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|The second hole on Troon North Golf Club's Pinnacle Course is one of several that includes a false-front green. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)|
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - For most golfers who venture into the Sonoran Desert around greater Phoenix, it's first priority to avoid the desert. But what can really distinguish a golf course are its greens.
Buried elephants, valley effect, subtle breaks and speed can provide a recipe for a three-putt or worse. It's the scoring area to which most golfers probably don't pay enough heed. Really good on the greens? You can take a 90 down to an 82; if you're bad with the putter, just the opposite.
Just one of these desert elements offers a challenge, but golf courses that dot the Phoenix-Scottsdale area include a combination of two or more - if not every pitfall available on the greens.
Here's a rundown of golf courses in the Valley of the Sun with the most challenging greens:
The great links courses of Scotland fascinate Tom Weiskopf as much as the shapes of the greens at Augusta National, so it's no surprise that his putting surfaces at Troon North Golf Club reflect the movement found on those courses. Additionally, all 36 holes are bentgrass. It's a recipe for slick putts and tricky pin placements.
As far as the so-called valley effect, don't discount it, said head professional Reagan Davis.
"They can be sort of tricky," he said.
Nearby Pinnacle Peak also reputedly affects putts.
"But they do roll true," Davis said. "I certainly think there is some valley effect on the back nine of the Monument Course."
False fronts – featured at the 18th on the Monument and the second and third holes on Troon North's Pinnacle Course – provide a good amount of slope and a few optical illusions.
"(Weiskopf) manages to trick you little," Davis said.
While the pros go low during the Waste Management Phoenix Open, it's not necessarily a result of the greens on the Stadium Course at the TPC Scottsdale. Sure, these perfect bentgrass surfaces roll as well as any in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, but tiny breaks turn 10-footers a bit of a challenge. And you'll find plenty of slope on these large Weiskopf and Jay Morrish-designed greens.
Take No. 17. The short par 4 is particularly difficult with the pin positioned on a small ridge toward the back of the green. Get on the wrong side it and you might putt your ball into the water hazard on the left side.
While many of the greens on the two golf courses at The Boulders Resort include more subtle features, a few display dramatic tiers that make a long two-putt unlikely. The first hole on the South Course slopes severely from back to front. The green on the signature, par-5 fifth requires a full swing of the putter if you find the lower level as flagstick sits on the back ridge.
"You really have to watch out for the speed," said Tom McCahan, director of golf operations at the resort. "Because if you're not, it's easy to let a putt run away from you."
No one ever described architect Pete Dye as subtle. The greens complexes at the Karsten Course on the Arizona State University campus are no exception.
While the golf course includes plenty of pot bunkers and water hazards, greens with two or three tiers add to the difficulty, as do the many places to hide flagsticks. Find the right part of the green and you should encounter few problems - always easier said than done.
You'll find plenty of movement on the Grayhawk Golf Club greens, created, in large part, to challenge the world's best players.
The Tom Fazio-designed Raptor Course, home of the PGA Tour's Frys.com Open from 2007 to 2009, plays a little tougher and may include the more difficult greens. Depending on pin positions, some spots almost guarantee three putts, especially if you're above the hole. The long, par-4 17th features a green with two distinct levels and a severe dropoff to the left. Find the wrong part of the green and bogey or worse is a near certainty.
As the locals know, to score at the Pointe Golf Club at Lookout Mountain in north Phoenix, you must stay below the hole. The greens aren't particularly fast, but they've got a ton of slope. Downhill and sidehill putts are faster than expected, and uphill putts are quite a bit slower.
In some cases, like on short, par-3 ninth, if you're above the hole, you can almost forget a two-putt. Make it in one or you're off the green. The greens at Pointe Golf Club, at just 6,500 yards, rank as its best defense.
Birdies, though, are hard to bag at this former Nationwide Tour golf course. Why? The multiple-tiered greens include subtle breaks around the holes.
The short, par-4 fifth hole comes to mind. At 330 yards from the back tees, it's protected by water and bunkers. But even if you drive the green, birdie is no cinch if the pin sits in the back. A two-putt from lower tier to the upper-back tier requires a heroic effort.
March 18, 2010
Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.
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