Scottsdale Courses Impress Press Horde at Xona Media Golf Classic

“Your list is crazy,” a shuttle bus driver told me the other day. “Where are the desert courses? Why no love for the sun-kissed layouts where emerald-green turf meets burnished waste, where white-sand bunkers tease your redlands buttes, where … excuse me, Terminal Four! …  Southwest, Delta, Frontier … Please check for personal belongings ….”

The shuttle driver, like most critics of the Top 50, was strong on imagery but weak on evidence. Several of my highest-rated courses are on desert or desert-like sites, including Jim Engh’s Redlands Mesa, No. 27 and Medicine Hole, No. 38,  Desmond Muirhead’s Mission Hills, No. 44, and Schmidt-Curley’s Southern Dunes, No. 50.* If you broaden the definition of “desert” to include other mauvaises terres, you could throw in arid and mountainous Castle Pines, No. 37, and the two prairie courses, Prairie Dunes, No. 6 and Sand Hills, No. 19, where bobcats and bison run wild.

*Several other Top 50 courses are situated in cultural wastelands, but I’m not counting those.

Superstition Mountain Country Club

Superstition Mountain's range gets an A-plus from media golfers. (John Garrity)

Furthermore, my “Seasonally-Adjusted Top 50,” which is available only to pay-service subscribers, is riddled with desert courses. That’s because today, on the 11th of December, Scott Miller’s Cholla Course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club in Scottsdale, Az., is way, way better than Minnesota’s Interlachen Country Club, which is riding out a blizzard expected to leave a foot of snow on the ground. Similarly, the Prospector Course at Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club, which has hosted Champions Tour and LPGA events in the past decade, is a far better course at this minute than Donald Ross’s highly-esteemed East Course at Oak Hill Country Club.

I know this to be true because I have just returned from four days of cutthroat competition at the Xona Golf Media Classic in Scottsdale, Ariz. Staged annually by a consortium of desert CVBs, golf clubs and local entrepreneurs, the Media Classic attracts more than a hundred of the game’s top writers and broadcasters to a four-day melee with local club pros, club managers and professional magicians.

Chuck Garbedian

A tip of the Bushwood hat from celeb golfer Chuck Garbedian. (John Garrity)

The intent of the organizers was clear: to promote Scottsdale as “The World’s Premier Golf Destination.” The intent of the invitees was just as clear: to play desert golf by day and to party by night at the Xona Resort Suites, a four-pool facility adjacent to the luxurious Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort. While not a celebrity tournament, per se, the Media Classic afforded lucky passersby glimpses of Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, GOLF Magazine’s “Travelin’ Joe” Passov, Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle (with his touring-pro son, Mike Van Sickle) and legendary Milwaukee broadcaster and college golf coach, Chuck Garbedian.

I’ll relate some anecdotes from this year’s Media Classic in a future post, but first I need to share this offer from the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. Clicking on the link will take you to a web page offering three free golf trips for two. The free packages include a three-night stay at the Xona Resort Suites, three rounds of golf at one of Scottsdale’s award-winning courses, two 60-minute spa treatments at the Spa at Four Seasons Resort at Troon North, dinner for two at The Capital Grille, and your choice of one of 7 other tourist attractions, such as the Phoenix Zoo, the Out of Africa Wildlife Park or a hot air balloon ride. For additional details, visit

I’d say more, but my laptop is running low on bold-face type.

Stephanie Wie at Kapalua

Bunkered! Stephanie Wie in Kapalua's "Garrity Bunker."


Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but I recently received this photograph of golf blogger extraordinaire Stephanie Wie in the notorious “Garrity Bunker” on the tk-ranked Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort, Maui. (Stephanie is the small, white object stranded in the sand.) The photo was taken during the blogger’s recent round with longtime Kapalua golf titan Gary Planos.

The Garrity Bunker, as most readers of the Top 50 know, was added to the Crenshaw-Coore Plantation Course in its rookie year after I struck a formidable tee shot up the left side of the thirteenth fairway during a round with Planos. “Wonderful drive!” Gary burbled at the time, only to eat his words when we discovered that my ball had bounded through the fairway and off a cliff. Thoroughly embarrassed, Gary whipped out his cell phone and called Ben Crenshaw, telling the two-time Masters champ, “You need to take a second look at the thirteenth hole. A big hitter just drove one straight up the fairway and over the edge.”

Stephanie Wie in bunker at Kapalua

Yes, it's Wei. (Note treetops behind Garrity bunker.)

The rest, as they say, is history. Crenshaw installed a big bunker to contain bombers like Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson … a bunker named for yours truly. “We’re going to install a plaque there someday,” Gary tells me every time I return to Kapalua to cover the Hyundai (formerly Mercedes) Tournament of Champions. He adds, “We’re still working on the wording.”

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