Arizona Golf Vacations

Grayhawk Golf Club: The Raptor Course Review

By • Jul 9th, 2009

If you’re trying to figure out whether or not to go test your game at one of Grayhawk’s two championship golf courses, you don’t have do much more than turn on television coverage of any PGA Tour tournament. Not only does the Raptor Course host the Open on the PGA Tour, but the unmistakable Grayhawk logo is perched on the front pocket of Phil Mickelson’s golf bag.

Grayhawk Golf Club Raptor

Phil “The Thrill” is Grayhawk’s PGA Tour representative and has been so since the clubs opening in December of 1994. If it’s good enough for the three time major champion, it’s certainly good enough for you.

Opened in November of 1995 the Tom Fazio designed Raptor Course is the tougher of the two championship courses at Grayhawk. It stretches back to 7135 yards from the Raptor Tees, with a slope/course rating of 143/74.1.

But I feel that you have to discard the overall yardage on the scorecard because of the variety of clubs you must hit off the tees. There is a clever mix of long, mid-range, and short par 4’s that require anything from the “swing-out-of-your-shoes” driver or as far down as a four or five iron for placement.

Like many courses in The Valley, there are some fairways that are bowled in to keep the slightly stray drive in play, but don’t count on it on every hole. The 10th is a good example of that.

“Quill Creek” plays 390 yards and is likely not a driver for the longer hitters. While the fairway appears generous if you lay back, it doesn’t play as wide as it looks due to the gentle slope to the right. And since there is one of those magnetic creeks that guards the right side of the fairway, many-a-ball finds itself being barked at to “sit!” or “grow teeth!” as it tumbles towards the meandering red-staked hazard.

While the 10th plays fairly strait away, the aforementioned creek slices across the fairway about 280 yards from the tee and makes its way dangerously close to the left edge of the green. The green sits elevated above the creek, and the putting surface slopes snidely to the left. Bail too far right on your approach and you could be fishing your 3rd shot out of the babbling brook, and looking at a huge number to start the back nine.

After hopefully taking advantage of the fairly forgiving par 5 11th, the next hole, named “Mountain Lion,” will have you praying for a par.

This long, uphill par 4 plays to 468 yards from the tips. A good tee shot will leave nothing less than a long iron or fairway wood for most players. The green also sits elevated from the fairway and features three tiers and enough slope to keep a skier happy. Finding the green is one task, finding the right level is the true test. Avoid the massive greenside bunker to the front and right of the green and remember that pars are hard to come by at the tough 12th.

Fazio’s creativity on this Arizona golf course is put to the test at the festive short par 4, 15th. While it played as the course’s best birdie opportunity during the PGA Tour’s Open last fall with a sporty 3.51 scoring average, there are more than a few ways to screw it up.

Playing only 332 yards and gently downhill, many players will elect to try and thread their tee ball down the chute of the fairway and get the ball just in the front of the green. While the reward may be a short pitch for your second, the risks are imminent. A boulder-rich desert reaches out to guard mishit shots to the right, and a spattering of small trees can obstruct any shot hit left.

The strategy of the tee shot can be heavily depicted by the pin placement on this shallow, slopey, and wide green. Bunkers await any misjudgment of distance if the pin is cut on the more forgiving right half of the green, while the skinny back left portion is protected by rough-laden slopes long and left. A large yawning bunker will swallow anything short and leave most players in serious jeopardy of a bogey or worse.

Grayhawk Golf Club Raptor #2Catch your breath walking up the hill off the back of the 15th and steady yourself for your next swing, it will need to be a good one.

Most people might look at the 230 yard par three 13th and assume that it is harder than the slightly shorter 16th. Think again. “Little Creek” stretches to 211 yards from the tips and plays slightly downhill, which is the holes only reprieve. Any ball slightly left of the putting surface will surely find the winding creek that frames the holes beautifully. Don’t be lulled by the bucolic scene from the tee, only precisely struck shots will find the green. While there is enough room to bail out on the right,  the area is hidden by a desert outcropping. Don’t fret a bogey at the 16th, even the big boys struggled here. This hole played as the toughest on the course last year at the PGA Tour’s Open.

Built is 1995, before the driver technology boom, Tom Fazio didn’t have to deal with worrying about 350 yard drives in designing the Raptor Course. He didn’t intend the downhill 521-yard 18th hole to be as reachable as it is today. The long hitters will only be striking a middle iron for their second to this water-guarded green. However, for the Open they play this hole as a par 4, which significantly changes the mindset standing on the tee.

The same creek that guards the 10th hole also borders the right side at the closing hole, and similarly to the 10th, the fairway slightly slopes that direction. A large bunker looms on the left side, laying in wait to gobble up pulled tee shots. Any drive that finds the bunker will be cause for a certain lay up.

Standing in the fairway looking down the hill at the 18th green is a majestic sight. The large outdoor seating area for Phil’s Grill sprawls behind the pond that dwarfs the green. The green sits on a little peninsula, with water surrounding the front, right and backside of the green. While the obvious miss is to bail left, either into the large bunker or even on the grass left of that, a miss on that side can leave a ticklish 3rd to the right-sloping green. This is just one of those holes that the water is in play on every shot, until you get your ball safely on the green, with your putter in hand.

I personally love the 18th hole as a par 5 because it offers great chance for a closing birdie or eagle that can change the taste of your entire day.

All in all, the Raptor Course  at Grayhawk Golf Club offers superb playability and tremendous challenge for any level of player. The variation of long and short holes give ample opportunity for easy birdies as well as tough pars.

Enjoy the simplistic beauty of this Tom Fazio masterpiece and after you enjoy lunch at Phil’s Grill, head over and test your game at Grayhawk’s Talon Course….for more about the Talon Course check back soon!

Other than the current PGA Tour Open the past two years, Grayhawk has also hosted the Accenture Match Play Championship (’95, ’97, ’98), the Target World Challenge in 2000, and the American Junior Golf Association’s Thunderbird International Junior (2000-present).

Other Awards and Accolades:

  • Golf Magazine – “Top 100 You Can Play in the U.S.”
  • Golf Magazine – “Top 10 New You Can Play”
  • Golf Digest – “Top 10 in the State You Can Play”
  • Golf World – “100 Best Golf Shops”

Director of Golf Joe Shershenovich was also named “Southwest Section PGA Professional of the Year” in 2003 as well as “1997 PGA of America Merchandiser of the Year.”