Steven Alker leads the the Charles Schwab Cup money list with $3.3 million in earnings. (Photo by Conor Bonfiglio/Cronkite News)
Phoenix Country Club continues to evolve ahead of Schwab Cup
Lush greens, breathtaking views and a historic, competitive course are a few advantages that venerable Phoenix Country Club provides to its members and the PGA Tour Champions finale, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
The club will host the season-ending event for the world’s leading golf tour for men 50 and older from Thursday through Sunday.
The top 36 players on Charles Schwab Cup points list will compete on the renowned 18-hole golf course at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, but this year’s concluding tournament is a two-man race between Steven Alker and Padraig Harrington.
Alker, who won four times on the Champions circuit this season, holds a commanding 617,980-point lead over Harrington and expects to feel right at home on the Phoenix CC layout.
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“I just like the routing and just the flow (and) the different types of holes,” said Alker, who leads the Charles Schwab Cup money list with $3.33 million in earnings. “As soon as I got here, got on the grounds and saw the golf holes and the routing, I loved (it).”
Phoenix Country Club is a course that has welcomed golf royalty throughout the years, including Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and, just last year, Phil Mickelson. All have won at Phoenix CC in either the Charles Schwab Cup Championship or the Phoenix Open.
In fifth place of the Schwab Cup points sits 66-year-old Bernhard Langer, who won the TimberTech Championship last week. While he can’t overtake Alker with a victory at the Schwab Cup Championship, he could add his name to the illustrious list of winners at Phoenix Country Club and make history while he’s at it.
Langer is one victory away from tying Hale Irwin for the most victories ever (45) on the 50-and-older circuit. However, he has never won a PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions tournament at Phoenix CC and TPC Scottsdale.
Founded in 1899 on Roosevelt and Third Street, the original Phoenix Country Club was just a nine-hole course. The club moved to its current location in 1921, where architect Harry Collis designed a new 18-hole layout that featured oiled sand greens.
The new course gave many members their first opportunity to play on grass-covered fairways, which were a feature of the Collis design. Eventually, the more traditional “parkland” style course at Phoenix CC evolved into a pristine central Phoenix layout that sits in stark contrast to the many “desert” courses that reside in the Valley.
Phoenix CC was the home to the PGA Tour Phoenix Open from 1932 until the tournament moved to TPC Scottsdale in 1986. Yet the club needed an upgrade not long after the Phoenix Open departed.
Eighty-two years after the club moved to its current location on 7th Street and Thomas Road, former professional golfers Tom Lehman and John Fought and their design teams renovated the course.
“All of (Phoenix Country Club’s) features had basically – I wouldn’t say they disintegrated – but they were in disrepair,” said Fought, who described the redesign as a “total rebuild.”
Golfers praise the Phoenix course, in part, because it doesn’t punish them by being too difficult to walk, but the club faced issues, such as over-planted trees and oversized lakes. The design teams of Lehman and Fought took advice from Phoenix Country Club members, including “the Father of the Phoenix Open” Bob Goldwater, to get a better understanding about how the course played and changed through the years.
To improve the experience for club members, Fought and Lehman’s design teams lengthened holes, improved drainage and rebuilt the greens, tees and bunkers. They deepened the bunkers to better fit modern golf and added depth to the greens with designs such as long and sloped patterns.
“When you look back at the historical significance of these old clubs, it’s just so important to kind of keep that in the back of your mind when you’re working on the golf course,” Fought said. “If you don’t honor that, you’re really doing a disservice to the club.”
The design teams upgraded the parkland style and filled it with an abundance of grass and trees, such as Aleppo pine trees. The year-long process revitalized the course, which earned honors from Golf Connoisseur Magazine and Platinum Clubs of America, for longtime members such as Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill and former Philadelphia Phillies player and manager Ryne Sandberg.
“The greens are phenomenal,” said Tiffany Nelson, executive director of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. “Every year, a handful of players say these greens are as good as Augusta (National, home to The Masters), which is a testament, one, to the Phoenix Country Club and to being in the Valley.”
The work will continue beyond the Schwab Cup Championship. Phoenix Country Club is planning to undergo further changes.
Andy Staples, the owner and principal architect of Staples Golf Design, will begin planning and working with club officials this year to address new issues such as daily course conditions and sustainability while also trying to make the course more accommodating for beginners and member families with children.
The club has hosted the PGA Tour Champions finale since 2017, and its tennis facility has been the site of the Arizona Tennis Classic since 2019. In addition to the Phoenix Open, it also played host to the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier.
Alker, Harrington and Langer highlight the Charles Schwab Cup Championship field that will try to add their names to this esteemed list on Thursday.
“This is what the year comes to,” Nelson said. “It’s the season finale, and this is what they look forward to.”