Phoenician rises in desert after major facelift

Phoenician

Phoenician rises in desert after major facelift

PGA Tour

Phoenician rises in desert after major facelift

About nine years ago, I made my first and, to this date, only visit to The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was lovely, as befitting a AAA Five Diamond resort.

I recall staying in an elegant, comfortable room and enjoying a delicious Italian dinner al fresco on a pleasant spring evening. I even stopped by the spa for a treatment – not for my body, but rather for my head. The resort’s hypnotherapist put me through a mind-bending exercise that I still remember vividly.

The resort’s golf course also left a strong impression, though not an entirely positive one. It was, as one might expect, impeccably maintained, and benefited from its location at the base of Camelback Mountain, which afforded rare vistas of the valley that other courses in the area simply couldn’t provide.

The problem was, there simply were too many holes – 27 in all – crammed onto a 115-acre site that would make Merion look spacious by comparison. Plus, as Phoenician general manager Mark Vinciguerra noted, the three nines – Canyon, Desert and Oasis – were built at different times, so the design and routing reflected a lack of continuity.

All of which underscores the prudence of The Phoenician’s less-is-more decision to rebuild its golf course and reduce it from 27 to 18 holes. Scottsdale-based architect Phil Smith and contractor Frontier Golf will begin work in January, with plans to reopen Nov. 1.  It is all part of what Vinciguerra likes to call a “transformation” of the highly decorated resort.

The goal of the course redesign is to “raise it to the same quality as the resort,” said Smith, who spent 25 years working with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf and now operates his own design shop.

Smith noted that the site, as currently configured, is so tight that it can be confusing to navigate, with players sometimes required to backtrack to the next tee. He’ll create a contiguous routing with “straightforward design and strategy” that’s tailored for mid-handicappers who might only be visiting for a day or two.

“The holes were a little tricked up,” Smith said. “Some of that can have novelty, but after a while, the novelty wears off. … For me, resort golf means you shouldn’t have blind hazards, things should be out in front of you.”

Even with nine fewer holes, the rebranded Phoenician Golf Club’s routing will be cozy. What it lacks in space it makes up for in setting. In pan-flat Scottsdale, the layout boasts about 100 feet of elevation thanks to its proximity to the mountain.

Smith is particularly pleased with his plans for the closing three holes – a short par 4, a modest par 3 over water and a potentially reachable par 5 – which he hopes will leave guests wanting more.

“I like to finish courses with half-pars.” Smith said. “… I just want to make people feel when they come off the golf course, ‘Hey, I just birdied one or two of the last three, and the first thing I want to do is head back to the pro shop and play again.’ ”

The work on the golf course is one of the most prominent aspects in the reinvention of The Phoenician, which will mark its 30th anniversary in 2018. It’s not as if the resort is rising from the ashes. It’s arguably the most decorated property in the market. The Phoenician’s boutique Canyon Suites hotel, which is geared toward couples, is the only lodging in the Phoenix area awarded both AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star ratings. But Vinciguerra said that Host Hotels & Resorts, which bought the resort in 2015, knew it couldn’t stand still in a market packed with luxury resorts.

“It’s become so competitive that if you don’t maintain your facilities and your service, your business is going to erode because you have so many (competitors) around you,” said Vinciguerra, who has been at the resort 15 years.

All of The Phoenician’s rooms got a makeover last year. The spa was gutted and is scheduled to reopen in mid-March with 24 treatment rooms. A third floor is being added with an open-air pool and cabanas so that guests can enjoy the mountain views.

That same scenery will serve as inspiration for guests exercising in the new, two-story Athletic Club, with its floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s scheduled to open in the spring. Aside from a 4,600-square-foot fitness center with equipment offering hundreds of virtual classes, the Athletic Club also will be home to racket sports, basketball and less-intensive activities.

There’s more; common areas, restaurants and pools have been recreated. Vinciguerra is mum on the cost of this resort-wide transformation, but the scope of the project and the prospect of seeing Smith’s course redesign next November makes The Phoenician a resort to watch in 2018.

(Note: This story appears in the Nov. 27, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

Latest

More Golfweek
Home