Flying over Scottsdale, Arizona, one distinctive characteristic stands out among the craggy mountains, rugged desert and burgeoning cityscape: This city is a hotbed for golf. Scores of emerald-green golf courses dot the terrain, giving the arid landscape an eerie, surreal appeal unlike any other in America. And it's not just a quantity issue; the quality is extraordinary, too. Famed stalwart venues like Troon North, Grayhawk and Talking Stick are but a few of the more than 174 courses.
So celebrated is the golf that many assume the game has been here for generations. Not so. Fact is, the royal and ancient pastime came to the West's Most Western Town about thirty years ago when McCormick Ranch opened to provide an alternative to tracks in the nearby Phoenix valley.
But it wasn't until the early eighties that Scottsdale golf really began to heat up. Northern Scottsdale's mountain-studded Sonoran Desert—ideally suited for dramatic golf designs—witnessed a real estate boom, giving birth to some of the country's most dynamic private golf communities, including Desert Highlands, Troon Golf & Country Club and Desert Mountain. Thanks to a new state law, each of these eighteen-hole courses was limited to no more than ninety acres of irrigated turf. Thus began the era of target golf—that irascible test of hopscotching shots in, around and over cacti, sagebrush and arroyos.
The nineties saw the birth of similar high-end daily-fee courses such as Troon North and Grayhawk, but also witnessed the development of a new style of course known as neoclassic. Less penal than target courses, these layouts feature smooth (and grassy) tee-to-green transitions, short (if any) carries over raw desert and much larger landing zones in the fairways. They still meet water-restriction mandates, but provide relief for the golfer wary of three-sleeve-per-round days. Talking Stick's two courses, Camelback's Resort course and Legend Trail are outstanding examples of this hybrid design.
So now Scottsdale golfers can find a challenge to match their gumption. Combine that with the city's climate and culture, and you have an exhilarating golf playground.
Scottsdale golf is high-octane. Here the game is mostly target style, with a generous helping of neoclassicism—adrenaline pumping, every one. Season will determine price: High season typically runs from December to April, low from June to August; mid-seasons are the two stretches in between.
Troon North Golf Club
10320 E. Dynamite Blvd., Scottsdale; 480-585-7700 (www.troonnorth.net). Monument course yardage: 7,028. Pinnacle course yardage: 7,044. Par: 72 (both). Slope: 147 (both). Architects: Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish (Monument); Tom Weiskopf (Pinnacle). Green fees: $75-$240. Walking: Yes.
T&L GOLF Rating: *****
No recount needed here, folks. Given enough time to play only one Scottsdale resort, make it Troon North, featuring two of the West's best public courses, which alternate daily for public play. The elder Monument is quintessential target golf, a highly penal routing set amid heaving granite rock outcroppings, sloping arroyos, giant saguaros and gangly mesquite and ironwood trees. The Pinnacle course is equally demanding and memorable, sharing its sibling's predilection for classic architecture and tournament conditioning. Troon North's jaw-dropping scenery, as on the Pinnacle's 407-yard par-four eighteenth, is simply a bonus.