A fearless group trip leader's guide to golf in Phoenix-Scottsdale

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Serving as the group leader of a large golf outing is one of the most unforgiving jobs in sports. It's the male equivalent of throwing a baby shower. For women burdened with the task, and not surprisingly many are, it can be worse than a forced stint as a school field-trip chaperone.

For you haven't heard whining until you've heard the grumbling of a group of golfers unhappy with the course choice for one reason or another. Pleasing everybody in this scenario is a Mission Impossible even Tom Cruise would not try to remake.

Now imagine planning such an outing in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. There are so many courses, it can make your head spin. More than 200 in all. Every one of them claiming to be the perfect combination of breathtaking scenery and satisfying golf for your large group outing.

The task can quickly turn intimidating enough to render usually steely-focused business executives feeling like a high school kid who isn't prepared for the pop quiz again. Nobody wants to let their friends down.

Yet, even in Phoenix-Scottsdale, even with all those courses, those endless choices, there is no need to panic.

"When you've got a larger group, the biggest thing is making sure that you're playing a course that will challenge the low handicappers in the group, while not beating the brains out of the higher handicappers," said Scott Bowles of Las Vegas Golf Travel, a packaging company that books group outings to both Las Vegas and Arizona.

That often means that the incredible course you played with a few friends isn't the right course to take your golf group of 20 players. Simply picking out the best course you've ever played can be a quick recipe for group disaster. Especially in Phoenix-Scottsdale where the top courses are usually equal parts grueling and pricey.

Just because you don't mind paying $195 for Troon North or a $228 for the TPC Stadium Course doesn't mean everyone in the group will feel the same way. Especially if their day is spent searching for ball after ball in cacti and desert gullies.

With that in mind, immediately cross the vaunted Troon North and the dramatic SunRidge Canyon off the list for your large group outing. Keeping one possible exception in mind.

"If they've got two players over 20 (handicap) and everyone else under 15, I might book them into Troon North or SunRidge or one of the other more challenging courses," Bowles said. "But only then."

For the more usual groups, there are some Phoenix-Scottsdale courses that are liable to turn you into a group-leader hero. Use this information with caution, however. For it may just have everyone clamoring for you to be the outing planner all over again next year.

Sure bets for Group Zen

Stonecreek Golf Club: Only nine minutes from SkyHarbor Airport and not far from the heart of Phoenix, this course is easy for a large group to get to and fun for almost everyone to play. The greens are nice, but not so fast that they'll cause the weaker players to be cursing their putters all round long. Plus, the greens fees are reasonable by Valley of the Sun peak-season standards (under $100).

The Golf Club at Eagle Mountain: This is a mountain course that's not going to crush the shorter hitters in your group (only 6,775 yards from the back tees). Yet it still provides dramatic scenery and shot-making opportunities. The 18th hole features a 100-foot change in elevation and water down in the valley against the green.

But the biggest reason to chose Eagle Mountain for a group outing may be its obvious commitment to customer service. This is a course that actually updates its course conditions on its Web site. And it's not always saying everything is great, great, great! This is also a course that actually closes for overseeding, sparing golfers a lot of grief and guess work. These are invaluable tools for a group leader planning an event from another state.

"Eagle Mountain's a place we're always getting good reports back from golfers we've sent out," said Anthony Trapani of Arizona Golf Packages, a company that puts together golf and hotel trips for a number of large group golf outings.

Trilogy at Vistancia: It's out in Peoria, about a half hour to 40 minutes from downtown Phoenix. But if you can pull off the transportation for your group, they are liable to give you kudos for introducing them to this Gary Panks design that features tall, penalizing native grasses. Trilogy at Vistancia is a golf course where you can see what Native Americans call restless spirits whipping through the air in the near distance (they're small whirlwinds).

Every golf group outing needs a story. What's going to top that one?

Raven at South Mountain: With 5,000 pine trees on the course, this is anything but your typical desert Arizona track. If you're looking for something different in Phoenix, this might be it. What really sets Raven at South Mountain up as a good choice for group play is that it's a course with a 130-slope rating that lesser golfers are not overmatched on. Heck, the downright bad golfers in your group can have a blast here.

"It's challenging, but it's fun for the little guy too," said Ben Kreger, an all-conference golfer at New Mexico State who's a summer regular at Raven. "I'd take my friends who weren't great golfers here and we'd all get something out of it."

Talking Stick Golf Club: This Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore design provides striking scenery while being very generous to golfers of all abilities off the tees. Pinpoint accuracy is not required at Talking Stick. There are two courses here, the North and South, giving you some leeway in a group outing. The South is a more traditional layout and many feel it has the slightly better scenery, but the treeless almost links-style North is a little more inventive play.

Both are meticulously maintained, removing one of those group leader worries.

Stonecreek Golf Club
4435 E. Paradise Village ParkwayPhoenix, AZ
Tee times: 800-767-3574

Raven Golf Club At South Mountain
3636 East Baseline Road
Phoenix, AZ
Tee times: 800-767-3574

Trilogy Golf Club At Vistancia
12575 West Golf Club Drive
Peoria, AZ
Tee times: 800-767-3574

Talking Stick Golf Club
North and South Courses
9998 E. Indian Bend Road
Scottsdale, AZ
Tee times: 800-767-3574

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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