Think about playing the kid brother of the TPC Stadium

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Every golfer who has ever watched the Phoenix Open would love to have the chance to play the TPC Stadium Course where the Open is held. That's regardless of what his or her scorecard may read at the end of the day on this $224-a-round, 7,089-yard course.

What a lot of golfer-travelers don't know is that the Stadium has a 6,369-yard baby brother, the TPC Desert Course, right across Hayden Road, laid out by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, the same architects who designed the Stadium Course.

Not only is the TPC Desert only $56 during high season ($50 for Arizona residents), but it's also open during the week of the Phoenix Open, from Jan. 20-26 in 2003. And if you book a morning round at the Desert, you can leave your car in the Desert Course parking lot all day while you stroll over to catch the PGA stars in action at the Open.

Russ Norris, the marketing director for the two TPC courses, calls the Desert Course "a hidden jewel, a secret that a lot of people may not know about." And those who do know about it don't even tell their friends because they don't want everybody to come out there to play.

These Tournament Players Club courses were built in 1987 as part of a chain of 30-plus TPC courses across the country used for big tournaments. The city of Scottsdale owns the course; and the PGA Tour leases back the property and runs the courses.

The Stadium Course may look intimidating to many weekend golfers because of its length, but if you play this course with care you can survive and maybe thrive. Many holes are laid out in the middle of little "arenas," with mounds and terraces where Phoenix Open spectators can sit and juggle beer and hot dogs while watching PGA stars sweat it out on tees and greens. There are also miles and miles of pathways between the holes. That's one of the reasons why the organizers of the Open can cram 500,000 visitors into the course every year, and almost everyone can get a good look at the action.

The terrain on both courses started out as fairly flat, but the architects created fairways with rolls and bumps and then landscaped the arroyos with saguaros, brittlebush and mesquite.

Because the Stadium is long, you might think you need to haul out your driver on almost every hole. But it's also a narrow course with many doglegs, so downsizing a club or two is a good idea in order to avoid a tee shot into the desert. Another problem is the rough. Normally, it's a couple of inches high. But if you play just before or just after the Phoenix Open, it can be as tall as 6 inches. It's tough to even find your ball in this PGA-professional-style hay, much less get the ball up in the air.

The finishing holes - Nos. 15, 16, 17 and 18 - make for a grand finale, both for spectators and players. These are the holes that often decide the tournament for the pros. You as an amateur probably can make a birdie or a par on No. 16, the very famous par-3 with a postage-stamp green surrounded by bunkers. And if you're fired up enough, you might be able to stand on the championship tee box on 18 and fire across the lake to the fairway the way that the pros do on this dogleg left.

The rating/slope on the Stadium Course ranges from 74.5/135 from the back tees to 71.6/122 from the forward.

The Desert Course has even more of a target flavor than the Stadium, but you won't find yawning canyons to cross and greens faced with steep bulkheads as in some target courses in Phoenix. Not only that, but this may be one of the few courses left around Scottsdale where you can actually roll your ball onto the green in your approach shot.

However, be warned about the greens at the Desert. They're almost as tough as those on the Stadium Course. They are very typical of designer Jay Morrish: huge and fast with lots of subtle undulations that are tricky to read.

The par-3s on the Desert Course, though, are actually par-3s, not the par-4s in disguise that you find so often in Arizona. You can tell from the rating/slope that this course is going to be fun. They range from 69.6/119 from the back tees to 66.0/109 from the forward. If you're a regular golfer in the 90s, you have a shot at the 80s here. And the Desert Course actually loves walkers - not something you see very often in Phoenix.

Conditions on both courses are pristine, despite the fact that these courses are more than 15 years old. What's unusual about the Desert is that a large swath of the fairway on most holes is Bermuda grass that is not overseeded with rye during the winter season. So you'll find green grass around the tee boxes and on the approach to the greens. But in the middle during the high season is a stretch of dried-out grass that has been shaved close to the ground. You may have to make some adjustments in your club and swing to play it.

"Portions are not overseeded," says Brad Kirkman, the head golf professional for both the Stadium and Desert, "in order to cut down costs and keep green fees lower."

Those prices mean a lot to golfers, apparently. On a recent sunny day in the winter season, some 200 golfers played the Desert Course while less than 140 tried the TPC.

So next time you visit Phoenix, give the Desert Course a try. Then when your golfer friends ask if you played the TPC, you can say yes. Just don't tell them which TPC it was.

If you want to play

The TPC Stadium and Desert courses have the same address: 17020 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85255, just north of Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard. The Desert Course, however, is on the east side of Hayden while the Stadium is on the west. You enter the Desert Course from a gate on Bell Road. For tee times, call 800-767-3574.

Phoenix Open all set to kick off

Phoenix loves sports and the town especially loves the Phoenix Open. More than 500,000 spectators are expected to attend the 2003 Open at the TPC Stadium Course in Scottsdale, just like last year.

Although the sponsors of the Open, the Phoenix Thunderbirds, a charitable group, were unable to book a full sponsor for this year's tournament, they did manage to get Xerox to pick up part of the tournament sponsorship. But the big show will still go on, says Pete Kuehner, the tournament chairman this year. "In the past, we've been able to raise $1.5 million to $3 million for charities. This year we won't raise as much. We've cut our expenses in some areas, and we're OK. The worst case is that we would break even."

But in other areas, finances have been going well. The Thunderbirds sold almost 90 corporate skyboxes this year at $27,500 each, compared with about 60 last year. "The community has really been helping to support us," Kuehner says.

A majority of last year's top 30 money winners on the PGA Tour have made commitments to play in the Open. Among the big stars expected to compete for $4 million in prize money are Phil Mickelson, Chris DiMarco (last year's winner), Tom Lehman, Rocco Mediate, Jesper Parnevik, Vijay Singh, Charles Howell III, David Toms, Sergio Garcia, Justin Leonard, John Daley and Rich Beem. The winner gets $720,000.

There are lots of events all week long, but the big competition takes place Thursday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 26. The first round starts on the first tee of the Tournament Players Club Stadium Course on Hayden Road in Scottsdale at 7:50 a.m. Thursday. All four rounds will be televised on USA Network Thursday and Friday and live Saturday and Sunday on CBS.

General admission is $20; children 17 and under are free when with an adult. The Phoenix Open is never sold out and tickets will be sold at the gate. You can also call 480-784-4444 or 602-870-4431 in Phoenix or check for more information.

Free public parking with shuttle buses is available at a variety of locations in the Scottsdale area. Watch for signs or check the Web site. One good spot to park is Westworld at Loop 101 just north of Frank Lloyd Wright. Westworld is also the site of the Bird's Nest nightclub where Azz Izz, Duck Soup, Alice Cooper and others perform on Wednesday through Saturday starting at 4 p.m. after the tournament.

Great places to stay during the Open

Here are three possible places to stay, all within walking distance of the Phoenix Open:

Resort Suites of Scottsdale, 7677 E. Princess Blvd. Resort Suites offers condos and golf packages. The staff here has specialists that can book exactly the right golf course for your game. Phone: 800-767-3574.

Scottsdale Links, 16858 N. Perimeter Drive. Scottsdale Links has one- and two-bedroom condo units, some of which have views of the TPC Desert Course. Phone: (877) 94-LINKS or (480) 563-0500. Web site:

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess at 7575 E. Princess Drive, is the plush resort that overlooks the TPC Stadium Course. If you stay here, you might even run into some of the PGA stars. Phone numbers: 800-767-3574.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • #16 HOLE AT Phoe. Open

    JERRY EVANS wrote on: Feb 1, 2013

    Do they leave the bleachers up year round on#16??