SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Whenever a golf course is redesigned to make room for redevelopment, a red flag of concern has to be raised.
Rarely does the course come out better on the other side. Add the celebrated Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club to the list of courses that have been scarred by a future housing development.
The Raptor, originally built in 1995, debuted a new three-hole stretch -- no. 15- No. 17 -- last October. Original designer Tom Fazio rerouted holes 15 and 16 and shortened the 17th hole within its original footprint to allow access to a plot of land that is zoned for development. The club indicated in a press release that there are no plans for building "on the horizon, (but) the renovation ensures that when the time comes, it can be accomplished without interfering with play."
That interference has already taken place. The new holes are being met with mixed reviews. Golf Advisor user danielcbelanger gave the course three stars after seeing the new holes last October. He called the new par 3 at no. 16 "one of the ugliest-designed, par-3 holes for a 'championship' course that I have seen in the valley."
He expressed his displeasure, writing: "I am not sure if I will play Raptor in the future, as I think the new design has been poorly planned and executed. It cheapens an otherwise beautiful and challenging course. Too bad!"
I wasn't overly impressed, either, after playing the Raptor during the final round of the Scottsdale Open in January.
The new routing now makes a U turn after the 14th hole, so that no. 15 runs parallel in the opposite direction. The new 437-yard hole -- which replaces a drivable par 4 -- gives off a good first impression. Two bunkers up the left side of the fairway dominate the view from a slightly elevated tee. The fairway bends right to a tricky green featuring several ridges. It's a solid newcomer.
However, the new 16th hole, a 151-yard par 3 that replaced a much longer one, feels like filler. I wrote in my Golf Advisor review that it's an "eyesore" that looks completely out of place. A front bunker covers the right side of a green, and that's it. It's pretty bland, like eating oatmeal after 15 holes of cheesecake. Every other par 3 on the course is so much better.
The new 17th hole remained a par 4, shrinking in size from a stout 464 yards to a drivable 331 yards. Again, it's a cookie-cutter effort that could have been so much more interesting. The lone bunker near the green isn't really even reachable for most players, who will bang a driver or wood to set up a simple wedge to the original, elevated green. Why not throw in a couple of risk-reward cross bunkers or pinch the fairway tighter with other obstacles?
Thankfully, the course returns to glory for the final hole, a risk-reward par 5. The pond near the 18th green sets up great theater for a tournament. Players who have already completed their round can watch the drama unfold from the chairs and patio near the clubhouse.
Are the changes so awful that I'll never play the Raptor again? Hardly. It's still got some of the best par 5s (nos. 4 and 18) and par 3s (no. 8, named "Aces & Eights") in Scottsdale.
The club's biggest draw remains intact -- its fun, energetic vibe thanks to Phil's Grill, the bar dedicated to Mickelson, and the music jamming on the range. It's a lively atmosphere few public golf courses can match.
The Raptor might have lost a few teeth, but the former host of three Andersen Consulting World Championships (a precursor to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship) in the 1990s and the PGA Tour's Frys.com Open from 2007-09 still boasts enough bite to keep golfers happy most of the time.
Let us know your thoughts about the renovation in the comments below or in a separate customer review.