Scottsdale golf scene bucks both economic and social trends

Cheyenne Woods at the 2016 JTBC Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa. (submitted photo)

Snow seems to encompass most of the nation during the winter, but while many Americans see fields of white, Valley residents see stretches of green.

That green is reflective of winter temperatures constantly peaking in the 70s, causing many in the Scottsdale and Paradise Valley area to saddle up their golf bags and make a beeline for the nearest golf course.

While golf and the Scottsdale area — which includes Scottsdale and several surrounding cities — seem synonymous, a recent ORCA report, a report to analyze golfing trends, indicates participation is on the rise, increasing .2 percent in rounds played over the past year.

During the same time, markets in Palm Springs, Calif., Las Vegas and the Phoenix Metro area all saw decreases in participation.

The month of December, however, saw a larger discrepancy as the Scottsdale area saw almost a 10 percent increase in rounds played during December 2016 than those in December 2015, according to the report.

Both the Palm Springs and Phoenix markets, however, saw decreases in December 2016 rounds played compared to a year before.

Linda Dillenbeck, an organizer for Scottsdale’s Golf Week, said golf succeeds in the area because of two factors: variety and weather.

“Scottsdale is one of the few areas in the country with a high concentration of really, first-rate golf courses, each of which provides a different experience,” she said Feb. 8 in a written response to e-mailed questions.

With that success comes the need to remain relevant, and Ms. Dillenbeck said the more than 30 Scottsdale area golf courses are starting to take chances in response to the game’s evolution.

“Whether it’s a relaxed dress code, allowing music on the course or offering nine-hole options, they continue to experiment with ways to make the game more enjoyable and allow customers to experience it in a way that meets their desire,” she said.

The change in golf course

Forrest Richardson, a golf course architect, has taken notice of the new direction golf is heading — and has taken that into account with what he calls the “re-invention” of the Mountain Shadow Golf Club in Paradise Valley.

A view of The Short Course at Mountain Shadows that is expected to be opened in conjunction with the Mountain Shadows resort in the Town of Paradise Valley. (Submitted photo).

Mr. Richardson’s re-invention calls for making the course a bit shorter in distance and making all holes par 3, a unique aspect to the area that features select shorter courses.

“As people are more time-urgent, we’re finding in golf that we need to provide opportunities for people to play any number of different types of format,” he said in a Feb. 8 phone interview.

Mr. Richardson said in order to reach that need, developers are making courses with fewer holes or shortening the distance of holes to allow golfers to sneak in a round when they otherwise might not have time to do so.

Shorter courses also serves as an “equalizer” between talent. It forces experienced golfers to play different on shorter holes, while giving inexperienced golfers a better chance to be successful.

The shift is different from the old industry standard of longer, par-72 courses and Mr. Richardson said he expects this trend to continue to make it more accessible to the golfer.

“Golfers who are coming into the game have enough to worry about,” he said. “That’s another thing, Mountain Shadows is perfect for people who are just coming into the game because it’s less intimidating and there’s not as much focus on length.”

More than a “Gentleman’s Game”

Statistics show there is a large gap between men and women who play golf competitively.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, high school boys more than double the amount of girls playing the game and more schools nationwide have boy’s programs than girl’s programs.

At a collegiate level, men’s teams outnumber women’s teams by more than 200, creating a similar gap as the high school level as women golfers account for about half of the total men golfers.

Xavier College Preparatory head girl’s golf coach Lynn Winsor said smaller schools don’t have the resources to sustain both teams.

“Many girls never have the opportunity to learn about golf,” Coach Winsor said in a Feb. 8 statement. “Some school districts offer a boys team and girls can join that team but that happens rarely.”

Every school in local districts, however, have both golf teams with several finding an immense success.

Xavier has won 34 state titles since 1980, winning the title 16 straight years from 1980 to 1995. Xavier is on a six-year winning streak.

Xavier College Preparatory 2016 Golf Team (submitted photo)

Coach Winsor said success comes from sticking close to core values upheld by the school and team.

“We work on building a close team; we provide opportunities for bonding, make sure the golfers study hard, stress to them the importance of practice and competition and lastly we help them in all aspects to live out the Christian Mission of Xavier Prep,” she said.

Of the many young women who have played under Coach Winsor, five have made it to the LPGA Tour.

One of those is Cheyenne Woods, niece of Tiger Woods. Like her uncle, Ms. Woods is one of few African-American professional golfers in the nation.

Like women golfers, minority golfers are in short supply at the professional level. Ms. Woods said since she is one of the few, she hopes to make an impact on young minority golfers

“Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me playing golf,” Ms. Woods said in a Feb. 9 interview. “So hopefully now we’ll see that changing and it will further inspire other young kids.”

The longer Ms. Woods has been on the LPGA tour, the more she has seen minorities join the ranks — a trend she credits her uncle with starting by being the first African-American to win the Masters.

Ms. Woods thinks a few more African-American and Latino golf stars may help grow interest in younger minorities.

Despite the progressive mindset, Ms. Woods said she’s seen challenges that arise from being a minority in golf, ranging from comments to letters saying “they” don’t belong on a golf course.

“It’s crazy to think that people still see it as that,” she said. “But there is so much progress being made and I’m really excited that more black girls are on tour and we’re growing the game every year.”

That growth, Ms. Woods says, can lead to further breaking the stereotype of golf being for a certain group of people and making it more accessible to all.

A birdie approach (Terrance Thornton/Independent Newsmedia)

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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