Be Like Phil at Scottsdale's Grayhawk Golf Club

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - No course in Arizona has a more recognizable face than the Grayhawk Golf Club does in Phil Mickelson, a grad of nearby Arizona State who is famous for those deft flop shots around the green on the PGA Tour.

Not that Grayhawk's two championship courses, the Talon and the Raptor, need a famous face to attract players. The courses are good enough to survive on their own. Still, you can't help but get sucked into the attitude: "If Grayhawk is good enough for Mickelson, it has to be good."

Mickelson, who represents the club, is so revered around here, there's a board on the back of the clubhouse that keeps track of the leaders at every PGA Tour event. If Mickelson is not among them (heaven forbid), his score is still posted.

Oh yeah, and there's Phil's Grill, the place to be after a round. It serves giant margaritas to help you forget about your score, or better yet, embellish how good it really was.

The courses are also good enough to host the Andersen Consulting World Championship, where Greg Norman won $1 million in 1999. The Talon course, which is generally considered the more playable and the better of the two, opened in December 1994, with the Raptor following in December 1995. Both provide four sets of tees to accommodate the needs of nearly any golfer Along with separate practice ranges and putting greens.

Designed by former U.S. Open champion David Graham and Gary Panks, the Talon plays to 6,973 yards with a 74.3 rating and a slope of 141 from the "Talon" tees. After that, it dramatically drops off to a slope of 121 from the 6,391-yard "Palo Verde" tees.

The Raptor, named after those ferocious dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park," has some bite of its own. It plays to 7,135 yards with a 74.0 rating and a slope of 136 from the tips and 6,593 yards with a slope of 133 from the Palo Verde tees. Golf Digest rated the duo the 12th- and 18th-best courses in the state in 1997, respectively (that's 4th and 9th place among their public competition).

Bill Huffman, the golf writer for the Phoenix Gazette and The Arizona Republic, made similar assertions, rating them the third and 11th-best public courses in the state, respectively.

Grayhawk's motto is "Surface and Service" and to provide the best of both. I enjoyed a taste of each during my rounds in mid-August, although the "surface" portion was a little disappointing. The two courses were in the worst shape of the six area courses I played in the same time period.

Many of the fairways were browning and disfigured in various spots. That's to be expected under the blazing Arizona sun in the summer, but not from a facility as well-known as Grayhawk, which is competing for business with some top-notch courses, like nearby Troon North.

The carts had the following apology written on them: "Please pardon the brown color. We are in the summer transition where the 'cool season' Rye Grass dies and the 'hot season' Bermuda takes over. We are trying to re-establish the grass through watering, aerifying and fertilizing." With the exhilarating layouts of both the Talon and the Raptor, though, it was easy to overlook the flaws on the surface. I don't doubt as it gets closer to the prime season that Grayhawk will once again show its magnificence.

The service is nothing short of spectacular, from the range to the pro shop, to the people who clean your clubs or carry them to your car. The beverage cart makes timely stops every three or four holes and can keep you from roasting on a hot day in the desert sun. But as good as the service is, it can't compare to the golf.

Each course features more than its share of memorable holes. On the Talon front nine, the par-5, 465-yard 3rd hole, which doglegs left, is appropriately called the "Three Sisters," for the intimidating, deep bunkers, which are walled with wooden planks, to the right of the green.

But the back nine, with three potential water holes, fives holes over box canyons and a waterfall on No. 18, is where this course earns its high marks.

The par-3 11th hole, "Swinging Bridge," requires you to fly a bunker to a long, narrow green with a panoramic view of the mountains in the background. "Heaven or Hell", the par-4 13th, is a mere 277 yards, but your tee shot must carry a box canyon and stay out of eight strategically placed bunkers. Don't feel bad if you put a ball in "Devil's Drink" trying to hit the island green on No. 17 from 114 yards out - everybody in my foursome did.

The monster 552-yard par-5 hole has a little bit of everything the course offers - a 180-yard carry off the tee, five large fairway bunkers, fairway mounding and the scenic waterfall to the left of the green.

Although it doesn't require the demanding tee shots over desert that Talon does, the Raptor poses more potential traps for players with 22 more bunkers (70 to 48) than its sister course.

No. 4, a 520-yard par 5, and No. 14, a 379-yard par 4, provide nice shots of the McDowell Mountains. "Aces and Eights", the par-3 156-yard 8th hole, is a masterpiece. Three front bunkers can hide a front pin on the two-tiered green. The downhill par-3 16th plays anywhere from 160 to 210 yards, depending on the tee placement, with some water to worry about on the left.

In a mirror image to the finishing hole on the Talon, Raptor's final hole is a par-5 (494 yards) built around another pool of ball-thirsty water, which runs along the right side of the fairway for the final 200 yards to the green.

After the round, relax in the comforts of a great clubhouse facility. The spacious 40,000-square foot clubhouse is the biggest I've seen, complete with several conference rooms and full locker room facilities for its members.

There's also more places to eat than other championship courses. In between rounds, there's "Tom's Thumb," a quick service stop outside, or for later, the classier Quill Creek Café has a huge dinner selection, including ribs and prime rib.

The equally impressive pro shop was recognized among "America's Top 100 Golf Shops" by Golf Shop Operation in 1999.

It's always fun to play a nice course, but it's a step up to play a course where the pros make a living. There's nothing like taking a divot where Mickelson might have chipped in from during some relaxing Tuesday afternoon practice round. Grayhawk offers the first-class amenities of a private club for anyone from a weekend hacker to a 2-handicap.

The 1999 fees are as follows and might change some in 2000 (the first price is Mon.-Wed.; the second Thurs.-Sun.): March 29-April 25 ($125/$160), April 26-May 31 ($100/$135); June 1-Sept. 12 ($75 from 6:30-9:21; $50 9:30-2:36). Reservations made 6-30 days in advance might be more expensive in certain instances, but you can cancel them 48 hours prior to the tee time.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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