SCOTTSDALE, AZ – When the NCAA announced that Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor Course, a par-72, 7,090-yard Tom Fazio design, had been picked to host the Men’s and Women’s Golf Championships from 2020 to 2022, I applauded the pick.
It was almost comical when I read one major national golf magazine asked the question: “Is this fair to east coast teams?”
Give me a break. The eastern part of the USA has hosted enough “major” type golf tournaments to last a lifetime. It is time for the more beautiful part of the country to host more often.
“By choosing one host location for a three-year period beginning in 2020, we will be able to maximize the operations efficiency around the championships while building marketing continuity that will continue to showcase our student-athletes, coaches and teams,” said Jim Fee, chair of the Division I Women’s Golf Committee and associate director of athletics for events and championships at the University of South Florida. “We are at an unprecedented time for our game and are looking forward to the 2018 championships and beyond.”
Arizona has played host to two past NCAA Division I Golf Championships, with the men’s championships played in 1971 at the Tucson National Golf Club, while the women’s championships were held at Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor Course in Tempe in 1992.
“It was difficult choosing a site that could host for three years and the committee appreciated the amount of hosting interest from across the country for the national championships,” said Brad Hurlbut, chair of the Division I Men’s Golf Committee and deputy director of athletics at Sacred Heart University. “Grayhawk and Arizona State will be great hosts for the 2020 to 2022 national championships.”
Prior to being played in Scottsdale in 2020, the 2018 Division I Men’s and Women’s Golf Championships will be held at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Oklahoma, while the 2019 championships will be held at The Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The Grayhawk Golf Lifestyle
Grayhawk Golf Club was a hit from its inception and I can remember hearing about the piped in rock music that could be heard on the range. The first time I played here Miller Barber was walking out the front door as I entered.
Grayhawk’s version of happy hour with live music on Wednesday nights routinely packs the patio. Phil’s Grill, decked out with a variety of his golf memorabilia, provides a comfortable leather-clad “hang” that should be considered mandatory after every round of golf. And the club’s blowout parties that piggyback on the competitive golf events held at Grayhawk are renowned.
To this day, Phil Mickelson (Phil’s Grill) has the Grayhawk logo on his PGA Tour golf bag and he serves as the club’s ambassador. An exclusive collection of Mickelson’s memorabilia adorns the clubhouse — gear he used during his many Ryder Cup appearances; an old persimmon driver he swung as a Sun Devil; signed Masters pin flags; and a Talon course record scorecard, 61, with a bunch of circles.
“Talon is a little more scenic with a box canyon and island green,” said Grayhawk’s Director of Golf Joe Shershenovich. “Raptor is also scenic, has wider fairways, but you will face tougher saves from off the green. The greens are very tough — there’s lots of undulation and hard putts, typical of Fazio. If you poll our guests you will find a split — 50 percent like Talon, 50 percent like Raptor. But I find most people get their butts kicked on Raptor and want to come back and try it again.”
Raptor has arroyos and bite
Raptor makes you play a high-stakes game of risk-reward. It opened for play on December 9, 1995 and is considered the tougher of the two layouts. It’s ranked No. 59 by Golf Magazine. With hills and natural arroyos found in this picturesque corner of the Sonoran Desert, Raptor can bite and is a striking test.
Most of Raptor’s fairways are generous, and the greens are large with sweeping undulations. Misses tend to find deep greenside bunkers and tightly mown grass collection areas, making the scramble to get up and down a true test of the short game.
Raptor presented three new holes in 2015. Longer, more difficult holes were replaced by the par-3 16th (151 yards) and a drivable par-4 17th at 331 yards. The redone 15th hole now heads right off an elevated tee.
Talon presents box canyons, steep drops
Designed by 1981 U.S. Open and 1979 PGA Champion, David Graham, and golf course architect Gary Panks, Grayhawk’s Talon course is a dramatic test of the Sonoran Desert golf.
The 6,973-yard layout one of the highest rated daily-fee golf courses in Arizona, and has been included on Golf Magazine’s prestigious list of the “Top 100 You Can Play in the U.S.”
The Talon course views of the nearby McDowell Mountains as well as the Phoenix-Scottsdale skyline are scenic. And uniquely, Talon’s back nine is built around a series of deep box canyons with a handful of holes laid out along steep drop-offs and thick stands of Mesquite, Palo Verde and Ironwood trees.
From the vantage point of the tee boxes, several holes appear tighter than their true size, placing a premium on positioning off the tee. Most of the greens are large with distinctive tiers. Careful consideration of the day’s pin sheet is a good idea to avoid challenging putts from tier-to-tier. The areas around the greens are typically generous, giving golfers a fair shot at salvaging par after wayward approaches.
They came, they dueled
Tim Herron will never forget the day, October 21, 1999, when he got ambushed at Grayhawk.
“Tim came to the club to just do a little practice putting,” said Shershenovich. “The next thing he knows, three hours later, he has dropped $300 to Mickelson.”
Herron joined Mickelson, who was partnered with Rocco Mediate, at the turn of the Talon Course on this unsuspecting day. Two of the better amateurs in the area – Jim Strickland and former Arizona State University assistant golf coach Rob Mangini – were playing a friendly match against Mickelson and Mediate.
Mickelson had just shot 32 on the front nine and it probably took only a few more holes before Herron realized he was a deer caught in the headlights.
Mickelson finished the back with a 29, registering the course-record 61. Mediate had his mind on other things that day and shot 84, but his eagle at the par-4 14th and a birdie on No. 4, boosted teammate Mickelson in the money department.
Also ensnared were Mangini, who shot 71, and Strickland, who recorded a 69. “You can see the scorecard, we framed it and its in the foyer leading to Phil’s Grill,” Shershenovich said.
The 2020 championships are scheduled to be held from May 22-27 for the women and May 29-June 3 for the men. In 2021, women’s play will take place from May 21-26, while the men’s championships will be decided May 28 through June 2. In 2022, women’s championships will be held from May 20-25, while the men’s championships will take place May 27-June 1. Arizona State will serve as host as well as Grayhawk.
No doubt there will be plenty of ambushes in the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Championship and the entertainment value should not be missed if you love amateur golf.
Story by David R. Holland