It was quite a trip: I was chased by a coyote that looked at me like I was fluffy bunny in an E-Z-GO, I went to a Coyote's hockey game and I came across a wild deal to play a tour course.
I was in Scottsdale a few weeks ago reporting an upcoming Away Game. I don't want to give all the details of my story (scheduled to appear in the May issue) but I will pass on some information that could save you some money and could help you get a tee time on my new favorite course in Arizona.
In general, I've thought golf in Arizona is overrated and overpriced. If I'm not navigating the thorny shrubs, I'm usually negotiating the houses that line the narrow flat fairways. And I can never clear my mind of the discouraging thought, "This track is NOT worth the money." This is why, when I am in the area, I lean toward places like We-Ko-Pa and Talking Stick. Both are owned and operated by Native Americans, and both are fairly open and easy on the eyes--you'll never see a house.
I get it. Arizona, the Florida of the West Coast, makes sense in the winter months when the northern half of the country is wearing six layers of clothing in six-degree temperatures, but I just haven't been a fan. That is, until now.
My original itinerary for this Away Game didn't include the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale. Instead, because I didn't want to write about a course with a $272 green fee, I was going to play the Champions Course across the street, which is only $130 during peak season (Jan. 1 through April 12). On my steering wheel of my cart at the Champions Course was a little card. It read, "Thank You for Visiting TPC Scottsdale! To show you our appreciation, we would like you to come back for $149 per person on the Stadium Course! (46% savings!)" An offer that's good through April 5.
I finished the round at the Champions Course (see my course critique in the May issue). The next day I played two rounds at Talking Stick, and then, on the day before the Stadium Course closed for the FBR Open, I played the tour course for $149, which included a cart, range balls and a forecaddie (but not a tip). There were some parameters. One card was good for two people. I had to call within 24 hours of my tee time (I got an 8:30 slot for two) and had to present the card at the time of check-in. The booking process was easy, and the check-in that morning was flawless. If there's one thing I've noticed about a TPC course is a courteous staff. That was certainly true in Scottsdale.
I hit my opening tee shot with low expectations of the Tom Weiskopf course. The first two holes of the Stadium Course reminded me why I don't like about Arizona golf. But on the third hole the course opens up, and it continues to gain momentum all the way to a very strong six finishing holes.
On the 13th hole, Tiger's rock hole, I went driver and 2-rescue to the front of the green on the par 5 and had to make an eight foot putt for birdie (yes, I left the eagle putt that short).
There's a plaque on the rock that the gallery moved for Tiger in 1999 before a change in the rule, which now states a player can use the help of only his caddie in those situations.
Our forecaddie, John (The Cop) Schwencke, was the best I've ever had. He was Forrest Gump in a white body bib. He never stopped running, and the guy knew the course and the greens. Conscientious, positive, thorough and entertaining. He walked that fine line of trying too hard, but he was so sincere and so good, it was impossible not to appreciate what he brought to the day. Schwencke, who was NYPD in Brooklyn, has been a caddie for three years and is wearing the soles out of his sneakers.
I've put together a short video with pictures of Tiger in 1999, the rock at 13 as it is now, the walk from the 15th green to the 16th tee box (I hit it on the fringe of the green and made a 3), the 18th tee box, the plaque in the fairway marking the 359-yard tee shot J.B. Holmes hit in the playoff en route to beating Phil Mickelson in 2008, with some commentary by John The Cop. He gives me the story about the plaque right before he takes off running for the green.
The Stadium Course, for half price and a forecaddie--it's worth the run.
--To view in high-res, click here and then on the bottom right corner of the video, click on "watch in high quality."
(Aerial photograph of 16th hole by Caryn Levy/PGA Tour)