Scottsdale National Golf Club
Arizona, United States of America

Fourth hole, 555 yards, Mule Deer; Look at the initial drawing below. What’s not to like?! Tick through the admirable design features: lumpy fairway, central hazards, playing angles, green bunkered on only one side, and a ridge that creates a punchbowl effect on the other. Add them together and good golf qualities were breathed onto what was previously a benign desert floor. The punchbowl created back right is an unusual – and potentially player friendly – feature to find in desert golf. Its use of short grass to both help and befuddle the player makes this one of the author’s handful of favorite holes. In fact, it is worth pointing out that all of the three shot holes are included under Holes to Note. Most modern architects labor to come up with just one or two appealing three shotters per course; Jackson Kahn came up with six (!) at Scottsdale National.

As seen from behind the 4th green during construction …

… and after. Note the shadow cast across the green from the pronounced ridge.

At ground level, the architects provide lots of short grass right though often times, the golfer needs …

… to stay left. This view from back right of the green captures the novel punchbowl feature now found in the Arizona desert.

Fifth hole, 475 yards, Buzzard; After Parsons obtained the primary land block, he acquired smaller parcels around its perimeter and some of these parcels possessed natural topography, such as here where a fifteen foot foot rise existed across a shallow valley. So what did the architects do? Nothing, other than to make sure they incorporated the landform into the hole to create a fine, blind tee shot. Once over the hill, one of the great creations unfolds: the monster 21,000 square foot fifth green. Isn’t it interesting how so many world-class long two shotters – Sea Headrig at Prestwick, the sixth at Royal Melbourne, the opening holes at both Oakland Hills and Winged Foot, etc. – end at savage greens? Modern convention has too many of today’s architects playing it ‘safe.’ Here, on the longest two shotter on the course, the architects built arguably the course’s wildest green – and history says they join good company in so doing.

Many of the great all-time architects struggled to break 80 on a consistent basis. Nonetheless, being a great player doesn’t preclude one from being a great architect. Tim Jackson, David Kahn, Scott Hoffman, and design associate Calan Hoppe play to a combined handicap of 1 (!). Above, they test drives from the 520 yard back tee of the 5th.

This aerial highlights the natural landform that was exposed and captured within the confines of the 5th playing corridor. The club’s expansive buffer is also evident.

The entire 5th green fits in the photograph largely because it is taken from 160 yards away. The fact that the green rises over nine feet from front left to back right hints at the magnitude of this spectacle, which is made even more herculean by the absence of framing.

The short bunker was employed to perfection to confuse and obfuscate. On a tour of the course as it was taking shape in the dirt, the architects brought Parsons to this fairway some 220 yards from the green. The forms were in place but there was no grass nor bunker sand nor flag. They asked Parsons how far they were from the green center. He guessed 150 yards and when informed of the delta, he was intrigued to the point where he asked what it would take to continue the optical deception. One thing they suggested was an abnormally large flag and to this day, the flag on the 5th green is 3 times (!) the size of a normal flag.

The massive amount of short grass on and around the 5th green is a sight of splendor.

Sixth hole, 170 yards, Dragon Fly; More than any architect firm with which the author is familiar, Coore & Crenshaw popularized the concept of a boomerang green. George Thomas was a fan too as this type green – wider than deep with a bunker pinching into its middle – inherently renders a number of interesting hole locations. This version though is the rare time that the author recalls seeing it deployed on a one shot hole.

At over 13,000 square feet, the uber-wide 6th putting surface makes greens on most other courses look dull and tedious. Today’s right location is deceptively annoying, thanks to a false front.

Note the interesting change that occurred in the field, namely how the central front bunker shrunk in size. The small pit seen in the first photograph above is assuredly harder from which to recover than the large swath of sand originally contemplated.

Seventh hole, 385 yards, Gray Fox; As previously noted, variety was baked-in at the start by the architects’ pledge to Parsons that no par would repeat. Yet, that could be superficial if the targets and asks of the golfer were somehow similar, regardless of par. Let’s examine the past four greens to determine if variety permeates. There is the sunken fourth green, a punchbowl of sorts that measures just over 5,700 square feet which is followed by the monster fifth high on a plateau that is almost four times (!) larger. Then the one shot sixth with its imaginative horseshoe green. What follows? The second smallest green on the course, a teardrop shaped putting surface barely over 4,000 square feet. It is a fitting end to this drive and pitch hole as the petite target looks even more undersized after the prior two colossal greens. Was Parsons’ request for variety and memorability honored? Yes. Interestingly enough, when pressed for an answer, both David Kahn and Tim Jackson nominate the approach here as one of their two or three favorite shots of the round. Yes, the holes on either side feature more ‘spectacular’ qualities but the exactitude of this sleeper approach shot grabs many an unthinking player.

Hitting the diminutive 7th green is made even more elusive by the fact that the golfer is likely to approach it from a sidehill stance.

Eighth hole, 540 yards, Road Runner; There are hundreds of desert courses, the vast majority of which the student of architecture need not bother seeing. Only a handful including Apache Stronghold, We-Ko-Pa, and Talking Stick provide classic design features and the student delights in observing how such features were transposed to the desert environment. Scottsdale National joins that short list and this hole exemplifies the Golden Age axiom of  ‘defending par at the green.’ Having said that, merely replicating Golden Age design principles would not have yielded the kind of originality that Parsons sought. The principles needed to be applied with creativity and one look at this green with its gull wings and sunken front cavity confirms that they were. Though a majority of the playing season features less than a club of wind, when it blows, it comes from the west, which means this hole is downwind. One of the architects joined seven players from a top ranked ranked college golf team during their round here. They had the course to themselves and were playing as an eight-some. Played from the back markers, dead down gale, they all drove it over 400 yards, leaving them ~150 yards in. The flag was on the high left plateau and the architect advised everyone to aim for the middle of the green, two putt and head to the next tee content with a birdie. Alas, prudence rarely follows a 400 yard drive and the ace players chased after the hole. The common outcome was that most hit the putting surface only to see their balls bound into the waiting back bunker. One of the seven secured his birdie. The eighth – the architect – played for the middle of the green and got the only other birdie.

A drive just inside the left bunker edge toward Four Peaks is ideal.

Given the firm and fast conditions as provided by Green Keeper Rick Holanda, the golfer should find himself in range of this roller-coaster green in two.

The ball at the base of the green was struck from 240 yards out, landed short, climbed to within 20 feet of the hole for what would have been a potential eagle putt, tittered, then … rolled back. The ensuing three putt highlighted that par had indeed been defended at the green.

Ninth hole, 145 yards, Catfish; By the end of the front nine, the golfer assumes that each view from the tee will be compelling; long forgotten is the fact that the land was flat and featureless. And sure enough, standing on the ninth tee and looking across the valley at the green tucked in its own amphitheater, the big picture stuff is once again enthralling. However, what about the golf itself? Just how good is the shot itself? That’s what matters – regardless of the course’s origins, we are here to play golf and is the golf as compelling as the environment? Once again, the answer is yes.

One of the course’s most fun shots is on offer today. Specifically, the golfer can play his tee ball high right of the green and watch his ball deaden, take the slope, and then trickle sideways close to the hole.

Tenth hole, 535 yards, Gila Monster; Restraint plays a vital part in great architecture. If the architect crams too much into every moment, the golfer’s senses numb. This ‘trap’ of trying to dazzle must have been acute for Jackson, Kahn and Hoffman. First, they reported to one man and they surely wanted to impress. Second, with Parsons’ resources, the three had everything at their disposal. What about a 40 foot waterfall? What about this and that? Any and everything could have been built. Yet, they didn’t and one of the best examples of putting the golf first occurs over the last fifty yards of the tenth hole. A reachable par five, the potato chip, wavy green is surrounded by short grass with the nearest bunkers ten paces removed from the putting surfaces. True, the bunkers play bigger than they are as gravity feeds balls into them. Nonetheless, the green complex doesn’t scream at you – and the course is all the better for it.

The 10th green – a thing of beauty and restraint even at dusk.

As seen during grow-in, the triangular 10th green middle left floats in a sea of grass. Meanwhile, the tightly bunkered 11th plays in its own corridor and couldn’t be more different.

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