Course conditions to buzz about: Talking Stick Golf Club is a Scottsdale green machine

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The first thing you notice at Talking Stick Golf Club is how green everything is. The second thing you might realize is how many groundskeepers are working to keep it that way.

Talking Stick Golf Club
Close to everything, Talking Stick Golf Club still provides a secluded feel.
Talking Stick Golf ClubTalking Stick Golf Club - Grounds CrewTalking Stick Golf Club - GreensTalking Stick Golf Club - Fairways
If you go

Most golf courses have a staff. Talking Stick appears to have a maintenance army.

On the day of this visit, they were all over the course mid afternoon. Not in an obtrusive, mess-with-your-golf-round way. No, Talking Stick's maintenance crew isn't only vast, it also appears to have the choreography of a well-drilled military unit.

They started mowing fairways in the lull between groups, not making golfers wait on the tees until they were noticed like so many courses. Golfers would putt out and a guy would pop up with a hose to water down the green.

"There's obviously a lot of work put into these courses," vacationing golfer Rick Gambrell said.

And Gambrell was staring at a pristine green up on a ridge, not the workers in long-sleeve shirts and baseball caps darting about.

Talking Stick doesn't just talk outstanding course conditions. Its legion of green-thumb elves set about ensuring it happens.

That helps set up Talking Stick's two Bill Coore- and Ben Crenshaw-designed courses (North and South Course) as one of the best experiences in Arizona's desert resort land. Those with a good grasp of Scottsdale geography will probably be surprised by what they find out at Talking Stick.

It's not far behind a big shopping center with a mammoth Target, a Chuck E. Cheese and the like. Scottsdale's pipeline 101 Freeway also roars nearby. When you first see the address, you expect similar modern congestion.

Instead, you find two golf courses set back on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation without a house or any of the other standards of packed-in Scottsdale living on site. There are a few trailers and signs of construction near the fence bordering one far edge of the property, but that's it. Mostly what you get is quiet and bird chirps. It's like being in a sun-drenched green retreat in the middle of it all.

Once you go past the freeway and turn down Talking Stick's drive, you leave all the trendy bustle behind. Amidst all the green, it's a little hard to remember that downtown Scottsdale is only 10 minutes drive away.

"Who knew they had this hidden back here?" Gambrell said laughing.

Native American land is about the only land you can find in Scottsdale these days without condos lurking. It's no wonder that Coore and Crenshaw, the team behind the famed Sand Hills and Kapalua's Plantation Course to name just two, were attracted to Talking Stick's land.

This swath of open, flat, undisturbed desert land could be sculpted anyway Coore and Crenshaw wanted. They decided to go with a wide-open course with few trees and plenty of chances to play bump and run (North Course) and a more traditional course with trees and water obstacles (South Course has four holes with water in play).

The lies are equally divine on either course.

Which helps make Coore and Crenshaw's desert obstacles pop out even more. Those forced carry desert bushes look even more fearsome when the fairways are green enough to serve as the Dallas Cowboys home field.

Part of the thrill of Coore and Crenshaw design - especially on the North Course - comes in how many options there are to navigate around those green fairways. North No. 12 shows just how extreme and complicated the decisions can get.

The fairway on this 392-yard par 4 shoots out away from the green in an upside down L shape. There's also a straight path to the hole, but it's over a huge swath of desert. Your dilemma is deciding just how much of this desert to try and cut, and on what shot you're going to do it.

The safer and greener you play North 12, the farther you move away from the green.

Don't worry, though. That grounds crew is surely not laughing at you.

The Verdict at Talking Stick Golf Club

There are few truly original golf experiences left in Scottsdale. Talking Stick Golf Club is one of them.

Coore and Crenshaw's relative newcomer Saguaro at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club is attracting more and more recognition as arguably the best of all the Phoenix-Scottsdale golf courses. Rightfully so.

But you shouldn't sleep on the duo's 11-year-old work at Talking Stick, either.

This Troon Golf-managed facility is a great place to escape into golf for a day. Neither course at Talking Stick sets out to beat you senseless with toughness or drain all the golf balls and fun you have in reserve. You will get mountains looming on the horizon, a real sense of being out in the desert even though civilization (and teenagers in a giant mouse costume pushing video game tokens) are so close.

None of that's enough to warrant the $175 high season greens fee (it's $110 now and drops to $60 for summer starting June 2) on just its own, though. But course conditions that can challenge for the best in the Phoenix-Scottsdale resort corridor and some ingeniously quirky holes are.

Talking Stick does not do resort course cookie cutter. Take South Course's 14th. This 541-yard par 5 has a ravine running down the middle of its fairway, effectively cutting it in two. They don't teach that in course-design school.

Of course, even if you do send a ball skidding into the ravine, you can still look up and see perfect green on both sides. And probably someone hiding in the bushes waiting to spray more water on the grass when you're done.

Scottsdale hotels

For the sometimes dreamed-about Westin beds and a great location with golf, the Westin Kierland Commons is a good choice. There are three nines right behind the resort and a mix of quality chain stores and unique Arizona stores in the big, outdoor shopping center right next door. There's also a huge Barnes & Noble you can hang out in.

This is the resort where the New England Patriots stayed during the Super Bowl. Hopefully, though, you'll have more luck than they did in Arizona.

Click here for more Scottsdale hotel options.

Fast Facts

Talking Stick refers to the stick that was passed around at tribal meetings. Whoever held it had the floor and got to talk.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment