Amateur hour: A slow warm-up for the Phoenix Open

The 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale.

The 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – File this one in the Tour Pro Wannabe Department: the inaugural Waste Management’s Scottsdale Open, held Jan. 13-15, served as a civilian-hacker lead-up to the big dance Feb. 2-5 when the PGA boys come to town for the Phoenix Open – arguably the wildest week in golf. If you’re planning to attend that shootout, bring a hard hat, preferably the kind with the handy beer-can holder and plastic hose. Very chic, indeed.

More than 100 polo-shirted bruisers ponied up nearly $2,000 per two-man team to compete for trophies, prizes, the odd snifter of cold lager and copious trays of tasty finger food. That and three rounds of high-quality desert golf on a succession of cold mornings made for a nippy if collegial outing. And yes, I confess to telling my group that we were 15 minutes behind schedule due to someone reciting poetry on the first tee: a Robert Frost delay, I called it. Cymbal crash, if you please, and don’t forget to tip your waiter.

There were three flights in the Scottsdale Open (organized in partnership with the genial folks at the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau): gross score; net score and senior-net handicap. Round 1 took place at Troon North Monument, the flagship property of Troon Golf. The Weiskopf/Morrish design defended itself well, owing largely to some devious blind looks and lethal, cactus-strewn waste areas. The Titleist-studded saguaros just off the tee-boxes are simultaneously sad and comical. Maybe Hogan was right about trees being 90 percent air, but it seems cacti attract an inordinate amount of attention from errant drivers of the golf ball.

Once the sun got to work on day two at Grayhawk’s Raptor course, it invited a lazy pace that paired a leisurely front nine with a frustrating 3.5-hour back, making for a long day amidst the rattlers and scorpions. The group in front of us seemed particularly “deliberate” (read: tortoise-like), hovering over each putt as if their very lives depended on it. Adding insult to injury, one of these molasses-moving amateurs aced the Raptor’s par-3 16th – and drove away in a shiny Infiniti convertible as a reward. We were tempted to deflate the tires on the guy’s new ride, but remembered that golf is a gentleman’s game.

Day three went from team best ball to a two-player combined team score at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, which was bearing some of the pointy teeth it will show at the Phoenix Open. The rough was gnarly and the greens were rolling at 11 or so – all that and sadistic Sunday pin placements made the track formidable indeed.

The grandstands at the legendary 16th were all ready to receive thousands of the high-heeled and well-heeled alike come the dimpled-ball Bacchanal.

For the record, MLB hurlers Mark Mulder and Kyle Lohse looked beyond dapper and were killing the ball in the Gross Division, but placed third to a couple of less-famous guys named Rennie and Corderre.

Slow play aside, a good time was had by all, even we lowly scribes bearing witness to it all and playing for sport rather than blood.

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