The Phoenician Golf Resort: Twister on the Tees

By Ray Bangs, Contributor

Chip Shot: Outstanding any time of the year, summer golf at The Phoenician Golf Resort is hot, and not only in temperature. Weaving around at the foot of Camelback Mountain, the 27 holes offered here create a challenging, well manicured, and beautifully landscaped layout only minutes away from Sky Harbor Airport. Those willing to brave the sun will find all the uncrowded golf they can handle.

SCOTTSDALE, AZ-Three courses, three styles, three perfect descriptions of the stunning landscape ...the Oasis, the Canyon, and the Desert. Professionals always talk about getting into a rhythm when playing, but at The Phoenician Golf Resort, the course changes just when you think you have a strategy figured out-which for golfers like me, usually takes the entire front nine! So ...I was doomed from the start.

Although later reworked by Homer Flint, Designers Jack Snyder and Ted Robinson surely deserve credit for making each of the three nines play much more difficult than their ratings. Of course, a pro would not get so easily fooled by the deceptive distances and the too-often tricky greens. Weekend hackers and vacationing visitors would do well by staying conservative from the get-go. The only surefire way to a good score is to pick the safest shot. I just wish I had followed my own advice.

After thoroughly warming up at the driving range, the first hole on the Desert course appeared gentle enough; a spacious landing area graciously greets straight hitters. Although I was Tiger-esque on the practice tees, I nervously hooked the ball into the middle of the nine bunkers on the left side of the fairway. Joel, my playing partner, after laughing and saying nice things like "pathetic", sliced his opening drive into one of the six bunkers on the right. I got the last laugh, but as we sped away in the cart, our confidence was clearly shaken.

By some fluke, I knocked it close to the green out of the bunker, chipped it to within three feet, and bounced the ball off the back of the cup for par. I was once again optimistic and although Joel settled for a bogey, we both felt like our scores for the round might actually turn out to be respectable. But of course, as is golf, we spoke too soon. The par five 2nd hole knocked us from our high horses and already mentally out of reach of a decent score. Again, bunkers came into play and my heavy-handedness led to a three-putt.

Looking at the yardage guide, we felt like playing aggressively on the third hole. A dogleg right, at only 291 yards with a nice tailwind, cutting the corner with a solid drive could easily mean the green and making up a few strokes from the previous hole's disaster. But again, as is golf, our plan backfired. At least we had a little comedy. "Into the desert, off a boulder, a bounce on the cart path ...nothing but sandtrap." I felt like I was making a beer commercial poking fun at Nike. To make matters worse, we soon realized that the first three holes were more forgiving than the rest of the Desert course; less fairway and more desert welcomed us on the 220-yard, par three 4th hole.

The decision to forget about what our scorecard showed was easy, not only with our already hefty tallies, but especially with the scenery. The Phoenician boasts incredibly picturesque golf, which is surprising for being so close to the city. The course's subtle difficulty convinced us that our move up to the middle tees was nothing to be ashamed of. We knew several groups were ahead of us, but they stayed out of sight for the most part. The course seemed empty.

On the 5th hole, a single player caught up and we invited him to join our circus. John, a golfer on vacation from St. Louis, said he was having a great time and even opted to try out the top-of-the-line Ping rental clubs. I asked how he liked the Arizona heat expecting a groan or two, but he replied that the lack of humidity made it just as comfortable as golfing back home.

As we played on, the desert grabbed our tee shots far too often. The real challenge at the Phoenician Golf Resort is convincing yourself to lay up and play conservatively. Even two 7-irons will get you close on the par fours because the distances are relatively tame. However, we continued to go for it by unleashing the driver, and our scores continued to grow. Out of the three of us, there were occasional glimpse of greatness, but unfortunately, they really were only occasional. We all marveled at the excellent conditions; even the mid-summer heat had not scorched the fairways and the greens were in near peak-season shape.

The par five 7th hole held its reputation as the most challenging on the Desert course as both John and Joel found out, however it was from the tee here that I hit my one great shot out of my ...well, let's keep that a secret. My driver tinked perfectly as I nailed the ball dead center. It exploded off the tee, leaving only an easy 140-yard 8-iron to the green. I was thinking eagle, or at least two-putt for birdie, but I failed to notice the wind. I grimaced as my under par hopes for the hole faded into the desert.

The 8th hole is spectacular and especially scenic; you reach the tee boxes by climbing plenty of stairs. A huge saguaro partially obstructs your view of the green from the middle tees, while the elevation provides scenic panoramas of Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe. Somehow, all three of us found our mark and had chances for birdies, but as I approached, armed with my putter, I was not yet confident of my odds. The greens at The Phoenician are consistent ...that is, they consistently frustrated me. They are in great shape year round, but are trimmed so short that, as a result, are so fast that the sidewalk might be better than the practice putting green when warming up. This is not a bad thing, as most of Arizona's great championship courses have greens slicker than your kitchen floor, but for those without short-iron English or a light touch on the putter, welcome to flat blade hell.

As we made the turn onto the Canyon course, we had given up all hope of any decent score and instead decided to give ourselves a botany lesson. I felt like we were at the botanical gardens; stakes with nameplates identified hundreds of native plants. As an added bonus, we kept a sharp eye out for wildlife. Although signs warned of rattlesnakes, we never saw any, but were instead treated to numerous coveys of Gambels quail, ground squirrels galore, and even a roadrunner.

Each hole presented a basic layout that was easy to see where not to go, but at least one of us always did. The Canyon course is built into the actual canyon at the base of Camelback Mountain, following the lay of the land, so even seemingly perfect tee shots will be rewarded with interesting lies. Construction workers building new houses next to the fairways noisily detracted from the scenery at times. The real hustle and bustle however was of the course workers who were busy keeping up the conditions. One guy raced his tractor mower along the fairways, darting in and out, and doing his best to not disturb or distract any of the golfers. Luckily for us, we had forgotten about, and at times, even encouraged distractions. If anything, they were a convenient excuse.

Although playing it safe will help ensure a good score for the round, forget about that for the 6th hole. Sometimes you just have to go for. Your score might suffer a stroke or two, but the temptation here is too overpowering. At 287 yards from the middle and only 303 from the championship tees, just grip it and rip it. The hill is scary, but a good drive leaves you chipping, or at least a short wedge shot. The once-in-a-lifetime shot could be an ace. Just remember to stay left of the fairway bunker.

After three over-ambitious drives, as we were cruising along the cart path, the mower guy appeared out of nowhere and gave us a thorough shower of grass clippings. Although not intentional, I wasn't quite sure why there was all this urgency for course upkeep. After all, it was still the middle of the summer. However, Joel and I concluded that not letting the conditions slip too much is probably the best preparation for winter's much busier, peak season. We laughed, trying to outrun the cloud of clippings, feeling like we were a team of storm-chasers plunging into the middle of the tornado.

As the late morning sun heated up on the Canyon course, water on the last three holes kept things cool enough. Hole 7 was deceptive and played much longer than it actually was. The often-present stiff breeze here helps knock shaky tee shots into the lake. According to the scorecard, the 8th hole is the easiest of the nine. After checking the wind, proper aim is imperative. You must first cross the water, which can be intimidating in itself, plus the three imposing, steep-lipped sandtraps surrounding the green demand accuracy.

The $190 peak-season price tag is a little steep, but well worth it considering that The Phoenician is consistently rated among the top public courses in the state. Even in the summer at roughly half the price, some folks still suffer from sticker shock, but after teeing off on any of the three courses, you soon forget the cost. It's time to figure out how to survive the round.

Whatever your mood, whatever your preferred style, The Phoenician Golf Resort has something for everyone, but whatever you choose, if you play it safe, you won't need to burn that frightening scorecard afterwards. Of course, the adventures while going for it can be just as fun.

Playing Through - Royalty for a Day

The Phoenician is considered one of Arizona's top resorts; unlimited activities, world-class dining, excellent service, and great golf all await. Even if you don't stay for a week, you and that special person can still spend a day like royalty. It will cost plenty, but why not? The two of you are worth it and as they say, when in Rome ...

Start at sunrise with 18 holes of golf, and afterwards, enjoy a late morning lunch at the 19th Hole restaurant located on the patio just outside of the Golf Shop. Keep it light though; no need to wait an hour to swim. Splash around, have fun on the 165-foot waterslide, and once the food is well digested, head over to The Phoenician's Center for Well-Being. After working up a good sweat in the weight training and cardiovascular studios, shower and get ready to relax. You can choose from over a dozen massage and bodywork therapies. Follow that with a facial. Maybe a pedicure or manicure too.

Fully refreshed, take it easy for a while, or if you are still feeling energetic, play a game of tennis. A Wimbledon-style grass court is available. As evening approaches, it's time to get gussied up. New at the Phoenician is the opportunity to revisit the Desert course, but this time, for a sunset dinner atop the elevated Tee Box Eight. Fine linens, crystal and china, candles, music, and a tuxedo-clad waiter set the mood. You pre-choose the menu from any of the resort's fine venues, including Mary Elaine's, generally considered one of the top restaurants in the U.S.

After dinner, relax in lounge chairs, sip cordials, and soak in the scenic vistas of the Valley of the Sun. Later, to wrap up your fantasy, the concierge has a limo waiting to escort you to the hopping nightlife abundant in Scottsdale. Of course, all the options are up to you, but don't worry, The Phoenician has plenty of options to choose from.

Driving Directions

From downtown Scottsdale, follow Scottsdale Road north to Camelback Road. Turn left (west) and drive to Jokake Road (60th Street). The street sign actually says Phoenician. Turn right and stay right to the golf clubhouse.

Course Rating/Slope

Par: 70
Championship: 70.3/130
Phoenician: 69.0/122
Forward: 65.2/109
Phoenician: 74.5/114
Forward: 69.7/113

Par: 70
Championship: 70.1/130
Phoenician: 68.1/127
Forward: 63.7/107
Phoenician: 73.3/119
Forward: 67.9/111

Par: 70
Championship: 69.4/131
Phoenician: 67.8/124
Forward: 63.5/111
Phoenician: 73.0/116
Forward: 67.7/114

Ray BangsRay Bangs, Contributor

In addition to being a frequent contributor to several publications, Ray Bangs is the author of "52 Great Weekend Escapes in Arizona." He is also the co-publisher and senior editor of Arizona Explorer Magazine, a regional publication focusing on active travel, leisure, and recreation. Ray's motto is simple. "If you're way too busy to go fishing and golfing once in a while, you're way too busy!"

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