Where else can you run into a tour pro on the course, another at dinner and a few more at the mall?
It usually starts with a double-take—or maybe a squint. Often it’s a cupped hand to the mouth, with a turn of the head, where you say to your buddy, “Is that who I think it is?” When you’re journeying through Scottsdale, and you think you’ve spotted a famous tour pro, teacher, or golf course architect, chances are, you did. With apologies to Dallas, Orlando and the Palm Beaches, Scottsdale, Arizona, is ground zero for golf personalities.
The Powering Inferno
As proof, we’ll start with one of the city’s biggest boosters, Tom Weiskopf, who moved to the area in 1973. “Forty years ago,” says Weiskopf, “when you thought about a Scottsdale golf vacation, you thought about three things: Images of the Wild West—mountains and cactus and horses and such—the Grand Canyon up north, and the good weather. Championship courses weren’t part of the package. Today we can compete against any market in the country in terms of the quality of the golf courses and the golf experiences.”
Maybe Weiskopf is biased. After all, he’s designed or codesigned many of the region’s top 10 courses. The one he calls home is the private Silverleaf Club in north Scottsdale (pictured below), a 2002 solo creation that appears to be swallowed up by the Mc- Dowell Mountains. Its sprawling, artistically sculpted bunkers embrace strategy and aesthetics as well as any course around. Yet, it’s the jaw-dropping 52,000-square-foot clubhouse that earns much of the acclaim, one reason being that it houses Tom’s Tavern, a cozy monument to Weiskopf ’s spectacular, if roller- coaster, career. Rare photos, clippings, trophies and more line the walls. Weiskopf gave up drinking in 2000, but at Tom’s Tavern, a Diet Coke works fine for a history-minded golfer.
Equally impressive is the course conditioning, which continues to wow fellow members Arron Oberholser, former winner of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and now with Golf Channel, and Paige Mackenzie, an LPGA stalwart who just completed a yearlong stint with Golf Channel.
Not long ago, Oberholser tweeted, “Unreal morning at Silverleaf Club. You could eat your breakfast off these fairways. So pure.” Tim Clark, winner of the 2014 RBC Canadian Open and the 2010 Players Championship is another Silverleaf regular, as is Colorado’s own Jonathan Kaye, twice a winner on the PGA Tour.
Right around the corner from Silverleaf is the private Country Club at DC Ranch, where Tom Lehman resides in a home on the 10th hole. The 1996 British Open Champion, 2006 Ryder Cup Captain and all-around Champions Tour stud is a huge cheerleader for Scottsdale. He’s always been a fan of his home course, designed in 1997 by Scott Miller, stating, “I especially enjoy the par-3s, which are as about as good as they get, as a group, in the Valley of the Sun.” And that was before he was asked to redesign parts of the course—though he kept it as a playable, members spread, just as it had always been, with plenty of width, few intimidating forced carries and scenery in abundance, especially holes 12 through 14 that climb into the McDowells.
Still, Lehman is no homer. He’s fond of many other tracks in town, from parkland-style Phoenix Country Club (“wall-towall grass, so much history”) to Estancia and Desert Mountain, which he calls “great private clubs.” For public play, he says, “I personally like TPC Scottsdale a lot. A lot of guys like Grayhawk. And Verrado (a course 30 miles west of Phoenix that he co-designed with John Fought) is a nice place to go.”
Since he moved to my neck of the woods in 1990, I’ve seen Lehman out on the town at Z-Tejas restaurant, where his fiery favorites are Voodoo Tuna and Diablo Chicken, and at Fleming’s at DC Ranch, where he and wife Melissa “split a steak and have a beer and watch the sunset.” He’s a fan of Kierland Commons shopping area and the Tommy Bahamas restaurant there—“They have a really nice patio”—and tells visitors they have to try Old Town Scottsdale for the restaurants and pubs. “We like Frank & Lupe’s, a little hole in the wall that has great Mexican food.”
Chamblee Chimes In
Another flag-waver for Scottsdale who relishes south-of-theborder cuisine is Brandel Chamblee, the official spokesperson for Scottsdale golf. I bumped into him and his kids recently at Spotted Donkey Cantina, a festive spot at El Pedregal, a small shopping/dining/retail mall adjacent to the Boulders Resort. I can vouch for the Donkey Nachos appetizer, which features pulled pork. Chamblee, whose acclaimed outspokenness as a Golf Channel Analyst makes folks forget he once won a PGA Tour event, plays all over town, without ties to one club.
“In truth there are a great many places to play golf around the world,” says Chamblee. “But when you factor in the quantity and quality of courses, the beauty of the desert, the consistently perfect weather and all the fun there is to be had off the course, no one else comes close to Scottsdale for my money. Look at it this way: I work in Florida, but I choose to live in Scottsdale. What more of an endorsement do you need?”
Chamblee will get no argument from LPGA Hall-of-Famer Betsy King, nor from future Hallof- Famer Cristie Kerr. King hangs her shingle at the private Pinnacle Peak Country Club, one of the city’s hidden gems. Originally surrounded by desert during the late 1970s, Pinnacle Peak is now an oasis with great greens tucked away in the heart of North Scottsdale.
Get Cristie’s Love
Kerr is partial to Mirabel (both the glfer and the course pictured below), a private golf enclave in the farthest reaches of North Scottsdale where she lives and plays.
The club earned early notoriety for two reasons back in 2001.
First, its flavorful, tender beef jerky proved so addicting, Roger Clemens ordered 50 pounds of it to be shipped to the New York Yankees clubhouse (Kerr is another huge fan and so am I).
Second, its graceful Tom Fazio design replaced an existing public Greg Norman creation called Stonehaven that never actually opened. Stonehaven was to be target golf to the extreme. Mirabel is a desert layout, but has plenty of grass where it’s needed, even at its signature par-3 11th, which rolls out vistas of Granite Mountain and Pinnacle Peak.
Off-course, Kerr favors Binkley’s (“a foodie’s dream”) and Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale’s Old Town (“hearty cowboy fare with flair”). Another Cowboy Ciao supporter is Kirk Triplett, a threetime winner on the PGA Tour and who is currently rocking it on the Champions Tour. Triplett is also partial to Roaring Fork in downtown Scottsdale for its “Old West culinary experience.”
Pros, Architects, Instructors
On the golf front, Triplett spends time at TPC Scottsdale, where PGA Tour players get golf and range balls gratis as a membership perk. “It’s a not a desert course,” says Triplett, “but it’s newly renovated and very interesting.” Triplett also touts We-Ko-Pa’s 36 public holes, citing the Coore/Crenshaw-designed Saguaro as “a beautiful walking course” with “unique looks.”
When five-time winner and lifelong resident Billy Mayfair was recently asked where people were most likely to run into a Tour player, he responded “Out at the TPC Scottsdale (pictured below). On any given day, players from all tours will be hitting balls on the practice range.” Typically, that’s where you’ll find Kevin Stadler, who captured the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2014 on the Stadium layout that original co-designer Tom Weiskopf just renovated. Among others who frequent the TPC are Ricky Barnes, Robert Garrigus, Martin Laird, Troy Merritt and Parker McLachlin.
In addition to the Tour players who call Scottsdale home, so do leading architects and instructors. Weiskopf takes top design honors for quality and quantity, but Bill Coore is closing fast, thanks to his We-Ko-Pa and Talking Stick creations, and for his brand-new restoration of tony Paradise Valley Country Club, where many of the area’s movers and shakers belong, including three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin. Brian Curley, the busiest architect in China on behalf of his Schmidt-Curley firm, keeps his home and office in Scottsdale.
Instructor Stan Utley, a one-time PGA Tour winner, who has taught Sergio Garcia, Bill Haas and Peter Jacobsen, among many others, calls Grayhawk (pictured below) home and eats Mexican food three or four times a week, particularly at Jalapeño Inferno Bistro Mexicano.
Whisper Rock Is No Secret
Grayhawk’s popular public courses have hosted many PGA Tour events and were Phil Mickelson’s hangout before he moved back to his hometown of San Diego in 2001. Lefty still has a soft spot for “my second hometown,” where he lived for 12 years (the Grayhawk logo continues to adorn his golf bag).
For a healthy dose of Mickelson memorabilia, check out Phil’s Grill at Grayhawk. The last time I was there, legendary instructor (and CBS broadcaster) Peter Kostis was lunching at the next table with one of his longtime students, Franz Klammer, the 1976 Olympic Gold Medal-winning downhiller from Austria. Kostis hosts the Kostis Mc- Cord Learning Center at Grayhawk, though when he and fellow CBS colleague Gary McCord have down time, they can usually be found at Scottsdale’s über-hangout, Whisper Rock Golf Club. For tour players worldwide, “the hang” at “the Rock,” is the best golf experience anywhere.
A recent check of the handicap board at Whisper Rock showed that Martin Kaymer was top dog, with a plus 6.9 index. England’s Paul Casey, who played for Arizona State, wasn’t far behind.
I had a very pleasant conversation with Casey a little while back at Eddie V’s, perhaps the best fish restaurant in Scottsdale, with much of the conversation centered on Whisper Rock. McCord usually holds court in the grill room, chatting up Kevin Streelman, Chez Reavie, or even 2006 U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy, who recently moved back to Scottsdale after a few years away. Mickelson, who co-designed the first 18 here, the Lower course, always stops back during the Phoenix Open for catchup time with his old pals.
Scottsdale glory reached its peak on tour a couple of years ago, when Whisper Rock’s Kaymer battled Estancia’s Bubba Watson in a PGA Championship playoff in 2010. Kaymer won. Watson moved back to Florida full-time in 2013, though he again won this year’s Estancia club championship.
We’ll let Tom Lehman sum up what attracts so many tour pros to Scottsdale. “It’s a big place, but still has a small-town feel,” says Lehman. “There’s a freshness to it. I like that it’s new and neat. The fantastic weather, the living desert, the phenomenal sunsets with that red glow—it’s just a magical place.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that the stars of the golf world make Scottsdale burn that much brighter.
Golf magazine Senior Editor Joe Passov has written more than 750 articles for nearly 60 publications since 1987. The former editor-in-chief of Links Magazine, “Travelin’ Joe” has played more than 1,200 courses in 46 states and 21 countries.