The Phoenician's makeover continues with opening of new course


When the owners of The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., hired architect Phil Smith to re-create their golf course, they gave him simple guidance.

“The main direction I got was to take out nine holes and see how good a golf course we could put in,” Smith said.

The Phoenician, which debuted Smith’s new design Nov. 1, always has had one of the best sites for golf in the Scottsdale area, thanks to the fact the resort is nestled against Camelback Mountain and some of the holes played around the mountain, creating swings in elevations that golfers wouldn’t typically see in that part of the valley. But there simply were too many holes – 27 in all – crammed into the 115-acre site. On holes around the mountain, golfers were hitting to ribbons of fairway with severe tilt.

Now holes 10-16, which play along the base of Camelback, are wider with less pitch from side to side. Smith eliminated blind shots and blind hazards, and also opened up vistas of downtown Phoenix and surrounding mountain ranges.

“Golf is all about feeling comfortable,” Smith said. “That was my main goal on this golf course. When you stand on the first tee, I want you to feel comfortable about the shot you’re about to hit. If you’re standing there with a big cross-slope and some big bunkers to keep you from falling off the edge, that’s not a real comfortable feeling.”

Smith eliminated about 45 acres of turf, creating more of a traditional Sonoran Desert golf course, while still building wider landing areas to enhance playability. He said that’s been evident to players who have had an early look at the course.

“The feedback I’ve gotten from people walking off is, ‘Wow, there’s actually ample places to play,’ ” Smith said shortly after the reopening of the course.

The new course will play as a par 71 and tip out at 6,518 yards, which Smith said was the absolute maximum he could make it given the constraints of the site. He also found space to expand the short-game practice area.

“My biggest takeaway is, this golf course doesn’t play short. It has teeth in it,” Smith said. “The last thing I wanted was a bunch of guys hitting driver-wedge into holes, and you don’t get that feeling at all.”

Mark Vinciguerra, general manager of The Phoenician, said it wasn’t uncommon over the years for large groups staying at the resort to arrange golf elsewhere in Scottsdale. Now he expects to keep those groups on property to play the new course and spend more money on food and beverage.

“We feel with the golf course and especially the amenities around it – we’ve upgraded our 19th-hole area and a new restaurant that will open in March – we’re going to have more people on the group side and the leisure side who will want to golf here. We’ve budgeted for that,” Vinciguerra said. “We had a weakness in golf; now I would call it a strength. There are some great resorts across the country that don’t have great golf. We were one of those. Now I feel we can make the golf as pleasurable as you want or more challenging if that’s what you want.”

The new golf course is one of the final elements in a resort-wide renovation that began in May 2016 and sheds some light on how competitive the travel marketplace can be, particularly in a resort-rich destination such as Scottsdale. The Phoenician and its adjacent Canyon Suites each have been AAA Five Diamond hotels for more than a decade. The resort’s parent company, Maryland-based Host Hotels, which acquired the resort in June 2015, has invested heavily in the entire property to ensure those ratings don’t slip.

Vinciguerra said the renovations have touched every part of the resort: public areas, all guest rooms, restaurants and amenities, including the spa and fitness area. The final component will be the spring reopening of the clubhouse restaurant, The Phoenician Tavern, formerly known as the Relish Burger Bistro.

“We took three really big weaknesses we had – the fitness facility, the spa and golf – and we’ve elevated them,” Vinciguerra said. “I feel like we have as much to offer as any other resort.” Gwk

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