Phoenix

Grayhawk's Raptor Course

Where’s the best place to play golf on the West Coast? We’ll give you hundreds of choices.

Golferswest.com begins its annual assessment of the Top Five courses to play within 12 West Coast states and British Columbia. The 25-part series begins today with: Arizona – Phoenix.

NO. 1 COURSE: GRAYHAWK – RAPTOR

LOCATION: Scottsdale

DIRECTIONS FROM SKY HARBOR AIRPORT: Head east toward East Valley by way of Loop 202 toward Tempe. Take exit 9 to Loop 101 North. Take exit 35, Hayden Rd. Turn right to Thompson Peak Parkway. Course is on the left.

PHONE: 480-502-1800

OPENED: 1994 (Architect: Tom Fazio)

GREENS FEES: Rates vary, check course website at www.grayhawkgolf.com

LAYOUT: Par-72, 7,135 yards (four tee positions)

LOWDOWN: The Raptor course, part of a 36-hole layout at Grayhawk – Talon is the other course – is widely considered one of the elite courses in Arizona. It features wide fairways but bunkers that will put an off-line drive into peril.

The greens are large, too, although the humps and bumps can easily turn a birdie opportunity into a three-putt bogey. The course delivers spectacular views of the desert around Scottsdale and the McDowell Mountains.

Grayhawk is considered one of the Southwest’s best public golf experiences, icaps, but it also has a world-class resume that includes several pro tournaments, including the Frys.com Open and the World Match Play Championship although it also has hosted world-class competition, including the Frys.com Open and Andersen Consulting World Match Play Championship.

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 8, par-3, 156 yards. It has been dubbed affectionately (or in anger) ‘Aces and Eights.’ Here’s why – From a length perspective it’s tame, but the green is protected by three front bunkers. And once you’ve cleared those bunkers, you’re on a two-tiered surface that makes a two-putt par a real challenge.

Island green at TPC Scottsdale

NO. 2 COURSE: TPC SCOTTSDALE – STADIUM COURSE

LOCATION: Scottsdale, Az.

DIRECTION FROM SKY HARBOR AIRPORT: Go east to I-10 west. Take exit 147, Az-51 north. Take exit 15A onto Loop 101 east. Get off on Hayden Rd. Turn right at E. Bell and go into the course.

PHONE: 480-585-4334 (web site: tpc.com/tpc-scottsdale)

GREEN FEES: $299 ($203 twilight)

OPENED: 1986 (Architects: Tom Weiskopf, Tom Morrish)

LAYOUT: Par 71, 7,216 yards (four tee positions)

LOWDOWN: Other courses in the Valley may offer better views of the cactus, mountains and city. But none allows a golfer to stride in the footprints of the tour pros who arrive each year to play the Stadium Course – joined by the largest galleries for any pro golf tournament in the world at the Waste Management Open.

From the challenging par-3 12th hole with water on three sides of the green to the famed par-3 16th  stadium hole to the drivable par-4 17th, the Stadium Course gives average golfers a challenge that they’ve seen the best in the world master.

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 16, par-3, 162 yards. Protected by small bunkers left and right, it’s one of the most famous golf holes in the world for four days every year. During the tournament, grandstands surround the 16th from tee to green and, with more than 20,000 fans chanting, cheering and, yes, booing, golfers whose shots miss the putting surface, it has become known as the Fenway Park of golf.

NO. 3 COURSE: RAVEN GOLF CLUB AT VERRADO

LOCATION: Buckeye, Az.

Raven Golf Club at Verrado

DIRECTION FROM DOWNTOWN: Take I-10 west and exit at 120, Verrado Way. Go north then left on Main St. The course is straight ahead.

PHONE: 623-388-3000 (web site: ravenatverrado.com)

GREEN FEES: $119 ($59 twilight)

OPENED: 2002 (Architects: John Fought/Tom Lehman)

LAYOUT: Par-72, 7,258 yards (four tee positions)

LOWDOWN: Spectacular desert golf in the Valley of the Sun isn’t limited to Scottsdale. The Raven at Verrado is the gem of the West Valley, located 25 miles west of downtown Phoenix.

It meanders through the desert and foothills of the WhiteTank Mountains and has the accolades to prove it’s among the best in the country, not just Arizona. Golf Digest named it the No. 1 course in Phoenix and GolfWeek recognized it as one of America’s top 40 courses in 2005.

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 13, par-4, 310 yards. This the most inviting hole on the course, relatively short, that begs you to try and drive the green. There’s danger everywhere, though. The fairway narrows as it nears the green, with a rocky hillside on the left and a ravine on the right. Even if you play it safe and lay up off the tee, a meekly played wedge on the second shot may wind up back at your feet if it doesn’t clear the false front of the green.

Spectacular desert views at Troon North

NO. 4 COURSE: TROON NORTH

LOCATION: Scottsdale, Az.

DIRECTIONS FROM SKY HARBOR AIRPORT: Take Loop 202 east to Hwy 101 north. Exit at No. 36, Pima Rd. Right on Pima to Dynamite Blvd. Turn right and go two miles. Course in on the left.

PHONE: 480-585-7700 (web site: troonnorthgolf.com)

GREEN FEES: $249

OPENED: 1989 (Architect: Tom Weiskopf)

LAYOUT: (Monument Course) Par-72, 7,070 yards (five tee positions); (Pinnacle Course) Par-71, 7,025 yards (five tee positions).

LOWDOWN: Troon is a classic desert layout that takes a golfer through spectacular scenery with Pinnacle Peak as its backdrop.

Both courses, with lush fairways dotted by numerous bunkers and undulating greens, underwent a recent renovation by the original architect, Tom Weiskopf.

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 15, par-4, 299 yards. It’s requires only a 299-yard drive from the back tee, but it’s a classic risk-reward hole that could result in an eagle putt or a big number. Five bunkers surround the hole, along with a pile of huge boulders, making it a huge challenge even if you choose to lay up. Pull a shot to the left – either off the tee or with your wedge – and you may as well grab a ball out of your pocket and resign yourself to having donated another one to the desert.

NO. 5 COURSE: WIGWAM – GOLD COURSE

LOCATION: Litchfield Park, Az.

DIRECTIONS FROM DOWNTOWN: Take I-10 west to the Litchfield Rd. exit. Turn right to Wigwam Blvd. Turn right on Wigwam Blvd. and proceed past the roundabout – turn left at the roundabout. The entrance will be on your left.

PHONE: 623-935-3811 (wigwamresort.com)

GREEN FEES: $58

OPENED: 1964 (Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr.)

LAYOUT: Par-72, 7,430 yards (four tee positions)

LOWDOWN: This gem of the West Valley is regarded as a supreme challenge along with a heavy dose of history.

The Gold layout was designed by the famed Robert Trent Jones Sr. Unlike Arizona desert-style courses, the Wigwam features vast areas of grass but also tree-lined fairways that will leave you without a clean shot at the green if you aren’t straight off the tee.

Besides lengthy holes that will leave you with long second shots, most greens on the Gold Course are elevated with enough undulations to make 3-putts a real possibility. That’s one reason the course has been nicknamed ‘Arizona’s Monster.’

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 18, par- 440 yards. It takes accuracy on both the drive and approach to avoid a big score. With a stream running down the left side of the fairway the entire length of the hole, the tendency is to flare a drive to the safe side on the right. However, a drive to the right forces you to hit your approach directly toward the stream, which is just off the fringe left of the green. Miss left and your ball is wet. Miss right and you’re chipping onto a narrow green with water just a few feet away.

- Kirby Arnold