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Coore & Crenshaw's Talking Stick

By: Steve Habel


The desert around Phoenix can be rigid and austere, but a closer look at the sand and cactus and scrub brush reveals more. It is with this far-from-bland environment that the renowned golf-architecture team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw fashioned the two superb golf courses at Talking Stick Golf Club.

Talking Stick's South Course

The two 18s, both opened in 1998, were Coore & Crenshaw's first design in the Arizona desert. Upon an initial inspection, it's difficult to see how the duo manipulated the 350 acres of open farmland east of Scottsdale into such a tour de force for all level of linksters.

Both courses blend with their surroundings to provide a serene yet challenging experience. The wide playing corridors are a sea of green. Not surprisingly, the courses are Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries.

Talking Stick is an amenity of Talking Stick Resort, which is located on and owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and is managed by Troon Golf. The resort east of Phoenix and Scottsdale is named after the traditional Pima calendar, a wooden branch carved to mark significant events in the tribe's history.

The resort occupies land where the horizon seems to never end, broken only by occasional barbed-wire fences and creosote, mesquite and Palo Verde trees. One can almost imagine that Coore and Crenshaw created the courses with brushes rather than bulldozers, as there are virtually no changes of elevation on the site. Instead, the North course utilizes a links-style routing to lure golfers, while South is more of a park-land, tree-lined layout (more than 4,500 trees were imported to define fairways).

"We wanted to portray two different but traditional golf experiences at Talking Stick, as the courses quietly merge with their tranquil desert surroundings," said Coore, recently featured in a profile by Cybergolf's Tony Dear (http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/favorite_designers_bill_coore).

"The land was totally flat and treeless, so the beauty was for golf only and not a housing development. We were told to make the courses as opposite as we could, but make them user-friendly."

Following that dictum, there is nothing tricky about the courses at Talking Stick Golf Club. Everything is right in front of you, but what make these layouts challenging are its approaches and greens. More than 100 bunkers combined enter play on the two courses, and they are most punitive around the often-huge putting surfaces.

Deep Bunkers Abundant at Talking Stick's North Course

Don't Hesitate Using the Ground at North

The 7,133-yard, par-70 North course offers views of Camelback Mountain, the McDowell Mountains and Pinnacle Peak, from its flat landscape with no trees. North offers many options and features low-profile, slightly crowned putting surfaces and tightly-cropped approaches to encourage players to use the ground as well as the air.

Many of the holes require thoughtfulness as it can lull one to sleep, yet also be deceiving. North carries a rating of 72.7 and a slope of 125 from its back set of four tees.

Some of the fairways are as wide as runways, but things get interesting if the golfer isn't careful on the approach as they may end up in some very deep bunkers. Coore and Crenshaw took a page from the "Old World" on the 552-yard, par-5 second, which runs along the western boundary of the property and is nothing but green grass punctuated with mounds. There's not a bunker in sight until arriving at a pair of traps to the right of the round green.

Conversely, there are 14 bunkers to catch stray shots on the 450-yard, par-4 third, and 13 more on the 433-yard par-4 fourth, the biggest of which is right in the middle of the fairway, making one decide to play to either side of it or to take the aggressive route over them.

North Course at Talking Stick

The front side's two par-3s are tough. The 223-yard sixth plays across a desert wash to a putting surface ringed on three sides by deep bunkers, while the 153-yard eighth is fronted by two deep bunkers and has a three-tiered green.

After making the turn, the script is flipped on the 437-yard par-4 10th; here bunkers narrow the fairway and the designers use mounds - but no sand - to defend the green. A huge waste bunker and ravine dissect the risk-reward 392-yard, par-4 12th. There's a tiny target left of the waste area bordered by a barbed-wire fence that is OB, a route that significantly shortens the hole. But the smart play is to the huge fairway segment to the right, which appears as a dogleg-left on the card.

Muscle up for North's final four-hole stretch, which consists of the two longest two-shotters (the 461-yard 15th and the massive 471-yard closer), the longest hole (the side-winding 582-yard, par-5 17th), and the 194-yard 16th.

North keeps the player thinking, without beating him or her over the head with tricks or gimmicks. If one has good club control, can use imagination to get the ball on the greens and make a few putts, the course can be scored on. It's a cool test and a real treat.

South Course at Talking Stick

Variety Defines South

According to Coore, the South course is more straightforward than its counterpart. It features more trees and water while involving subtle elevation changes, fingered bunkers, tiered landscaping and native cottonwoods and hardwoods.

South has some of the characteristics of its sister course, such as generous fairways, but is different in that is has many more trees. The player will need to work his ball more on par-71 South, which plays shorter than its sibling at 6,833 yards from the tips.

The first two holes (par-4s of 405 and 419 yards) are played in the shadow of the resort's massive hotel tower and allow the player to get off to a relatively easy start. The 228-yard, par-3 third runs along the east border of the property and can play shorter than its yardage.

The drivable 327-yard, par-4 fourth has the widest fairway of any hole at Talking Stick, but the expanse is split by a huge bunker before ending at a narrow putting surface. Whatever breaks are found on the early holes are reversed on the 471-yard par-4 fifth, which ends at a green that will receive a run-up shot.

Hotel Tower at Talking Stick Resort

Golfers who can move the ball right to left have a chance to reach the green in two on the 516-yard, par-5 seventh, and that shot shape will be needed on the massive 476-yard par-4 eighth, which is the longest and toughest hole on South.

Water is in play along the left from tee to green on No. 11, a 392-yard par-4. The left side must again be avoided off the tee on the 541-yard, par-5 14th; this time it's not water but sand in the form of a deep waste area/ravine that puts a premium on accuracy.

Coore and Crenshaw built the 548-yard 16th with a "wee burn" (the hole's name) that starts about 100 yards out from the green and runs to the left past the putting surface. "Real sticks" can have a go on the 323-yard, par-4 closer, but they'll need to carry water most of the way to reach the promised land.

While North has perhaps the more memorable holes, South is wonderful for its collection as well.

The courses at Talking Stick Golf Club have received scads of kudos, including citations as one of the "Top 100 Modern Courses" and rankings of No. 1 (North) and No. 8 course (South) in Arizona by Golfweek and as part of Golf magazine's "Top 100 You Can Play." Both course have received a ranking of 4 stars by Golf Digest and are must-plays when in the "Valley of the Sun."

Come & Stay Awhile

Golf is not the only attraction at Talking Stick Resort, which offers all the expected luxuries of a classy destination while providing guests with top-drawer service and an array of entertainment options.

While relaxing in one of the 497 rooms, guests can enjoy an open-air spa, eight restaurants, 10 entertainment lounges, a 750-seat showroom, a lively 240,000-square-foot gaming floor, pool and more than 100,000 square feet of conference space.

For more information, visit www.talkingstickresort.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com)chronicles his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.