Desert Mountain: The Champions Tour Returns

The First Hole at the Desert Mountain Cochise Course, looking south, with the famous Scottsdale golf landmark, Pinnacle Peak, second from the right on the horizon

After ten years away from the Valley of the Sun, the Champions Tour returns to Scottsdale, Arizona and the Desert Mountain Club for the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup. And, once again, as it was from 1989 through 2001, the tournament will be played on the Cochise Course, one of six Jack Nicklaus championship golf courses at the club.

As a member at the club, I know that this has been over a year in the planning. The club will alternate hosting the tournament for the next six years with San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park Golf Club.

It sounds like a pretty simple thing on the face of it, “Oh, yeah! Let’s host a Champions Tour event!” This has involved Champions Tour managers moving on-site for a year to coordinate with the club all of the things that have to be done: 

  • Stipulating the course playing conditions and how to get there. Fortunately, the course was allowed to go dormant last winter, so when it came out of dormancy, the Bermudagrass was lush. This is critical for the Rye grass overseed to root and flourish. And then two of the par-5s will be played as long par-4s (the 4th and the 12th which involved building a new tee for the 4th).
  • All of the logistics of figuring out how to handle tens of thousands of spectators have to be worked out. One of the problems with replicating what was done in 2001 was that much of the empty land that had been used for parking has been developed. So in a very creative solution, ramps at the nearby and private Carefree Airport will be used for public parking.
  • Hundreds of volunteers need to be recruited, many of them coming from the club’s membership of some 2,400 families.
  • Charles Schwab is the primary sponsor, but many others need to be assisted in purchasing sky boxes, booths and ticket packages for their valued customers and associates.
  • They had to figure out how to situate and build the sky boxes and grandstands. An easier task on flat land; not so much on steep hillsides. You have to capture the best views, not make it easy to build (although you do when you can).
  • They had to figure out how to get all of the television trailers, trucks, cars and carts in position; not just the cameras — those camera stands had been discretely left in place since 2001 — but the various command center trailers. In another creative solution, a big, looping, circuitous route through newer neighborhoods led to a bridge over a wash. An existing “off ramp” used by the greenskeepers as a short cut down into the wash and up into the contiguous Geronimo course was groomed by a big bulldozer. And voila, all of the trucks are out of sight and a mere half a par-5 away from Cochise’s first hole.
  • The main, four-lane divided road that is the central artery of Desert Mountain was divided for primary parking: northbound lanes for almost two and a half miles of angled parking and southbound lanes reduced to two-way traffic.
  • An original plan for the members to drive to their respective village gates and then be shuttled to the course was nixed by the Scottsdale Fire Department; the village streets weren’t wide enough for two-sided parking and fire trucks. One of the downsides of going for an intimate feeling. So the Apache Course driving range has become a temporary member parking lot.
  • In the meantime, all of the ticket distribution plans need to be worked out: who gets what kind of ticket for how much and how do you put them in members’, guests’ and visitors’ hands.
  • And then they had to figure out how to effectively communicate all of this again and again to affected parties. People don’t hear when they’re not ready to listen.

Aside from that, it’s pretty easy to host a Tour event. The Champions Tour makes it immeasurably easier because they do it all the time, they’ve seen solutions at other venues, but a lot of hands go into getting this all together.

Now, to move on from logistics to golf, the picture above doesn’t really do justice to the 1st hole because it had to be compressed to display on the Web. It is much more dramatic when you are confronted with getting your golf ball across the vast desert carry. The bush on the other side is 213 yards into it and the carry to grass left of the bush is 233 yards. Not a big deal for Tour players, but it gets their attention when the wind is blowing in.

There’s a bunker complex in the middle of the fairway, so they have to choose left, right or short of that. The left side gives you a better look at the green (the light green plateau in the distance with the people on it), but since the green is canted to the left, the approach shot plays across the green. If you lay up short of the bunker, you can’t see the green over the mogul. If you play right of the bunker, it’s a longer carry, but the approach shot plays up the spine of the green…you just can’t see the surface of the green like you can from the left side. Pick your poison; it’s a great design.

Finally, one of the Tour players’ biggest considerations is the weather; nobody notices unless it’s bad. But not a problem this week. The weather down in Phoenix will be in the mid to high eighties with a mere 15% humidity. But because Desert Mountain is at about 3,000 feet in the desert foothills, it’ll be ten to twelve degrees cooler up here.

The pro-am is Wednesday. Talk about a really intimate situation; four players paired with one of the 30 best Champions Tour players of the year.

So golf fans, as the Fall and Winter begin to settle on the northern climes, beginning with Thursday’s broadcast, take advantage of watching four, beautiful sunny days of golf on one of the desert’s most beautiful courses.

And especially for those of you on the East Coast dealing with the aftermath of Sandy, hopefully spending a couple of hours a day with these beautiful images will help you to remember life before the storm and offer you hope that it can be that way again. God bless you as you work your way back.

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One Response to Desert Mountain: The Champions Tour Returns

  1. Roger Dunbar says:

    Great writing Bill and very insightful regarding the work it takes to host the tournament.