TPC Scottsdale changes add challenge, charm
January 26, 2015
By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM
- The Superstition Range came into view when the mound behind the 14th green was lowered some 15 feet. (Courtesy TPC Scottsdale)
Three days after Tom Weiskopf celebrated his 72nd birthday in November, he was in Arizona for another party -- the grand reopening of the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale. Well, given the reputation of the Waste Management Phoenix Open as the loudest and most-attended tournament on the PGA TOUR, media day felt more like a pre-gamer.
I was there. The media was invited to play a round and kick the tires of the newly renovated par 71, but I sat that out. (If you were ever punished to watch me play, you'd understand.) Instead, I rode shotgun with the co-designer himself. For four holes or about an hour, anyway. And it was a sweet consolation.
LIVE@ is coming to the Waste Management Phoenix Open
Weiskopf collaborated with Jay Morrish for the original routing and design of TPC Scottsdale, which opened in 1986. The Stadium Course debuted as host of the Phoenix Open the following January. For this latest full set of enhancements and updates, the 16-time PGA TOUR winner and 1973 Open champion teamed with Landscapes Unlimited (which built the Champions Course at TPC Scottsdale) last year. Thanks to the dry weather in the Valley of the Sun, they needed just three months on the process, ending in early July.
No hole was untouched, but some were reserved for no more than updated bunkering and fresh landscaping. So, before you wonder what Weiskopf and Co. did to the exciting closing stretch, relax.
"We did not change 15, 16 or 17," Weiskopf said. "Why? They're terrific holes. They need no change whatsoever."
After parking the cart beside the tee at the par-4 opening hole, Weiskopf went over to the practice green just right of the box. I was the only other human nearby as we waited for the others in his foursome. He dropped a couple of balls. From about 12 feet off the putting surface and wielding a blade, he Texas-wedged his first try into the hole at which he was aiming. In a kid-like reaction and with a half-smile underneath his trademark flat cap, he whirled to see if I had seen it. Confirmed. His soft hands and slow-motion smoothness belied his frame and, frankly, his age. It's the kind of touch that you can appreciate only in person.
That sampling served as a metaphor as the world will set its collective eyes on his body of work at TPC Scottsdale for the 77th edition of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Once the full contingent of his foursome arrived -- it included Shane Bacon of Back9 Network and Golf Channel's Matt Ginella -- Weiskopf directed attention at the target on the 408-yard opener. New to the hole is a fairway bunker on the left side. However, also new to the entire course is Bunker White Sand from California. It replaced the traditional earth-tone hazards, and it's going to pop on television.
"We wanted to rebunker the golf course," Weiskopf said. "There wasn't a lot of pressure on the TOUR player from the tee. The equipment outdated the bunkering. They were blowing it way by (the bunkers), very easily past them. So, we took 73 bunkers and pared it down to 66, but their specific locations were relative to ShotLink. We had all that information for five years and we took the average of where they drove the ball, and that's where we relocated these bunkers. I think the TOUR player is going to see a little bit more demanding tee shot requirement, but the bunkers are far enough down there that the average guy might not even get in them off the tee."
Therein lies the motivation behind the renovation. It's been Weiskopf's rallying cry throughout. It's not just about challenging the best golfers in the world, which will also be treated to a new locker room, bar and dining facility, but as Weiskopf puts it, it'll be a "better experience for everybody."
Among the most noticeable changes to the layout that the field of 132 will be challenged to learn, greens at Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 14 were completely redone. The green complex at the 183-yard, par-3 fourth was shifted left and elevated. The par-4 14th was pulled away from the road and extended 46 yards.
"The big significant change, the hole that you're going to hear a lot about, is No. 14," Weiskopf said. "That hole is 490 (yards) from all the way back. Uphill tee shot, uphill second shot, well-bunkered, small green. We lowered the mound that existed behind the original green, probably 15 feet. Now when you’re standing in the fairway, you can see the Superstition Range (due east of Scottsdale). You could never see those mountains before. That was pretty neat. That just happened. I didn't think about that. I just said that I wanted to play to 'this elevation.'"
Weiskopf expects the 14th to rank no worse than the No. 3-handicap hole. "You better get your work done at 13 and 15 because if you play 14 even-par for the week, you will beat the heck out of the field."
The par-4 18th gained only four yards to 442, but the bunker past the lake would force a carry of 360 yards. So don't expect any heroes. "It's a hole that should give up some birdies, but if you play it smart -- you don't need power at the last hole at all."
The 18th hole fairway bunker now forces a 360-yard carry to clear. (Courtesy TPC Scottsdale)
Because Weiskopf believes that the greens are still "modest" in terms of contouring, he's expecting the winner's aggregate to land in the vicinity of 14- to 18-under par.
Eleven holes are longer than they were listed a year ago, four of which by at least 25 yards. Of the five holes that measure shorter than the 2014 edition, only the reduction at the par-5 13th is significant. At 558 yards, it's shed 37. The formerly split fairway is now singular in nature.
Overall, the course can max out at 7,266 yards. That’s 114 yards longer than last year and an increase of 50 yards over its reading from 2004-2013.
Kevin Stadler will not be able to defend his title this week due to a stress fracture in his hand. He ranked T10 in fairways hit en route to his breakthrough victory last year. Accuracy off the tee is one of his strengths, but Weiskopf believes that it's also going to matter even more this week.
"I see the erratic driver having trouble; the guy that got away with stuff in the past; the guy that can hit it a long way but maybe not hit it in the fairway enough." Weiskopf said. "I think this golf course will reward the tee shot much more than it ever did in the past."
That was all the validation I needed to hear for leaving my clubs at home. Throughout my ride-along, Weiskopf spent considerable time commenting on and complimenting the outlining of the holes and property. While he's a regular on expanded television and online coverage of the majors, it was evident that he doesn't dismiss the aesthetics no matter the primary objective.
"Beautiful landscaping was implemented here," he said. "They put down a lot of decomposed granite in the desert, which will make it look very natural. It was a little bald, a little dirty."
The course was gorgeous in mid-November and it will have improved by tournament time what with a predictable winter and favorable weather conditions leading up to this week. But it's going to take some time for the newly laid TifEagle Bermudagrass to mature on the greens. Upgraded drainage and irrigation will assist in the long-term prosperity.
"We created better playing conditions," Weiskopf said. "Everything was for a future need for this golf course facility."
Tom Weiskopf on the redesign of hole No. 18 at TPC Scottsdale