Traveling golfer heads South and West for Sun and Sand
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- We were killing time. My wife and I stopped in a tourist gift shop in Downtown Phoenix. The clerk asked "Where are you guys from?"
"Minneapolis," I said.
"Really, what part?" she wondered.
"Hudson, Wisconsin, just across the border," was my reply.
"That's nowhere near Minneapolis," she said. "I'm from Orono."
The conversation went on for awhile before I said "People seem really nice here." Her retort: "That's because they're all from the Midwest!"
This was mid-February and there happened to be a 50 degree temperature difference at the time. Golf in Scottsdale is nothing like the layouts around the Cities. Replace the maples, oaks, and pines with cacti. The rough is desert (rattlesnake warnings included).
This was my first foray into desert golf. I got two wife-approved rounds (spa bribes were necessary) so I decided to play a tourist course and a course that the locals love.
Troon North is a few miles off the beaten path but the course is actually surrounded by an uber upscale housing development. I arrived early, watched Wisconsin upset Ohio State in hoops in the pro shop, and headed out to the range.
I played the Monument Course. On the front nine, I found little rough and a lot of target golf. The architects didn't hide anything, but they do force you to hit every club, 4 iron on up, off the tee. On the third hole I found the monument, a giant vertical rock in the middle of the fairway. Aim right of the knob and you're risking rough; I went left, through the fairway and into a bunker. If you like to think your way around a course, I think you'll like the Monument (morning tee times will set you back a few bucks; on golfnow.com and teebone.com you can find some good last minute deals).
The back nine was twice as good as the front (and I like the front). There is still a premium on shot placement, but there was also a premium on vistas. The elevation changes made the back a fun ride. I should mention that the fairways were plush and the greens were fast and true. The final five were all "take-a-picture" holes and I had the pleasure of playing them at sunset, with a great group of Marquette University grads who were from... you guessed it... Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago.
When I got to We Ko Pa for a mid-afternoon round, the guy working the pro shop asked where I was from. Having learned my lesson, I told him I was from Hudson, Wisconsin. His reply: "Really, I'm from Hastings!" Why does everyone leave the Midwest?
It didn't take long into my second round to figure it out. We Ko Pa has 2 courses, the Saguaro and the Cholla. Both are exceptional, and I had the chance to play em' both. I played the front of the Saguaro and the back at the Cholla; the ranger switched me halfway through because I was a single and the sun was starting to set.
It looks like they took one of the desert scenes from the X-files and plopped down a course. I think I liked We Ko Pa a little bit more than Troon. It is a less expensive and not quite as crowded. The fairways are generous, there's enough elevation change to make it fun, and the holes are quite interesting.
While I can't tell you about a particular hole that stands out (they were all great), I also couldn't write about a hole that was boring or didn't fit in. The cool thing about this course was there was a distinct desert feel, yet the holes went up and down into valleys and between arroyos. The batteries in my camera ran out, so I was forced to take the final 30 pictures on my phone. The entire course is surrounded by mountains so the views are spectacular and the service matched the views.
I've got a couple trips coming up in the coming months. I'm going to hit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my brother-in-law in April. In May, my dad and I are going to venture out to the Sand Hills region of Nebraska to check out Tom Lehman's new venture, The Prairie Club. I can't wait, the snow should be melting soon.
Until then, fairways and greens.
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