The plane! The plane! There's no hiding TPC Scottsdale Desert Course's runway connection

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The small jet roars right overhead, swaying the grass in the tee box. You might be tempted to duck. The plane looks that close, appears to be reachable with an outstretched 9-iron. It's higher than that in reality of course. But not by all that much.

You're playing golf in a fly zone. High-powered swooshes and resounding roars are going to drown out any shots rattling in the cup. This is part of the experience at TPC Scottsdale's Desert Course. It's not necessarily a bad, fun-draining thing, but it is one that finally needs to be acknowledged.

For you could read reams of stories on TPC Scottsdale's Desert Course and never come across a mention of all the executive jets and small planes buzzing low overhead. That isn't just ignoring the elephant in the room. It's ignoring a pack of elephants and an albino giraffe in the room. For there's no way you could actually play the TPC Desert Course and not leave talking about the air show.

"I've never seen so many planes," Illinois golfer Carl Emerick said. "I thought a few of those suckers were going to land on my head."

It's not that bad really, but air traffic is going to be part of your round right along with the sometimes wicked Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf greens. TPC Desert Course is right in the path of the runway at the nearby Scottsdale Airport and you'll quickly become aware of this long unmentioned fact.

On a recent late Sunday afternoon round, four separate jets buzzed right over in the time it took to play the par-3 16th hole. No. 15 and No. 16 in particular appear to be right in the path of jets landing, while No. 4 and No. 5 brought the most frequent encounters with jets on takeoff.

Which can be pretty frequent. Scottsdale Airport is one of the busiest single runway facilities in the U.S. with more than 200,000 takeoffs and landings per year. It only just might seem like they're all happening during your round.

Putting in a fly zone doesn't come without its perks. One golfer swore that the pilot of a Lear Jet gave him a thumbs up for sinking a long, swerving birdie try.

Now that's a promotion! Get mad love from the sky while you golf.

Somehow, that hasn't made it through the Tournament Players Club marketing office. For while there are countless press releases on TPC Desert course being one of the best values in the Phoenix-Scottsdale resort corridor, there's no mention of the air traffic.

And, apparently if you don't put it in a press release, many golf writers fail to recognize it. The plane! What plane?

The truth is that the Desert Course needn't worry about hiding anything. With its $57 peak season rates, it is an affordable play in a land of sky-high green fees. As long as golfers know what they're getting into with the airport rumble, they're unlikely to leave that disappointed.

For along with the buzzovers, you get a 6,423-yard, par-70 with fairways narrower and trickier than you'll find on resort courses like the Wigwam. Weiskopf and Morrish's desert may not be particularly long, but it's capable of holding your interest.

Especially around the greens. These are large surfaces with enough curve and dips to make even the most seasoned golfer fling in his putter in disgust, once or twice. This celebrity architect design team may have saved its best for the regular PGA Tour stop, TPC Stadium Course, across the busy street, but they employed some imagination on the Desert Course greens.

No. 9 and No. 10 are interesting back-to-back par 5s that throw some forced carries and raised greens at you. A desert carry is relative at this Desert Course, however. It's not the stark, ball-gobbling desert of many of Arizona's top courses. Here, it's more like fine sand with a few small bushes in spots.

You're never going to feel swallowed up in real desert on this course. No. 5 - a dogleg left, 418-yard par 4 that's one of the more interesting holes - offers a view of a freeway that's closer than the mountains. An early part of the back nine runs right along a condo complex with tall buildings. On this day, one of residents was out on the cart path, talking on her cordless phone.

She could have been searching for the one fly free zone in the area for a decent reception.

Wait ... there goes another plane!

The verdict

It's hard to find a decent, satisfying play for around $60 in Phoenix-Scottsdale high season. For that price point alone, TPC Desert Course is worth giving a try. It's in excellent shape for a budget course, even an upscale budget course.

Just don't expect too much. With all the hype over it being best value, and the no mention of the frequent air traffic, is easy to walk onto TPC Desert Course expecting to be blown away. That's not happening. Unless it's by a landing private jet.

The scenery's sort of mundane, especially by Arizona standards. TPC Desert Course is worthwhile because it's a reasonable Phoenix-Scottsdale play. If you took this same course and put it a few hours up the highway in a place like Prescott, it would be nothing special.

Sometimes you're better off paying more for the real thing. In this case, the Stadium Course.

Dining out

The greater Old Town Scottsdale area is home to many of the best restaurants in Arizona. Chef Nobuo Fukuda works wonders with his counter side tasting menus at Sea Saw ((480) 481-9463), producing dishes every bit the equal of New York's more famous Nobu at a third of the cost.

For a happening, mingling spot, you only have to go down the alley behind Sea Saw and open the unmarked door to the Kazimierz World Wine Bar ((480) 946-3004). Sure, this forced, faux mysteriousness is a little cheesy, but once you get inside the comfortable place where the Phoenix area's thirty-somethings relax with a selection of 1,800 wines to choose from, you'll forgive it. Make sure you try the Country Pate.

Stay and play

If you're playing TPC Desert course, you're right down the street from one of most satisfyingly, high-end resorts in the entire Phoenix-Scottsdale resort mecca: Fairmont Scottsdale Princess ((800) 257-7544).

This sprawling AAA Five Diamond resort offers huge pool complexes that are open 24 hours a day. No more fitting your schedule around the pool schedule. It's catering to the guest touches like this that make the Scottsdale Princess stand out. The rooms are ultra comfortable, the service perks are better.

The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort ((602) 997-2626) is far enough away from the hustle and bustle to provide a relaxing getaway retreat and close enough to easily reach all the areas you want to visit. This spread out complex includes a meandering, slow-raft-lounging pool and a putting practice course. There are half a dozen golf courses within a 10-minute drive.

Fast Fact

Since 1999, all 18 greens on TPC Desert have been rebuilt and converted to Bermuda grass.

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.

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