Scottsdale’s Latest Golf Upgrades

SCOTTSDALE-GOLF-1For snowbelt golfers who are thinking about ditching the North’s cold weather season and are considering a golfing interlude in the warmer Southwest, there are alternative methods to gain information regarding the latest golf course improvements in the Valley of the Sun.

Scottsdale, the upscale neighbor of Phoenix, has witnessed a number golf facility enhancements over the past few seasons. So, you might ask “Siri, what courses in Scottsdale have been recently upgraded?” Or, “Alexa, tell me all the latest golf course renovations near Phoenix.” Or, embark upon your own extensive internet search…or…just continue reading this Chicago Golf Report synopsis.

The Camelback Inn Resort & Spa first opened in 1936, at the foot of Camelback Mountain, a distance of 12 miles down a dusty, rocky trail from the center of Phoenix, AZ. In 1967 the Marriott family corporation purchased Camelback Inn and it thus became Marriott’s first full resort.

Camelback Ambiente - 9th Hole

Camelback Ambiente – 9th Hole


Located 4 miles away from the Inn itself are the two golf courses operated by this Marriott resort. Throughout the years, these two courses have been known by different names: Padre and Indian Bend; Resort and Club; and currently, Padre and Ambiente. The Padre Course opened in 1966 and was redesigned in 1999 by Arthur Hills. Indian Bend was introduced in 1970 and was redesigned by golf architect Jason Straka on behalf of Hurdzan Fry Environmental Golf Design in 2013. Neither course is a typical Arizona-Sonoran Desert style course; Padre is a lush parkland style course, while Ambiente is desert links-style without the jagged rocks and cacti.

To overcome Indian Bend’s poor reputation of ‘underwhelming’, ‘nondescript’, and ‘deflating’, Marriott spent $10 million, and nearly 2 full years, for the renovation of the course and its renaming to “Ambiente” in 2013. The out-then-back routing has remained intact, but what was once flat and featureless has been transformed into a course with several striking features: eye-catching elevation changes and rolling fairways with significant drops. The landscape is made up of mountain vistas, native trees and wildflowers. Ambiente plays to a par of 72 with four sets of tees: black 7225 yards / 73.9 / 138; verde 6630 yards / M71.8, L75.8/ M132, L135; camel 6123 yards / M69.0, L72.4/ M124, L127; teal 5538 yards / 69.1 / 120.

Mountain Shadows Resort is a facility previously managed by the Marriott chain, and is set in the shadow of Camelback Mountain. The recently refurbished Mountain Shadows Resort debuted on April 1, 2017 as the ‘new boutique resort’ in Paradise Valley, Arizona, which is immediately adjacent to Scottsdale.

Mountain Shadows - 3rd Hole

Mountain Shadows – 3rd Hole

In addition to lodging upgrades, the resort’s 18-hole golf course received a complete redesign by noted golf course architect Forrest Richardson. The original golf course at Mountain Shadows was designed and built in 1961 by architect Arthur Jack Snyder and played as an ‘executive length’ course with a par of 57 / 56. Known for its seclusion and incredible desert setting, the course quickly became a favorite among Hollywood celebrities and socialites.

Presently, with Richardson’s redesign, the course is now an 18-hole all par-3 layout — Scottsdale’s only 18-hole par-3 course. Actually, the course has 19 holes, as there is a putting ‘wagering hole’ placed between the 17th green and the 18th tee. Richardson’s effort at Mountain Shadows was recently named “Renovation of the Year” by Golf Inc. With three sets of tees (total distance: back 2310 yards, middle 2065 yards, and forward 1735 yards), the holes play from 60 to 200 yards. Hallmarks of the course are the exceptional greens surfaces and distinct holes, each with stunning mountain views.

Richardson’s redesign retained the course’s storied heritage but combined it with modern features including a double green for holes 13 and 14. At Mountain Shadows golfers will be thrilled by Scottsdale’s great golf climate, a thorough short-game challenge, and all the breathtaking views and stunning scenery of authentic Sonoran desert golf — all at a fraction of the cost of other courses in the area. The course is easily walkable; riding carts and pull carts are available.

While not located in Scottsdale, nor adjacent to Scottsdale, nor in the near vicinity of Scottsdale, there is a new course (opened in November, 2016) located just over an hour’s drive from Scottsdale in the town of Wickenburg, AZ, that is well worthy of mention. Becoming the fourth golf course in this town known for cowboys and rodeos, Li’l Wick joins Los Caballeros, Wickenburg Country Club, and its big brother (Big Wick) on the Wickenburg Ranch property as ‘the place’ to enjoy casual golf.

Li'l Wick Watering Hole

Li’l Wick Watering Hole

Li’l Wick could be the most unique golf course in the state, in the nation, in the entire world — it has a bar (The Watering Hole) that occupies a long peninsula stretching into a large pond. This 9-hole, par-3 course is a popular place to get in a shorter round of golf with family and friends. Li’l Wick’s purpose is to blend golf and entertainment, ensuring an experience unlike any other. At Li’l Wick, there are no reserved tee times. Upon arrival, guests will write their names on the chalkboard at the Watering Hole, and each group will begin when it’s their turn.

Li’l Wick maintains a relaxed dress code. Anything from flip flops to denim and sports gear are welcomed here. Listen to music streamed around the course, tee off in your flip-flops, pick up a rental club set, and enjoy ice-cold beverages from The Watering Hole for the ultimate casual golfing experience. Four new bridges to the peninsula provide the opportunity to obtain beverages with only a short walk from any tee or green. There are also ‘challenge bunkers’ placed next to various tees to enable creative challenge bet ideas for extra beverages.

Also incorporated into the 18-acre design is a giant hammock and cozy seating areas to relax in between holes. When the fun spills over into the evening, the final four holes and putting green are nicely lighted. This 21st century form of entertainment is quite a departure from that of yester-year when this site was formerly Merv Griffin’s Dude Ranch.

Moving along to this year’s renovations, Troon North Golf Club’s Pinnacle Course reopened for daily-fee play on October 5 following a four-month enhancement project. The Troon North Golf Club, with two 18-hole golf courses (Monument and Pinnacle) stretches through the natural ravines and foothills of the high Sonoran desert in the shadows of Pinnacle Peak.

The visual sensation and special ambiance of this setting, along with the incredible challenge of Troon North’s two courses, set the standards by which all others Scottsdale courses are measured. Troon North Golf has been referred to as “the hallmark of the desert golf experience.” Both Troon North courses were designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish and originally opened in 1990.

In 2007, under Weiskopf’s direction, the 36-hole facility was reconfigured by blending the two courses together and changing the sequence in which the holes were played. In 2017, and again in 2018, Troon Golf decided to upgrade each course during the ‘off-season’ summer months and began with the Monument Course. A year later the project moved to the Pinnacle Course.

The Pinnacle Course’s upgrades included updating green complexes to their original shape, size and contours by utilizing GPS coordinates gathered from Tom Weiskopf’s original design. Additionally, greens were resurfaced with A4 bentgrass and collars were resurfaced with TifGrand Bermudagrass.

Bunker renovations included updating the drainage in all greenside and fairway bunkers, new bunker liners and new Pioneer bunker sand. “The course enhancements made over the past two summers have improved two already incredible golf courses in Monument and Pinnacle,” said Tim Schantz, president, Troon. “Moving forward we’ll continue to refine and reinvest in our flagship facility to keep it atop the leaderboard of outstanding Arizona golf properties.”

This article’s final review, but perhaps its biggest “wow moment” is the complete renovation and downsizing of The Phoenician Golf Club-Scottsdale. The phrase “less is more” was actually first popularized by building architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German who emigrated to the United States before World War II. (Editor’s note: Many of the buildings that comprise Chicago’s skyline are Mies van der Rohe’s designs or inspirations).

Phoenician - 16th Hole

Phoenician – 16th Hole

Drawing upon that notion, golf course architect, Phil Smith, was selected to transform the club from a 27-hole facility to an 18-hole golf course. Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., Smith had previously executed numerous high-profile renovations for local courses including TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course and Desert Mountain’s Cochise, Geronimo and Renegade courses. Additionally, Smith had worked on many other Troon Golf projects over the years, including multiple re-workings at Troon North.

Smith’s Phoenician renovation project, which encompassed a full 10 months to complete, took apart the original three nine’s (Desert, Canyon, & Oasis) that Ted Robinson designed in 1988, and created one new, cohesive 18-hole golf course with a natural rhythm and flow while maintaining the superb reputation and quality that The Phoenician established over the past 30 years. The new, redesigned course opened on November 1. During Smith’s renovation every green was rebuilt and resurfaced with new hybrid Bermudagrass.

“The new Phoenician Golf Club will be a tremendous experience for golfers,” Smith said. “While challenging, everything will be in front of the golfer – no surprise bunkers or blind hazards. Players will have the opportunity to make an informed decision on how to approach each shot.”

The new Phoenician 18-hole course plays to a par 71 and offers five sets of player-friendly tees, ranging from 4,418 yards from the forward tees to 6,501 yards from the championship tees; the overall theme of the landscape showcases the unique beauty of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

What else is new at The Phoenician? In addition to the golf course redesign and renovation project, The Phoenician’s golf shop, locker rooms and 19th Hole dining venue have been renovated and expanded, and a new Club Car golf fleet has been outfitted with the “Shark Experience” – an innovative new golf technology that enhances the on-course experience.

The golf cars include high-definition touch screen displays and built-in speakers with Bluetooth connectivity. Golfers can now enjoy streaming music via Slacker Radio, live sports, highlights, news and entertainment, in addition to Greg Norman golf tips, dynamic yardage information and more.

During the renovation, a new irrigation system was installed. By going from 27 holes to 18 holes, turf usage was reduced by approximately 45 acres, thus the combination of turf reduction and the new irrigation system efficiencies has led to increased water conservation and lush conditions twelve months of the year — “thank you, Mies van der Rohe and Phil Smith!”

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Greg Miles

Greg Miles has been a writer following golf in Chicago since 1990. For the past 28 years he has been a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and currently is classified as a GWAA "Life Member". He played his first round of golf on his 11th birthday, and since then has played more than 7,000 rounds of golf in his lifetime at 514 different courses. He has interviewed more than 275 golfers across all the professional tours along with famous celebrity golfers. Additionally, he is a member of several other competitive and honorary golf associations, as well as the Golf Nut Society.

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