IN THE PUBLIC EYE: TPC Scottsdale -- The Stadium Course, in Scottsdale, Ariz.
THE LAYOUT: Watching Phil Mickelson shred The Stadium Course over Super Bowl weekend in 2013 -- tying the tournament record at 28-under and lipping out on 18 to narrowly miss carding a 59 in the opening round -- it's easy for the amateur to daydream about going low at a PGA Tour facility.
Even though the course virtually is on the grounds of the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, it was open to the public, as are all TPC layouts.
The Stadium Course indeed offers a nice blend of playability and significant challenge to go along with a great history. Designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, the course was built in 1986 and played host to its first PGA Tour event -- the Phoenix Open -- the following year.
One of the advantages of playing at a PGA Tour facility is no expense is spared in maintaining pristine course conditions. While most course superintendents in the area are working with stricter budgets and balancing seeding and water schedules, The Stadium Course -- and to a slightly lesser degree the accompanying Champions Course -- are in nearly immaculate shape year-round.
The par-71 Stadium Course can be stretched out to 7,216 yards (74.6/138) from the black tees. However, unless you're a bomber off the tee and enjoy long irons to the green, the 6,525 yards (71.1/129) from the blues is more than enough test for most golfers. The whites play 6,049/68.7/125, shortening many of the challenging par-4s.
For the ladies, the 5,455 yards includes several drives that require moderate carries over -- or through -- the desert, but nothing too daunting.
There's no denying The Stadium Course is a treat. If you're planning a visit during the peak-season rates that hover around $300, do yourself a favor and play in the morning or early afternoon, when very knowledgeable forecaddies who travel the Arizona/Wisconsin in-seasons are included with your green fee (minus tip) and really help make the experience.
The Stadium Course is littered with PGA Tour history -- from the boulder fans moved to help Tiger Woods recover from a wayward tee shot in 1999, leading to a change in the rules of golf, to the famous par-3 16th, where 25,000 raucous fans annually congregate in golf's loudest venue. Every hole seems to have a signature moment -- "The Chez Reavie hole," "The J.B. Holmes hole" -- and your forecaddie can add to your outing by narrating the most memorable shots from the Waste Management Open.
GENERAL MANAGER: Bill Grove.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The direction of the grain on the greens is critical playing anywhere in the Phoenix area. It typically grows away from Pinnacle Peak in north Scottsdale and toward the valley. Get to the course early enough to spend some time on the greens and let your forecaddie drop a little knowledge that will help sink a few extra putts.
While the front nine is solid a features a few memorable holes -- including the par-3 fourth with a big, sloping green, the character of the course really begins to come out as you approach the turn. Keep an eye out on No. 9. Push your drive far enough to the right and you might take out a PGA Tour or Web.com player minding his own business on the facility reserved for professionals.
The 10th hole is where the fun really begins. A 376-yard par-4 from the blue tees, it requires a well-placed drive for a lengthy uphill approach shot. If you struck the drive well enough to have a look at the green, you're likely to also get your first good look at the famous grandstands surrounding the 16th hole as you approach your ball.
It takes four-and-a-half months to erect and a month-and-a-half to bring down the grandstands at a hefty price tag of around $1 million in both directions.
The first glimpse of one of the most famous holes on the PGA Tour puts a real charge into the round, but focus on that approach shot. There is a pot bunker just off the right side of the 10th green and two bunkers protecting the front left. All things being equal, miss to the left -- anything right, especially to a right pin placement -- is in jail trying to get back to the green that slopes back to front.
Survive that test and you're greeted with the No. 1 handicap hole on The Stadium Course. It's a bear of a par-4 at 439 yards from the blues, with water all down the left side. It's easy to bail toward the less intimidating right side, but there are trees and small bushes likely to prevent a clear look. There is a big premium on hitting the fairway on No. 11, and a mid- to long-iron that hits the front half of the massive green will get plenty of roll.
The par-3 12th provides a mental breather before one of the most interesting holes on the course. The par-5 13th presents the option of going left or right around a big swatch of sand and trees. At 552 yards from the blues and 528 from the whites, the shorter route is to the right. If you don't have the distance to get there in two, play it safe to the left side and there is a big landing area for your second shot.
The smallish green is protected by a deep bunker on the front right, but you don't want to over-club with your approach shot, as the hole typically plays downwind.
The 419-yard 14th hole plays back into the wind and finally brought someone in our group to whimsically ask the forecaddie, "Let me guess, it's another long par-4 and 'get all I can get' on the drive!"
With the 16th grandstands back in view and starting to get the heart pumping, a good drive off the tee at the par-5 15th can present the best risk-reward opportunity on the course. At 468 yards from the blue tees, the hole is definitely reachable in two. There's only one problem.
Well, 360 of them, depending on your point of view.
With a long iron or hybrid in hand, you're also looking at an island green. It's another huge putting surface that slopes back to front and there are bunkers on the left and front right, but the reality is anything off-target is likely to splash down.
But you didn't come this far to lay up, so grip it and rip it.
If you play TPC during one of the six months the 16th grandstands are being worked on, you'll come off the 15th green, walk under the stands and pop out on the tee box for a bit of that PGA Tour feeling. From a golf perspective, it's the second-easiest hole on the course and plays only 143 yards downhill from the blues to a decent-sized green. After snapping a few pictures, hit a decent short iron and you'll have a good opportunity to tell your friends you birdied the 16th at The Stadium Course.
The par-4 17th is another risk/reward. Big, accurate hitters will be tempted at only 292 yards downhill from the blues, but the green is protected by water to the left and in back. Another option is a layup to a comfortable distance and a very manageable approach.
The par-4 18th is pretty finishing hole. A fairway plaque commemorates J.B. Holmes' 359-yard drive in 2008 that led to his playoff victory over Phil Mickelson. Most mortals will face around 150-160 yards into a big green with a false front on the left side. No galleries are greeting you, but a well-struck approach might draw a small applause from those overlooking the green from the outside seating area at the restaurant and bar.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: It's hard to go wrong in the Phoenix area, and there are more courses than even the locals have time to get tired of.
Many of the top facilities feature two courses worthy of lining up a 36-hole day for, including Troon (Pinnacle, Monument) and Grayhawk (Raptor, Talon) in Scottsdale, We-Ko-Pa (Cholla and Saguaro) in Fort McDowell and the Boulders (North, South) in Carefree.
Talking Stick, owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, is another Troon establishment with a pair of consistently top-ranked tracks.
WHERE TO STAY: The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess provides an all-in-one experience for the family or business traveler. The course even skirts along the hotel on the front nine, where your family or jealous co-workers can watch you sink a birdie putt on the par-3 fourth and then rip a drive off the tee box on No. 5.
The TPC Scottsdale website offers stay-and-play packages at the Fairmont or nearby locations, including the Hilton Garden Inn and Zona Resort Suites. The Sheraton Desert Oasis is also about a five iron away down the block.
On the web: www.tpc.com/tpc-scottsdale
--TPC Scottsdale report By Derek Harper, The Sports Xchange
THE LAST RESORT: Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Resort & Spa in Cabo Del Sol, Mexico.
THE LAYOUT: The Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, designed by Jack Nicklaus, wraps around the resort, while the newer Desert Course, designed by Tom Weiskopf and opened in 2001, runs along the hills above the hotel and offers panoramic views of the Sea of Cortez on every hole.
Cabo del Sol has been described as Pebble Beach with desert and mountains.
Nicklaus has called the Ocean Course "the greatest piece of golf property on earth," and it can play tough at 7,107 from the black tees -- with a par of 72, slope of 147 and a rating of 74.5. But there are five sets of tees to make the layout resort-friendly.
The Desert Course, another par-72 layout at measure 7,053, is considered almost as difficult with a 144 slope and a rating of 74.3, but again five sets of tees give every golfer a fair challenge.
The Ocean Course annually is ranked No. 1 in Mexico by Golf Digest and the Desert Course has been rated as high as No. 5.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Gregory Tallman.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Weiskopf, who captured the 1973 Open Championship at Royal Troon, designed the Desert Course with traditional bunkering, expansive greens, wide fairways, multiple tee areas, natural waste areas and spectacular ocean views.
Signature hole on the Desert Course is the 432-yard finishing hole, which plays downhill to the Sea of Cortez. Avoid the creek that runs along the entire left side of the fairway before crossing the approach and cascading into the lake that guards the front of the green. The downhill second shot requires accuracy to the generous, undulating green that is protected by the lake and bunker on the right.
While Weiskopf's course has gotten good reviews, golfers come to Cabo del Sol to play the Ocean Course, which has been rated by Golf Magazine as one of the top 100 in the world.
There are nearly two miles of ocean frontage on the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, with seven holes running right along the water. The first taste of it comes on Nos. 6 through 8.
Before that, the golfer must negotiate the par-4, 450-yard fifth hole, which Nicklaus' version of the renowned fifth hole at Royal Portrush in Ireland. The fairway is wide, but aim down the right side because shots on the left can leave a blind approach to a generous green that favors a low, running links-style shot.
Of Nos. 16 through 18, Nicklaus has said: "Cabo del Sol has three of the best ocean finishing holes in the world."
No. 16 is a 429-yard par 4 that plays directly downhill to the ocean, but it can be reached with a favorable wind by a tee shot that takes advantage of the knoll on the left side of the fairway to give the ball the last necessary impetus to reach the green.
At the 17th, the tee shot requires a 178-yard carry over a corner of beach and rocks to a smallish green protected by bunkers on one side and the ocean on the other.
The finishing hole, a 430-yard par 4, reminds the golfer a bit of the famed finishing home at Pebble Beach -- only with the ocean on the right. Challenge the ocean side to stay out of the desert and cactus on the left in addition to shortening the hole for the approach to a large oceanside green.
And don't miss the famous fish tacos at the halfway house.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: There was no golf in Los Cabos -- a world-class sport-fishing destination -- until the early 1990s, but now there are seven places to play, and 63 of the 144 holes have Golden Bear tracks on them.
Palmilla Golf Club, located on the property of the Palmilla Resort about 10 miles from Cabo del Sol, was the first Nicklaus golf course in Latin America when it opened in 1992, and offers three dramatic nines -- the Mountain, the Ocean and the Arroyo.
Also located on the 18-mile tourist corridor from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo are the Nicklaus-designed El Dorado Golf Club; Querencia Golf Club, which was Tom Fazio's first venture outside the United States; Cabo Real Golf Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones II; the Raven Golf Club, formerly Cabo San Lucas Country Club, designed by Pete Dye and featuring the longest hole in Baja, 620 yards; and the nine-hole Campo de Golf Los Cabos, a municipal layout (with plans to add a second nine) in San Jose del Cabo that was the first course in the area when it opened in 1991.
Los Cabos was the site of the PGA Senior Slam five times. Raymond Floyd won in 1995 on the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol and repeated at Cabo Real in 1996, Hale Irwin won at Palmilla in 1997, and Gil Morgan won on the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol in 1998 and at Cabo Real in 1999.
WHERE TO STAY: The Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Resort and Spa is situated on a private beach amid 28 acres of private gardens, featuring old-world hacienda architecture. It was on Conde Nast Traveler's Gold List in 2004 and 2005, and was rated the "Best Golf Hotel in Los Cabos" by the noted travel publication in 2003.
The elegant Palmilla, located about 10 miles east of Cabo del Sol, is listed in Great Hotels of the World and was a hideaway for the likes of John Wayne and Bing Crosby in days gone by.
Among the many other resorts in Los Cabos are the Fiesta Americana Grand Resort, the Westin Regina Resort, Las Ventanas al Paraiso, the Crowne Plaza Los Cabos, the Fiesta Inn Hotel, the Presidente Inter-Continental Los Cabos Resort, the Grand Baja Resort and Spa, the Playa Grande Resort, the Hotel Twin Dolphin, the Pueblo Bonito Rose Resort, the Casa del Mar Golf and Spa and the Villa del Palmar Beach Resort.
ON THE WEB: www.cabodelsol.com