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King-Collins Golf adds 18-hole design to portfolio with Landmand GC

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Master plan for Landmand Golf Club. Credit: King Collins Golf Course Design

King-Collins Golf’s first design, Sweetens Cove, has received a seemingly endless amount of praise over the last several years. Both the course and the design team have been the darlings of golf social media since the community discovered Sweetens Cove. And yet, it has taken Rob Collins and Tad King a while to add a full 18-hole course to their design portfolio. All of that is about to change.

King-Collins Golf has certainly received many inquiries in the past few years, but the cold hard truth of the golf course design business is few of them ever really get legs. Then, Will Andersen reached out to King-Collins in April of 2019 through the contact form on their website and things changed rather quickly.

According to Rob

“I could just tell by the way he was talking that it was the real deal. He said that he had had some other big name architects out there, but none of them really clicked and some of them didn’t even take the project seriously. It sounded like he had a little chip on his shoulder and, to be honest, that really resonated with me because Tad and I have dealt with very similar issues after Sweetens Cove. You know, we’ve been fighting so hard for our big break and it’s like every time a good piece of land comes up, you hear the same four names and just irritates the heck out of me. Anyway, I called Tad and said, ‘Hey, we got a real one here.’”

Rob Collins and shaper Gus Grantham discussing their plan. Credit: Rob Collins

Will showed Rob and Tad around their family’s land in Homer, Nebraska, which lies on the Missouri River near the Iowa and South Dakota borders. The land had been farmed by their family for several years (Landmand is Danish for farmer, by the way) until it wound up in the government’s Conservation Reserve Program.

Will tells the story of how they decided to turn it into a golf course

“I had been working at Conway Farms near Chicago and was going to be a golf professional when I decided to move back to Nebraska in 2008.  At that point, I said something to my dad about building a golf course, and he was like, ‘Well, we’re not going to do anything else with the land. We’ll probably leave it in the CRP program or at some point we might sell it.’ That was obviously not a great time to be building a golf course, so we signed another 10-year contract with the CRP program.”

“Then, I looked at him this year [in 2019] as they were about to renew the CRP contract and I said, ‘Either we’re going to do something now while the economy’s pretty good or we just don’t ever do it.’ And he said, ‘Alright. Let’s just do this golf course.’ I know that sounds simple, but that was it. What’s funny is my dad’s never once played golf in his life. The only person that played golf in my family was my mom’s dad. He’s the one that got me into it.”

Upon seeing the land, it’s safe to say Rob, Tad, and Will saw eye-to-eye rather quickly.

From Rob’s perspective

“They have some spots down by the Missouri River that were really pretty, but they were prone to flooding and then he took us up to another site up in the hills and it was like, ‘Okay wow. This is the one right here.’  The site we’re working on was actually clear cut by Will’s grandfather, so there’s only one tree on the whole property (near the 11th fairway). It’s really an extraordinary piece of land.  Tad and I talked about what we wanted to do to the site and the type of golf course we wanted to build (lots of options, emphasizing the ground game, and using as many natural contours as we can). We also talked about our design-build method where we do the vast majority of everything in-house, which keeps our cost very low compared to a lot of other folks. I think all of that seemed to be music to their ears.”

The site of Landmand Golf Club. Photo credit: Rob Collins

Will echoed that sentiment

“Rob and Tad were basically giddy when they saw the property and that was a good sign for me. According to Tad, all they really had to do was ‘massage the land’ and it’d make a great golf course. That’s exactly what my dad needed to hear too because he didn’t want them to completely dismantle the whole property. It wasn’t until after we hired them for the job that we found out they hadn’t built an 18-hole golf course from scratch yet.”

As for design features, Rob shared some thoughts on the course itself

“There’s going to be a giant Sitwell green [a nod to Alister Mackenzie’s original design of the 12th hole at Sitwell Park] as well as some smaller greens here and there. Some holes will play along the ridges, some more in the valleys. The golf course just has a real nice rhythm to it, and I don’t think it ever really gets stagnant anywhere. There’s one particular stretch of the course where there’s a 575-yard par 5 followed by a short 310-yard par 4, and then a 110-yard par 3 and a longer 420-yard par 4. There are parts of the golf course where you can see 14 or 15 holes meandering across this super bold terrain. Ultimately, it’s a great piece of property for a great client and you can’t ask for much more than that.”

They signed contracts in the summer of 2019 and construction began around Labor Day. The course will be grassed in 2020 (bentgrass greens and a drought-tolerant bluegrass/rye mix in the fairways) and open for play in 2021. The plan is for a par-73, 7,075-yard course with wide fairways, firm and fast conditions, and a heavy emphasis on variety. Landmand will be a public facility with a small number of season-pass holder-style memberships.

Stay tuned for more information as the project develops.

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Peter Schmitt is an avid golfer trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. He believes that first and foremost, golf should be an enjoyable experience. Always. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids. "What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive." -Arnold Palmer

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The New Orleans Golf Experience

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I love New Orleans. I first visited the Crescent City in 2010 and for the past decade, the place has seeped into my soul. It’s my home away from home. My family and I make a habit of visiting as often as we can, and it has become a bit of a tradition to take a weekend trip to NOLA in December just before Christmas. My 18-month-old son has already been twice, and this last trip he discovered the wonder that is creole gumbo.

But in all my visits to the Big Easy, I had never once played golf. Typically, one of our trips only lasts a weekend and, quite honestly, it’s hard to pull myself away from the city for half a day to play 18. This time, I finally did it. Twice.

The first day of our weekend excursion, I crossed the Mississippi River and headed out to TPC Louisiana, home of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic. The next day, I enjoyed an early morning walk around Audubon Park Golf Course, a city run and operated par-62 deep in the heart of Uptown. Two very different experiences…

But First, Let’s Talk about Nawlins

For the past three years, my family has stayed at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel in the middle of the French Quarter. I’ve actually stayed here many more times than that, including for my bachelor party, because I think its the best combination of location and comfort that you can find in the quarter. There are, of course, countless other options nearby, but the Omni really just does it right. It’s going to be tough for us to pick a different hotel from now on.

Hotel Room Balcony at Omni Royal Orleans

The hotel’s entrance is a wonderfully classic southern lobby with marbling throughout. Our room was spacious and included a balcony overlooking Royal Street, the most charming of the French Quarter roadways. Jam-packed with antique stores, boutiques and bistros, Royal is where we spend most of our time…as opposed to the long days and longer nights on the Bourbon Street of my younger years. But if some time on Bourbon is what you are looking for between golf rounds, the Royal Omni is still only one block away.

When we go to New Orleans, the primary purpose is food. The city is known for its food and some of the best restaurants in the world are located right here in NOLA. Typically, we eat a big meal at Antoine’s, Irene’s, Mr. B’s Bistro or Mother’s Restaurant, and then we walk around town and window shop until it’s time to eat the next big meal.

I made sure both of my rounds of golf were early in the morning so I could get back to town for both lunch and dinner. It’s tough to miss an opportunity for a good meal in New Orleans.

TPC Louisiana

TPC Louisiana is a 20-minute car ride across the river from the quarter, in a town called Avondale. The clubhouse is a true-to-form southern structure adorned with columns and ferns. Typical for the area and exactly what I was hoping for. Bayou through and through.

The pro shop and the rest of the clubhouse are well decorated and outfitted. Not many major brands missing in the shop but it is typically merchandised for a TPC course. Athletic brands like Under Armour and Adidas rule the roost here. And the TPC Louisiana logo leaves much to be desired, just like its sister courses. The Zurich Classic apparel is sprinkled throughout as well. And photos from past champions line the entrance, which always legitimizes a clubhouse a bit, I think. It’s fun to play a course that Justin Rose has won on.

It was a foggy day in Avondale, which suited me just fine. Out from the city and into the swamp, TPC Louisiana should feel a bit spooky the first time you play. There is water on a great many of the holes, which means alligators are also sure to be near. My dad and I put on some Creedence Clearwater and attacked the course, trying to hit each shot far enough into the fog to make the ball disappear.

TPC Louisiana is a Pete Dye design, and true to form, some of the holes are most certainly “Dye-abolical.” For the PGA event, the par 72 course can stretch out to 7,425 yards. In damp conditions, this place can be a real beast. Just the way Dye likes it.

     

The trees are typical for the region. Large and covered in moss, a signature natural feature for golf in the south. And to me, it might be the most important feature of golf in New Orleans. One of the reasons I love the French Quarter is the feeling you get just being there. The Spanish influence of the architecture. The rod iron balconies with hanging ferns as big as a Volkswagen. Live music on every other corner. The feeling of age. This place has been here for a long time, throughout hurricanes and depressions, and it came out vibrant on the other side. And it isn’t going anywhere.

Golf in the deep south can give those same feelings. Floods can come and take some of the course with them, but the tall, strong, century-old cypress and oak trees remain, decorated with moss. TPC Louisiana was built in 2004, so it’s a relatively new course. But the feeling is still old here. The land allows for that feeling. You’re in the bayou here and everything feels mature. A great place for golf.

It wouldn’t be a Pete Dye track without some phenomenally punitive bunkering. Gorgeous to look at but hell to get out of. Most greens are surrounded by coffin bunkers and awkward lies. The wet weather does give these greens lush conditions, too. The mini verde bermuda grass was in perfect shape for our round and each putt rolled true. But we did learn the greens don’t break as much as they look.

       

For the tour quality layout and conditions, the price for golf isn’t bad at all. The course offers dynamic pricing, meaning the cost will change depending on the month, day and even time of day. But in December, a round can run anywhere from $70 to $150 depending on when you want to tee off. That’s not unreasonable.

The ninth hole is one of my favorite holes on the course. A delightful little par 3 with water on the left and a green structure held up by railroad ties. It’s just quintessential Louisiana. The clubhouse watches gracefully behind the flag and it just feels like a good shot will be rewarded with a mason jar of sweet tea at the turn.

9th Green

Large waste bunker hazard

  

The signature hole is undoubtedly the closing par-5 18th. Water all along the right side is beached with a bunker structure that has to be 200 yards long. On warm days, this is a popular sunbathing spot for all the mamma gators.

The hole only plays 565 yards from the Dye Tees, which makes getting home in two a possible task for the longer hitters. A definite birdie hole with a well-placed drive, it’s a great finishing hole for the tour players and spectators alike. But with all that water looming along the right side, the tee shot can be a knee buckler.

  

We walked off the course with plenty of time to head back to the French Quarter and enjoy the rest of the day before dinner. Like I said, time in NOLA is best spent waiting on the next great meal.

Dinner for us was at The Rib Room, a favorite spot of mine that is conveniently located in the Omni Royal Orleans hotel. In 2017, a group of my best friends toasted to my upcoming nuptials here at the Rib Room at the ultimate bachelor party dinner. So this will always be a special place to me. It also just happens to cook up a first-class rib-eye steak, which I order every time. Also, make sure you get the New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp to kick things off. So damn tasty.

Maybe the best thing about the Rib Room, however, is that after a long meal with lots of red meat and red wine, I can just stumble upstairs to my hotel room overlooking Royal Street. It’s certainly one of the perks for staying at the Omni. And it means my kiddo can get into his pajamas and play with his mardi gras beads for the rest of the night.

Spend Some Time in the French Quarter…

I think in order to truly appreciate golf in New Orleans, you need to appreciate New Orleans. TPC Louisiana is a great golf course in its own right, but if you have a certain affinity for the bayou culture and lifestyle, you’re going to love the golf in this town. So if you take a golf trip to New Orleans, I hope you still leave an empty day on your schedule for the city. Walk around the town, see the sites, enjoy the food.

It is tough to keep my dad away from the casino. If you’re a gambler, Harrah’s is a fine substitute for Vegas. It’s a large, beautiful structure at the end of Canal Street and backed up to the mighty Mississippi River. It houses every game and drink your heart might desire.

   

We have dear friends that live in Cleveland, Mississippi, named Matty and Suzette. They’ve made it a tradition to come into town this same weekend each year for a visit, too, and to share good food and stories. We always convene at Antoine’s for a “three-hour lunch” that typically culminates in too much buttery french white wine and still not enough time for all the shared memories and laughs. It’s my favorite meal of the year and always a great time to see Matty and Suzy. New Orleans is about community, after all. And I love my community of people.

The wonders of the Mississippi

Cafe Du Monde Beignets. A must for all tourists, young and old.

Audubon Park Golf Course

Not far from the quarter, just past Tulane University on a darling thoroughfare called Magazine Street, sits Audubon Park. Approximately 350 acres of actual park land in New Orlean’s Uptown neighborhood, the park is bordered on one side by the Mississippi River and on the other side by the stately St. Charles Ave and it’s wonderful streetcars.  The golf course proudly declares that they are the only course in America that you can get to by street car. Charming.

And the whole experience of golf at Audubon Park is charming. The course was built in 1898 and is completely circled by a jogging and walking trail, which is always well populated due to it being such an absolutely beautiful area for a walk. I hit several shots under the watchful eye of stroller pushing moms and leashed golden doodles. The presence of so many non-golfers around the course makes the place feels very European.

Audubon Park Clubhouse

 

The clubhouse is a perfect complement to the course. Small but classic, with a pro shop big enough for a couple of groups of four at a time. Pay your green fee, maybe buy an 1898 logo hat and then head to the first tee. This is true public golf. And it is fun as hell. I decided to walk this round in order to get the full experience.

     

Audubon Park Golf Course is a unique layout. The 18 hole design is only 4,220 yards and a par 62. This includes 12 par 3s (six on each side), four par 4s and two par 5s. It’s the perfect spot for a game. The surplus of par 3s make the course incredibly walk able and I didn’t see many carts on the course at all.

Because of the park presences and the short hole designs, you do see a lot of other people during your round. The whole place feels communal and everyone was quick to say hello and share a smile. That’s New Orleans. Friendship defines Audubon Park.

Despite the shortness of the course, the place didn’t feel small at all to me. There are some real deal par 3s out there. And the two par 5s play like real par 5s. I didn’t walk away from the course feeling like I had just played some par 3 mini-golf design. It still feels like real golf. And honestly, it’s the most fun I have had on a course in a long time.

  

The conditions were phenomenal for a city park course. The greens were pure. Having just played TPC Louisiana, a site for a PGA Tour tournament, I didn’t feel like there was much of a downgrade in quality at all. The course certainly lacks some design creativity that you get with more land to work with. But the par 3s often have carries over water and peninsula greens. I never once felt bored with the routing or design.

When I told people I was playing Audubon Park, the common reaction was always “oh you’re going to have so much fun out there. That course is a blast.” I think there is something to the fact that par is only 62 that adds to the enjoyment. The pressure of traditional scoring and trying to “break 80” or “break 90” goes away and you are just out there to enjoy the game. Also, there is just something really fun about playing three par 3s in a row.

When I checked into our hotel at the Omni, the man behind the counter asked me what I was doing in town. I told him I was here to play some golf and he said “A bunch of us always head out to Audubon Park after work once a week to play. It’s a blast and we can get in around in 2 hours before the sun goes down.”

Audubon Park Golf is good for the game. Accessible, communal, and honestly cheap enough for everyone to enjoy. The green fees are $28 for resident and $38 for non-resident walkers. Only $10 to walk 9 and $20 for a twilight round. For the fun, that is damn tough to beat.

 

After my round, I left my bag with the pro shop and took a walk through the park. It ended up being a beautiful day. I crossed Magazine Street and met my family at the neighboring Audubon Zoo. It amazes me that such a wonderful golf course can be a part of the same park family as a first-class city zoo. Combine the two with your family and I had a really amazing four hours in Audubon Park. New Orleans has a gem here and it feels like the soul of the city.

 

New Orleans Golf

It just doesn’t get a ton of talk in the golf community, but a weekend golf trip in New Orleans should be higher on people’s lists than it is. TPC Louisiana is first class and a real test of golf with a touch of Pete Dye’s diabolical influence. Audubon Park might be the exact opposite but it is the epitome of what fun golf should be. Just a delightful place to swing the club.

Add all that to the fact that you get to spend a weekend in one of the coolest cities in the world, surrounded by culture, music and phenomenal food. I’m not sure why golfers aren’t flocking to the Big Easy. In fact, I think maybe you should.

If you want help planning your next golf experience or just have any questions about some of mine, reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram and shoot me a message. And feel free to check out my other golf experience articles. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Follow the sun: 3 winter golf trips where the PGA Tour plays

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golf, beach, ocean, Puerto Rico

Winter hasn’t begun and you’re already more sick of it than hearing another opinion about Patrick Reed’s sand play. You’re not alone. Approximately 433 million North American residents live in four-season climates where winter and golf aren’t always compatible. You can beat the winter blues and scratch your golf itch by following the PGA Tour this winter. Here are three places to consider.

ocean, cliffs, sunshine, travel, hawaii

Hawaii hosts two PGA Tour stops in January, and it’s one of the best golf states in the U.S. (Pictured: Poipu Bay, Kauai)

Aloha Hawaii in January

It doesn’t get better than this Pacific Ocean oasis for winter golf. The PGA Tour plays here in the Sentry Tournament of Champions (Plantation Course, Jan. 2-5, Maui) and the Sony Open (Waialae CC, Jan. 9-12, Honolulu). Xander Schauffle and Matt Kuchar are defending champions, respectively. With five major islands and scores of courses to choose from, it’s hard to make a poor choice. Perhaps start by identifying what style place you prefer. Want nightlife and action on and off course? Honolulu fits the bill. More into the laid back vibe? Kauai is calling. The Garden Isle is lush and serene, with courses including Puakea, Poipu Bay, Wailua, and Hokuala.

Inside tip: expect omnipresent trade winds that invite shot imagination and wildly unusual club selection. It’s not atypical to need 3-4 clubs more than normal (or less).

cactus, Arizona, desert, golf, golf course

Arizona – the land of cactuses, deserts, great golf courses, and ideal winter golf weather

Waste Not Arizona

You know about the Waste Management Open (TPC Scottsdale, Jan. 30-Feb. 2), home to electric stadium golf and stands full of wasted minions who particularly worship defending champion Ricky Fowler. But you should also know that there are more great golf courses in Arizona and around Phoenix-Scottsdale than you can count. Many are owned by Native American Tribes that were designed by some of the game’s greatest architects, including Tom Doak and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. They’re particularly compelling because they mix top-rated courses with Native American cultural influences. Talking Stick, We-Ko-Pa, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, Wild Horse Pass. You get the desert picture.

Inside tip: Desert golf can be point-to-point golf. Keeping the ball on the green stuff is paramount, considering all of the sand, rocks, cactuses, and scorpions that lie outside of it.

ocean, golf course, Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, Tom Fazio

With 17 golf courses , beaches, 4,000+ restaurants, and more than 80 direct flights daily, Puerto Rico is as convenient and satisfying a winter golf getaway as they come. (Pictured: Tom and George Fazio-designed Ocean Course at Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Golf & Beach Resort) 

Puerto Rico Fore February

While Hawaii and Arizona are relatively convenient to many, it’s not so much for those living in the eastern part of the continent. Puerto Rico is particularly traveler friendly for them. Not only because there are more than 80 direct flights to the Caribbean Island daily, but no passport is required for U.S. citizens. While Martin Trainer is defending his Puerto Rico Open title (Feb. 20-23, The Resort at Coco Beach), you could be playing one of the Island’s 17 courses, including a worthy collection around capital San Juan. These include TPC Dorado Beach (36 holes) – which GOLF named one of the Top 5 Luxury category places in out 2019 Top 100 Golf Resorts compendium – Rio Mar Golf & Beach Resort (36), and St. Regis Bahia Beach (18). Playing Coco Beach is another Capital Region option. Home to two Tom Kite designed 18-hole courses (Championship and International), Coco Beach was formerly a Trump International golf licensed venue.

Inside tip: Puerto Rico is the most exotic of the three winter golf destinations listed. But it’s bilingual and welcoming, just like its courses, all of which offer public access.

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The Scottsdale Experience

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The greater Phoenix area has some phenomenal golf. And a lot of it, too.  They say that there are over 200 golf courses in and around Phoenix and Scottsdale. Of course, not all golf is created equal. But still, you visit this part of the country, and you can find somewhere to play without much problem. And the weather will probably be good. It’s why so many snow-bird golfers decide to retire to Arizona.

My wife, kiddo, and I spent the weekend in Scottsdale. I’ve been blessed to travel to a lot of different places for golf but I am not sure there is a finer overall golf venue to visit with your family. We stayed at the Fairmont Princess, and I was able to play three first-class courses: TPC Scottsdale, Grayhawk Raptor, and We-Ko-Pa Saguaro. Each course provided a different style of desert golf…something I didn’t know was even possible before this trip.

It also happened to be Christmas season, and the Fairmont Princess goes all out for the holidays. It might be hard to imagine a winter wonderland in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, but they pull it off. Absolute Christmas heaven for an 18-month-old boy and his parents.

Here’s how our weekend went…

Day 1: TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course

We all know TPC Scottdale as the host of the Waste Management Phoenix Open every year on the PGA Tour. Yep, it’s the party tournament with the stadium grandstands around the famous 16th par-three hole. It’s one of the most popular stops on tour for fans and golfers alike, and I was stoked to see if the course itself provides similar excitement.

TPC Scottsdale Stadium Clubhouse

The clubhouse is grand and nearby to the Fairmont hotel, where most of the players stay during tournament week. In fact, the great little par-three fourth hole runs parallel to some of the Fairmont villas. The fifth teebox backs up to the Fairmont grounds and borders a cool walking path along the course. The hotel makes for a neat backdrop for many holes on the front nine.

The pro shop here is solid. It’s large and has all the major brands. I think that is a common theme in Scottsdale, though. The retail world is a big deal here and that extends beyond the pro shops. I was joined by a single for my round at TPC Scottsdale, a doctor from El Paso. He and his wife were in town just for the weekend as well. He told me they drive to Scottsdale once a year. “I play golf and my wife shops. We have to drive so she can fill the car with everything she buys,” he said. I found out later the shopping really was world-class. But I played a bit quicker after that, not knowing where my wife was and how much money she was spending.

TPC Stadium #1 Tee

  

The Stadium Course was in perfect shape. The track is a Tom Wieskopf  and Jay Morrish-designed, 7,266-yard par 71 that was built in 1987 as a site for the then Phoenix Open. It was easily the best conditioned of the three courses I played in Scottsdale. Winter is high traffic season for Arizona, as most travelers fly in from the north to escape the cold weather back home. Temperatures each morning were in the 40s, but it warmed up to a comfortable high in the 60s after lunch each day, usually with clear skies. My round at TPC was cloudy, but we avoided rain from earlier in the week. The course was lush and the greens were as good as any I’ve ever played anywhere. The ball was rolling so pure on them. I’m willing to bet they keep them that perfect year-round.

TPC Scottsdale also has a second course, The Champions Course, that was built in 2007 and it offers a more inexpensive alternative with similarly stellar conditions. Both sites offer dynamic pricing, with green fees fluctuating throughout the month, week and even time of day. But in December, tee times for the Stadium Course can run you anywhere from $94.00 to $250.00 depending on when you want to go out. Prices for the Champions Course seem to hover around the $100.00 mark all day long.

   

TPC Scottsdale was a subtle introduction to desert golf for me. While the fairways were definitely surrounded by desert plants and sandy, hardpan surfaces, the course still didn’t quite feel like a true desert course. There was certainly cactus everywhere but the course is also surrounded by residential adobe houses and, of course, the ever-present Fairmont Princess resort. It was classy desert golf. Nothing wrong with that at all, but you aren’t out in the middle of the Sonoran. There is still a constant presence of civilization and the plants that lined the fairway were spaced out enough to still play your next shot. Not a ton of lost balls on this course.

   

It takes over two months to assemble the stadium grandstands around the par-three 16th, and construction was well along the way in December. In fact, the bones of the stadium were large enough to see the structure from many points on the course. That gives a looming feeling of excitement throughout the entire round. I can only imagine how it must feel for the pros to know that a stadium of 20,000 screaming fans await you at the end of your round, spending all day in the same seat just to see you hit a 150-yard shot.

Fans form an early morning line at the entrance of the Waste Management Open and then run almost a full mile to the stadium to stake their claim on a seat. And if you get up during the day without someone holding your spot, you might lose it. It’s a rowdy crowd, too, as fans are encouraged to make some noise during the golf. There really isn’t another place like it on tour. Even in December, standing on the tee inside the empty structure, you could feel the pressure. It’s a really fun experience and worth the price of admission.

TPC 16 Green to Tee

Like any good Weiskopf/Morrish design, the Stadium Course offers a drive-able par 4. The fact that it is the 17th hole here only adds to the end-of-round drama for the PGA Tour event. In 2001, Andrew Magee made a miraculous hole in one on this hole, the first-ever ace on a par 4 in PGA Tour history.

Overall, TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course is a solid but not overly spectacular layout. What makes the course special is the first-class conditioning on the fairways and greens, the history of the tour event and the obvious thrill of playing the Stadium Course. The finishing four holes make the course worth the trip, with 16 and 17 being the absolute highlights of the round. Even hole 18 provides a beautiful finish back towards the clubhouse. If you can play this course anytime between December and February, you’ll get the added treat of weaving through the grandstands and seeing how the course will look for the professionals. That is an underrated experience.

Me and my buddy Jeff

View of TPC Stadium #4 Green from our hotel room

I ended the round with a meal on site at Toro, the clubhouse restaurant and rum bar. They are known for their sushi but also offer a solid burger and a stunning view overlooking the 18th green. I noticed that the nearly full restaurant was patronized by mostly non-golfers, so this must be a real deal lunch option for the community of Scottsdale. I thought it was a great spot and the atmosphere was good fun with golf course vibes.

Toro Restaurant

Back at the Fairmont, the family had our first night at Christmas at the Princess. I know this is a golf article, but I’m telling you guys….this is just another reason to bring the family to Scottsdale in November/December. The Fairmont is a HUGE property with 750 guest rooms and several restaurants on-site—but there isn’t a tree or building that isn’t completely covered in Christmas lights. They managed to over-decorate in a classy manner but I’m pretty sure the scene would still make Clark Griswold proud. I’m a big fan of overdoing it at Christmas, so this was right up my alley.

Fairmont Princess Main Lobby

Mr. Christmas

Christmas at the Princess felt like a holiday-themed Disneyland. There were hot chocolate stands—you can order it “naughty” with alcohol or “nice” for the kids, Christmas characters walking around in costume for pictures, a ferris wheel and carousel in ‘Smoresland,’ a Christmas train ride around the property, an ice skating rink with fireside lounge chairs, and of course pictures with Santa. My son will be 18 months this Christmas, and he was in heaven with all the lights and characters. And quite honestly, my wife and I were in constant awe of this place as well. Everything is just so impressive. The Fairmont in Scottsdale is perfect for families but even more so this time of year. We saw families with kids of all ages, but there were also couples there for a holiday-themed date night. If you go in the winter, that doesn’t mean forget your swimsuit—the Fairmont has heated pools including an adults-only pool if that’s your style.

We had dinner at La Hacienda, there at the Fairmont, and it was excellent. You can’t go to Arizona and not partake in the margarita selection, right? Well…we did. Also, the Carnitas Hacienda is apparently the signature dish and it was legit. So much flavor. Our first night’s restaurant couldn’t have been better. It was exactly what I had in mind when I thought about a hardy meal after a long day of chilly Arizona golf. I highly recommend.

El Hacienda Restaurant

Lobster Taco Appetizers…sooooo good

Desert Ice Skating…only at the Princess

Will’s favorite tree

Day 2: Grayhawk Raptor Course

My second round was Grayhawk, host site for the upcoming 2020-2022 NCAA Championships. Grayhawk Golf Club is also famous for being Phil Mickelson’s home away from home. Mickelson was one of the club’s original ambassadors, and he has sported the club’s logo on his bag for a while now. The restaurant on site is actually named Phil’s Grill after Lefty, and it is where I enjoyed my post-round meal. Solid spot for a beer overlooking the Raptor course and practice facility.

Phil’s Grill Restaurant at Grayhawk

Grayhawk is home to two separate but truly equal golf courses: the Raptor and the Talon. I only had the opportunity to play the Raptor, but I did take a cart ride around the Talon and can attest that both courses house some truly unique golf holes. Grayhawk was established in 1994 but the club already has a ‘special’ kind of atmosphere for such a young place. The locker room is full of nameplates belonging to the best in the game and the amount of memorabilia, most of which belonging to Mickelson, make the club feel more established than it should in only 25 years of existence. The place feels historical.  But the courses definitely back up the clubhouse swagger.

Grayhawk Talon Course

Grayhawk Talon Course

This is true desert golf. An errant tee shot here and you’re in the real junk…cactus and other natural plants that can impede your swing, swallow your ball and probably pierce your skin. I love it. The Raptor is a Tom Fazio design that stretches out to 7,090 yards and a par of 72. A bit further out of town than TPC Scottsdale but still in the city, the topography changes a bit to more rolling hills and wilder terrain. The desert tee shots can play tricks on your eyes, though. I’m not sure if it’s the McDowell Mountains in the distance or the natural swale of the landscape, but many of the tee shots looked like the landing areas were smaller than they actually were. When I would get to my second shot, I often realized that the fairway was much bigger than it appeared from the tee.

 

A weekend round at either the Raptor or the Talon could cost you north of $200, but what can you expect for Mickelson’s place. They do offer several different rates throughout the day and week, and a special 36-hole rate if you want to knock out both courses in one day. And it’s obviously cheaper on a weekday. For the money though, you are certain to get a quality round of golf. This course is just plain fun to play and is real deal desert golf. This is what I expected when I started planning an Arizona golf vacation.

The par three 8th hole at Raptor is the best hole I played all weekend. It’s one of those rare holes that makes you say ‘oh wow’ when you step up to the tee. The green is guarded by a team of elevated bunkers, protecting most of the putting surface and only exposing its top right tier to the tee box. The flag is just tall enough to peak above the top of those bunkers, giving the brave something to shoot for.

The shot is a mid iron and a miss right will still hit the large green complex. What you can’t see from the tee box is that a miss left will usually use the contours of the hill to kick your ball right, also on to the green. Its deceptively easy. My kind of shot.

8th tee box at Grayhawk Raptor

8th Green at Raptor looking back at tee

The course finishes strong with a get-able par 5 back towards the clubhouse. This hole will hopefully provide a ton of drama for college golf over the next three years at the NCAA Championships.

Ultimately, I walked away from Grayhawk thinking that if I lived in Scottsdale, this would probably be my hang. The clubhouse is legit with great food options…even an extra bar/restaurant down near the Talon driving range keeps you satisfied no matter where your game takes you. They pipe music on speakers at the range while you warm up, too. Like I said…it’s a cool place to hang out. And the courses are what I was looking for in a desert track. Not perfectly manicured. Rugged. Lush green fairways contrasted with true desert sand and foliage. It’s going to be a beautiful course to watch on television for the NCAA tournament.

Add all of that to the Phil Mickelson aura that surrounds the place, and you’ve got yourself a pretty damn cool spot.

After the round, I met back up with the family for more time lounging around the Fairmont Princess. We ended up taking the Holiday Train ride around the property so the kiddo could look at all the Christmas lights. Then we settled in for an early dinner at Bourbon Steak, the premier dining option at the Princess.

No joke, this was the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was a simple 8 ounce filet with the restaurants three signature sauces on the side…but I didn’t need any of them. The meat was so tender I could honestly cut it with the side of my fork. And we had a cauliflower soup to start that was so good even my 18 month old son couldn’t get enough of it. I was tired from all the golf and my wife was tired from all the shopping. Yikes.

Cauliflower Soup…a hit with babies

Day 3: We-Ko-Pa Saguaro Course

My final day began with a visit to the Well & Being Spa at the Fairmont Princess for some assisted golf stretching. This was a new experience for me but I gotta say…I kind of dig it. It was a mix between a yoga session and a massage, with a focus on golf swing flexibility. By the time I got to the course, I didn’t feel like I needed to warm up at all. Strange, but I think it might be a valuable thing to do before a round if you have the time. If nothing else, I learned a few stretches that I will absolutely utilize pre-round from now on.

My last round of the weekend was early morning at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club. I was playing the Saguaro course, a Coore/Crenshaw-designed track and one of two 18 hole courses on property. And I may have saved the best for last.

 

We-Ko-Pa Saguaro is just my kind of golf. If you’ve read any of my previous experience articles, you know that I am a HUGE fan of Coore/Crenshaw layouts. I think they’ve just got it figured out and this course is no different. If you take away the desert landscape, which here is much more untamed than at Grayhawk and TPC, the course just feels like a CC design. Fairway elevation changes, deceptive breaks and green contours, and seamless transitions from green to tee box routing.

Add that to the fact that the golf club is about 30 minutes outside of town, up in the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. So the landscape is open and the mountains just feel closer. The course doesn’t have any houses on it at all, which is unusual for Arizona golf. So this is a truly more natural experience. The Sonoran Desert is certainly vibrant here. The trouble right and left of these fairways is real-deal desert. Not a lot of relief to be found.

The Coore/Crenshaw strategic characteristics are still present in the design. Much like Bandon Trails, Sand Valley and Streamsong Red, there is nothing hidden from the golfer. The choices are all right in front of you. Fairway bunkers sit conveniently in middle fairway landing zones. Greens have visible false fronts and tabletop sides. You can see the options and it’s up to you to execute the shot. So simple and yet so many designs today feature blind shots and punitive hidden hazards. You won’t be frustrated by that here at Saguaro. This golf is meant to be thought about and enjoyed.

The greens are fair and run smooth. There aren’t many flat putts out here, but that feels like it’s because the course is at the foothills of the nearby mountain range. Saguaro feels natural…like the course has been there for ages and has always just been a part of the desert landscape. And the course is incredibly walkable, if that is your thing. I decided to hoof it for this round and I feel like I really got a taste of the desert landscape that way. Saguaro plays to 6,966 yards from the tips and is a par 71.

Green fees can reach $200 in the high season here. But summer and shoulder rates are much lower, which is true of all Scottsdale golf. But please do yourself a favor and don’t miss out on We-Ko-Pa. It’s a bit outside of town, but it was my favorite round of the trip. It probably helps that the weather was perfect, but I feel like that happens more often than not in Arizona.

We-Ko-Pa is a part of a resort and casino, so they offer several different stay-and0play options. It’s not a bad option if you’re looking to gamble and stay a bit outside of town.

18 Tee at We-Ko-Pa Saguaro

To end the round, I was surprised by my wife and baby boy on the 18th fairway. The young man already has some golfing skills and loves nothing more than a golf cart ride. It was such a blast to see him out on We-Ko-Pa, looking at the giant cactus and desert mountains. We might be looking at a future Arizona State golf team member here.

18 Green Handshake

Finally, we headed into downtown Scottsdale. The Kierland shopping center was fancy and well decorated, with more Christmas lights on every palm tree. And of course, a shopping mall Santa for photos. It also had every store you’ve ever heard of; it was definitely the hub for Scottsdale shopping. It felt fancy and upscale, but there wasn’t anything too high browed that would turn you away if you showed up in sweaty golf clothes with your Christmas shopping, margarita filled wife. Ask me how I know. We had our last dinner of the trip at The Mission—a trendy two-story Latin themed spot. We had a really good meal here and that may start to sound like a broken record at this point. But Scottsdale appears to have the food and beverage game figured out. I can only imagine the amazing dining options we missed, but I feel like we enjoyed some great dinner spots. I would recommend them all.

 

So, to summarize…

Like a great golf course, Scottsdale gives you options. It would take a full calendar year to play all the great golf in the area, and the food options are even more plentiful. Everyone I met that lived here seemed genuinely happy and proud of their community. It seems like a great place to call home and now I can attest that it is a phenomenal place to visit with your family. Especially around the holidays. Merry Christmas, readers!

If you want help planning your next golf experience or just have any questions about some of mine, reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram and shoot me a message. And feel free to check out my other golf experience articles. I look forward to hearing from you!

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