Five can't-miss golf courses in Scottsdale

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - With more than 200 golf courses in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, it seems the choices are endless. So how do you narrow it down?

Troon North's Pinnacle Golf Course - hole 2
The second hole on Troon North Golf Club's Pinnacle Course is classic desert target golf.
Troon North's Pinnacle Golf Course - hole 2TPC at Scottsdale - Stadium CourseGrayhawk Golf Club - Raptor CourseWestin Kierland Resort and SpaTalking Stick Golf Club - greens
If you go

Well, if you've never been to Scottsdale - and you're not looking for a bargain - there are certain golf courses that would qualify as must-play venues. As we see it, here are five can't-miss golfing experiences in that area code:

Troon North Golf Club

There are 36 holes at Troon North - the Monument Course and the Pinnacle Course - and both are as good as they are expensive during peak season (count on paying two bills or more). But they're always in terrific shape, especially during the winter.

The Pinnacle Course, which is set up against the base of Pinnacle Peak, is classic desert target golf. Fairways are more than generous, but approach shots must be fairly precise to reach these perfect undulating greens. The Monument Course, which is widely considered the better of the two, is named for the monument boulder on the third hole. With tees perched high above fairways, it has a few forced carries, but they don't keep it from being quite playable overall. Both courses feature great views of the valleys and some spectacular homes (that don't come into play). Practice facilities are outstanding.

Things at Troon North got even better in 2007, when original architects Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish renovated the courses, which included rerouting by switching some holes on the back nine. In the end, it made both courses easier to get around, plus they now have a little more of a links feel.

TPC at Scottsdale Stadium Course

Home of the most raucous fans on the PGA Tour, the Weiskopf-Morrish designed Stadium Course at the TPC at Scottsdale is something you'll want to experience. If for no other reason than to play the par-3 16th hole, even if you're not surrounded by 50,000 hecklers in pastel booing your tee shot or cheering your putt.

These days, the 16th is completely enclosed during the FBR Open, making it one of the most unique amphitheaters in all of golf. All you have to do is add a little imagination.

This is also a facility (which also includes the TPC Champions Course) that more than two dozen PGA Tour players call home. It's also where noted teacher Jim Flick bases his game-improvement clinics.

Grayhawk Golf Club

Another facility with two terrific layouts, Grayhawk Golf Club is definitely a Scottsdale standout. Both the Talon and the Raptor courses at Grayhawk have hosted numerous high-profile events, including the Accenture Match Play in the late 1990s.

Most recently, the Raptor Course has been the site of the Open, which is part of the PGA Tour's Fall Series. This Tom Fazio-designed shotmaker's course has plenty of cool holes, including the short 330-yard "Wee One" par-4 15th that provides the ultimate in risk-reward (stray drivers usually wind up in the desert).

The Talon Course, which is designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, gives Grayhawk a really nice 1-2 combination. Fairways are tighter on this course, but like its sister, conditioning on the tees and greens is usually immaculate.

Afterwards, check out Phil's Grill (named after Phil Mickelson) for drinks and great views of the golf course and nearby McDowell Mountains.

Westin Kierland Resort and Spa

With 27 holes, there's plenty of golf to choose from at Westin Kierland Resort and Spa. Since the course is designed by Scott Miller, most of the holes are pretty wide open and forgiving ... but it's no pushover, especially the Acacia Nine, which ends with a terrific risk-reward par 5.

If you're really adventurous, you can try your hand at one of the golf course's Segways instead of a golf cart. It comes with training, fortunately, and it's a pretty quick way to get around the golf course once you get the hang of it.

Another techie innovation at the Kierland: a sort of air-conditioning system on golf carts. The devices blow cool air on the back of your neck while you're riding, which can be a real godsend during one of Arizona's triple-digit days.

The resort is also home to the LaBauve Golf Academy, featuring top teachers Mike and Sandy LaBauve. The instruction at Kierland is rounded out with a top-notch clubfitting program, as well as the ForeMax golf conditioning program.

Talking Stick Golf Club

Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore designed golf courses are almost always excellent, and 36-hole Talking Stick Golf Club is no exception.

Named for the traditional wooden stick used on Pima Indian calendars, Talking Stick is a prime example of minimalist design. Crenshaw and Coore went for a links feel (as opposed to a desert feel) over on the longer, more difficult North Course. In excess of 7,100 yards, this par 70 has wide fairways, no trees and plenty of bunkers.

The South Course has a little more elevation change and some tree-lined fairways. A bit shorter, it's also more straightforward than the North Course. With designers like this behind them, it's no surprise that both courses are always in excellent shape.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • $.02 on Must Play Lists.....

    ksgking wrote on: Jan 26, 2010

    Have returned to PHX many times as our golf getaway and know everybody's got a Scottsdale favorite but would like to add...Kierland and Grayhawk are excellent and all these courses are in excellent condition but....
    Talking Stick North is a tad over hyped. I liked it more than my golf buddies. It is nice to be able to walk and be able to play run up shots when/if it's windy but can't see trying the course for a third time.(See WeKoPa Saguaro below)
    Troon North layouts are beautiful. Have great holes. Was quite overpriced. Homes are way too close to course. Good luck on the Monument first tee if you've just stepped off the plane and are playing from one of the back sets!
    We always seem to end up at WeKoPa and have never felt ripped off whatever green fee we've paid. Best two types of courses at a site you'll ever play. If you're interested, I have also enjoyed and been challenged by Raven at Verrado, GC of Estrella and SunRidge Canyon (don't waste your time at Eagle Mountain just down the street)!


  • Scottsdale's Best

    Mike O'Hanlon wrote on: Oct 2, 2009

    As a Brit who has been going to Scottsdale for golfing vacations for the past 10 years, may I add my comments.
    I don't see how you can leave out We-Ko-Pa
    from your list.
    The 'old' course is outstanding, and the 'new' course is one of the few in the area where you can walk.. and carry your clubs for us traditionalists.
    In my view both the TPC and Kierland take themselves far too seriously for the average club golfer(12 handicap)
    And if you get the chance call in any favours you can to get on Desert Highlands which is truly awesome


    • RE: Scottsdale's Best

      mike wrote on: Aug 27, 2010

      I agree that the We-Ko-Pa courses should have made it on the list. I personally like the Saguaro course better. The Cholla course can be a little gimmicky with blind shots and areas on the course that don't reward good shots.
      As for Talking Stick North, I agree with the first poster in that I came away pretty unimpressed. I think that it's greatest value is that is very different than the usual desert golf layouts and is less penal as a result of having fewer forced desert/wash carries.
      Lastly, I really love the Grayhawk courses with Talon getting the nod over Raptor. Talon has a lot of varied (and therefore memorable holes). Swinging bridge and Heaven or Hell are two great ones. They are also very friendly there and have a great practice area complete with classic rock tunes. The only complaint is that the concessions are really pricey.


      • RE: RE: Scottsdale's Best

        Casey wrote on: Nov 5, 2010

        You have to try Gold Canyon "Dinosaur Mountain" very nice course with great views. Another beauty is "superstition mountain" which used to be private. They are a little snobby at "Superstition Mountain" but worth trying.