' Best Places To Play ratings.

We decided on the Champions Course at TPC Scottsdale, which is down the street from the hotel and about half the price of the Stadium Course, site of the FBR Open and golf's closest thing to a rock concert -- where thousands of scantily clad, screaming fans have been known to throw things on the stage of the enter-tainers. (It would be fun to say I've played there, but not for north of $250.) The rest of my itinerary included both courses at Talking Stick and a final round at Dove Valley.

I wasn't one hole into the trip before I started thinking about making an adjustment. On the steering wheel of the cart at the Champions Course there was a little card: "$149 per person on the Stadium Course! 46% savings!" Was I reading this right? It listed a number to call and the details of the deal. The card was good for two golfers and included a forecaddie, range balls and a cart. There was a catch: The tee time had to be made within 24 hours of when I was planning to play. So I put the card in my pocket, and I finished my round at the Champions Course.

If there's one thing that all TPC courses have in common, it's good service. During my visit I encountered courteous staff, an impressive golf shop, a good bar, terrific food options and an efficient tee sheet. As for the Champions Course -- a complete redesign of the old Desert Course -- it's a good one to include but not a course you'd want to build a trip around. Too many times I wasn't sure where I needed to hit my tee shot. The steady stream of low-flying private jets landing in the neighboring airport was aerial entertainment and evidence that the recession hasn't hit everyone, but it didn't help my score.

Talking Stick's two courses were designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the team behind Bandon Trails at Oregon's Bandon Dunes Resort, among others. The North Course is an appreciated attempt at links golf in the flatlands of the desert, and it comes close.

There's grass from tee to green, no water, and if I have one criticism, it's that the par 4s are a little repetitive.

I preferred the North Course to the South, which was tighter, with water, and didn't have the links feel. Like We-Ko-Pa, the one Scottsdale-area course I'd played before and liked enough to recommend, Talking Stick is owned by American Indians, it isn't surrounded by houses and features an inviting clubhouse. Both have neighboring casinos.

Between rounds and during lunch at the Wildhorse Grille -- you can eat on the porch over-looking the seventh tee of the North Course. I called the number on the card I got during my round at the Champions Course (480-585-4334, ext. 1). After a short series of prompts I had an 8:30 tee time on the Stadium Course the next day. It was a quick and easy decision. I'll have to try Dove Valley ($109) on another trip. The week before the FBR Open, I would be taking my game to a tour stop.

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