Scottsdale's Grayhawk Golf Club has redefined daily-fee golf in the Valley
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Classic rock blares from a set of camouflaged speakers as a row of khaki-clad 30-somethings pound range balls. Back at the clubhouse, golfers gather at Phil's Grill to scarf down half-pound burgers and giant margaritas, hoping to catch a glimpse of Gary McCord, Grace Park, Aaron Baddeley, or some other local celebrity.
Welcome to Grayhawk Golf Club, where golf is undeniably cool.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about this mega-popular, high-end daily fee facility that is so chic. Is it the location in the heart of trendy North Scottsdale? Is it the club's early affiliation with Phil Mickelson when Lefty was by far the hottest young talent on the PGA Tour? How about Rich Beem's stint here before moving back to El Paso?
"People try to figure out our secret but it's not complicated," says Grayhawk's long-time Director of Golf Joe Shershenovich. "You figure out what you are good at and do it well. People love our style and our level of service."
The Grayhawk style is a direct reflection of the personalities of two men: developer Gregg Tryhus and his partner/golf buddy Del Cochran. Tryhus and Cochran met in the early 1990s at an infamous Scottsdale bar called Downside Risk of which Cochran was a part owner. The two hit it off immediately and began playing a regular game. Tryhus already had begun to assemble the property that would become Grayhawk and he needed a right-hand man to help out on the golf side.
"When we go somewhere, we want the beer to be cold and we want people to tell us where the back tees are and then we want them to get out of the way," Cochran says. "That is the model we used for Grayhawk and that is the model we thought the market needed at the time."
The late '80s and early '90s were a time of drastic changes in and around the Scottsdale golf scene. Venerable, parkland style course design was giving way to the modern, desert target style architecture made famous by Jack Nicklaus at Desert Mountain. The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale opened in 1986 and, as Shershenovich puts it, "blew the doors off of everything in town." Troon North's Monument Course followed in 1990, and the desert golf revolution was underway.
"Troon North set the daily-fee golf gold standard," Shershenovich says. "We didn't recreate anything. We just created our own brand and went our own direction."
That direction included convincing the redoubtable Tom Fazio to design what would be his first public access golf course in Maricopa County. Grayhawk's Talon Course, designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, was the first to open in 1994. But getting a commitment from Fazio to design the Raptor Course (1995) had been Cochran's objective from day one. After a series of phone calls to Fazio associate Jan Beljan and a site visit by senior designer Andy Banfield, Fazio decided to take the project.
"I told Gregg we'd get Fazio, McCord, Mickelson and a (PGA) Tour event," Cochran says. "I figured if I could just get a couple of them, we'd be doing fine. I never knew we'd get it all."
Through his friendship with then Arizona State University men's golf coach Steve Loy (now Mickelson's agent), Cochran convinced Mickelson to become a Grayhawk "ambassador." McCord, a Scottsdale resident looking for a course (and a watering hole) to call home, was soon to follow. Cochran then put in a bid for the inaugural Anderson Consulting World Championship event in 1995 -- and got it.
The late '90s and early '00s were less heady times. Mickelson moved to back to San Diego, McCord was spending more time on the Senior Tour and in the broadcast booth and the Anderson Consulting World Championship bolted after the 1997 edition. All the while, Grayhawk's "Q" rating held as steady as Brad Faxon over a three-footer. Rich Beem got his game and his life back together at Grayhawk before moving back to El Paso. Former Sun Devil Grace Park would drop by when in town to work with resident swing guru Peter Kostis. Interestingly enough, a contingent of Aussie pros, including Aaron Baddeley, Steve Allan, Matthew Goggin, Mark Hensby, Geoff Ogilvy and Craig Spence, have taken up refuge at Grayhawk. (ITCBS - It's the cold beer, stupid).
What is it about this place and Tour players?
"Our motto is if a celebrity or high profile person comes out, we treat them like everyone else," Shershenovich says. "We also want them to come back. So we have "no autograph" policies for our staff. A lot of them even come over here from the TPC during the Phoenix Open to get away from it all."
The same M.O. is applicable to traveling golfers.
"We wanted to do things in a way that would appeal to avid golfers," Cochran says. "We didn't just want to get any round of golf. We wanted the right customer who would go back and spread the word at the club."
The word spread like gospel among architecture critics in the mid '90s. Both the Talon and Raptor courses landed plumb spots on Golf Magazine's inaugural "Top 100 You Can Play" list in 1996 (66 and 81, respectively). Golf Digest rated Talon 56th among the "Top 75 Upscale Courses" for 1996, and also rated it as the 12th "Best in State" course for 1997-98.
Just as importantly, Grayhawk's reputation spread like a desert wildfire among private club members in the Midwest, California and even as far away as the Northeast. Repeat play and group outings quickly became the course's bread and butter. Killer summer specials endeared the facility to locals, as did a commitment to private club service levels in the "off" season.
Fast-forward to present day Scottsdale, with its formidable lineup of high-end resort and daily free courses. Competition for the golfing dollar among these high-dollar layout is fierce. Amid this atmosphere of over saturation and tight-fisted travelers, Grayhawk course officials having been sweating bullets over, well, food.
"Three or four years ago when we had the North Scottsdale explosion of restaurants, we were nervous," Shershenovich says. "But where else can you get a hamburger on a patio like this one?"
All courses should be so lucky.
Sometimes it just boils down to the basics.
"Bottom line is, this is a great spot to work and a great spot to hang," Cochran says. "Hey, and when you have cold beer and great golf, what else is there?"
Based on the crowd of deeply tanned duffers back at Phil's Grill, not much.
July 10, 2003