Billy Fuller Golf Design

Travelin' Joe's Guide to Phoenix, Scottsdale Golf Courses

By Joe Passov, Senior Editor (Courses/Rankings)

Travelin' Joe's home turf is smack in the throes of the same real estate slump and economic malaise that everybody else is experiencing these days. But if you're a glass is half-full sort of guy, that means better bargains and more course availability in one of America's great golf meccas.

Heat seekers have long zeroed in on the more than 200 golf courses that dot the Phoenix metropolitan landscape — and for good reason. Valley of the Sun resident Tom Weiskopf, architect of many of the region's best courses, explains the attraction. "Thirty years ago when you thought about a vacation to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, 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 golf experiences.

Two classic tracks are fighting it out for the Phoenix area's most improved: The TPC Scottsdale (Champions) and Papago Municipal. From the partying hordes that descend on the TPC Scottsdale every January for the FBR Open, virtually every golf fan on earth knows about the facility's Stadium course.

A transformation of more recent vintage took place at Phoenix's venerable Papago Park, a city-owned muni dating to 1963 that was carved from rolling desert terrain by Billy Bell Jr., the same fellow who rang up another public winner at California's Torrey Pines six years earlier. By the mid-1980s, Papago was as tough for an out-of-towner to get a tee time as it was to get onto Scottsdale's snootiest clubs. Then it all went wrong, a victim of inattention and lack of funds.

Eventually, however, Phoenix took a cue from similar rescue missions in San Diego, San Francisco and New York.   In consort with the Arizona Golf Association, architect Billy Fuller, formerly the superintendent at Augusta National, replaced the tired turf, added 30 bunkers, restored green sizes and contours and yanked out trees that otherwise obscured the views of local landmarks such as Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak.  

 He also added 300 yards to the tips, so that it now checks in at 7,333 beefy yards, and it did prove a splendid site in March 2009 to an LPGA event, captured by Hall-of-Famer Karrie Webb.

 The superb 386-yard, par-4 2nd, its elevated green backdropped by the reddish-tinged Papago Buttes rock formation, is an early photo op — and potential card-wrecker. At the maximum high-season rate of $109 for tourists ($84 to walk during the week and just $44 for locals — and $20-$58 in summer), this isn't a deal — it's a steal.