Addition by (Agronomic) Subtraction
Photo courtesy of The Phoenician

Addition by (Agronomic) Subtraction

A reduction from 27 to 18 holes is helping a Scottsdale resort prepare for its next chapter.

June 25, 2019

Tyler Rasmussen has a new toy.
Rasmussen took over as the head golf superintendent at the fully-renovated Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January, two months after the iconic resort’s on-site course reopened following a 10-month renovation by locally-based architect Phil Smith, which took the grounds from 27 to 18 holes.
The overhaul of the Troon-managed course was part of the final phase of a three-year, $90 million resort makeover that includes a new spa, sport courts, athletic club and pool area.
From a turf take, keeping up with the impressive new slew of luxuries comes with a scale of reaction. 
“When I see how great the new, state-of-the-art amenities are, it does put more pressure on the golf course to match the other amenities,” Rasmussen says. “But at the same time, as personally-driven as we are to do our absolute best, it can also take a little pressure off the shoulders to drive all the profits. They spent a lot of money to renovate and to match the renovation work done at the resort. So it’s our job to match those two worlds; to make the course an unbelievable amenity for the resort. That’s the expectation.”
While player reaction to the new layout is fast finding positive traction for a more seamless routing through the Sonoran Desert, the turnaround time puts an onus on the grounds to find full fruition. As of mid-March, the rework continues to mature into its vision.
“It was a pretty quick turnaround, 10 months,” Rasmussen says. “But I’m lucky that I came in to new irrigation, new greens. It’s a new course, it’s great, but there will be challenges.” 
By cutting heights in late winter and early spring, Rasmussen plans an aggressive aerification strategy, coupled with Sapphire treatment.
“The biggest challenge looking forward will be the spring transition; going from the rye back to Bermuda,” he says. “Given the short construction time, some of the final holes that sprigged, they were overseeded 30 days later. So was that turf fully established to a point that it’s gonna come back good in the spring? There will be areas that will be thin, so it’s our responsibility to be on top of all the cultural practices and push that transition early.” 
Included in the renovation are new TifEagle greens. 
“They’re two different stories right now,” Rasmussen says. “Some of them were sprigged, but as the timeline became tighter and tighter, some of them were sodded. So, it will probably be two different types of cultural practices, as far as core aerification, and how much material we’re moving from the sprigged greens to the sodded greens.”
Aiding Rasmussen’s efforts is Toro’s top-of-the-line Lynx system and infinity heads. “It’s a two-wired irrigation system, which is the leading new design,” he says. “You’re no longer dealing with a satellite and station wires running each head. I think the system really simplifies things.” 
From a macro vantage, the Phoenician golf philosophy of adding more with fewer holes is an impression undoubtedly shared by myriad high-end club and resort properties. The course downsize removed 45 acres of turf which, in concert with the new irrigation system, is already bringing returns in water conservation. In turn, published reports suggest that the former golf land will eventually be repurposed for houses and condominium sales. 
Seeking to engage and attract members and guests with more non-golf amenities, luxury brands around the country are actively investing respective attentions (and dollars) into re-routing sport and leisure time.
While the Phoenician’s golf re-work saw a reinvestment into a solvent and popular facility, the decrease of holes to present an improved play and more focused course canvas may well represent the newest of high-end property trends. 
Not that addition-by-agronomic-subtraction is a bad thing. 
“I think that’s more where golf is going,” Rasmussen opines. “I once worked at a different property in Arizona with 45 holes, and that was a lot. It was too much almost to take care of, considering the amount of water and resources needed for the operation. Factoring in the price of equipment, the price of labor, I can definitely see a trend where places with multiple courses or 27 holes, they’re gonna start reducing down to 18 holes.”
Judd Spicer is a Palm Desert, Calif.-based writer and frequent GCI contributor.