December 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1995 opening of the Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club. The timing could not have been better. Raptor’s launch (and Talon’s debut in ’94) coincided with a golf renaissance. As the industry mobilized to meet swelling popularity, Grayhawk emerged with a new, edgy golf experience driven by Tour-caliber quality mostly found at private clubs – except it was open to everyone.
It all started with the Grayhawk’s first and only director of golf, Joe “Shoe” Shershenovich, although he’d be the first to divert credit to founders, Gregg Tryhus and Del Cochran.
“Gregg and Del sat down and thought about the things they would like in a club. They wanted a place that takes the game seriously, the lifestyle and service seriously, but have the freedom to create a very different experience,” said Shoe. “Hosting special events, and having fun doing it, also was a big part of the vision.”
Raptor sets up for daily play as well as championships, which for once, makes the worn-out “championship course” cliché actually ring true. They even “twisted the arm” of then ASU prodigy Phil Mickelson to become the club’s ambassador, and the 44-time champion on Tour still sports the Grayhawk logo on his bag.
The first professional tournament at Grayhawk Golf Club was the Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf, now known as the WGC-Dell Match Play. Talon hosted the event in 1995 and Raptor in 1997 and 1998, with the likes of Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie crowned champions. In 2000, Raptor hosted the Williams World Challenge, predecessor of the Hero World Challenge, featuring 12 of the world’s best. Local Tom Lehman won by three over David Duval, for those keeping score at home.
Although the pros seem to get all of the attention, Grayhawk supports amateur golf too. Recently, Raptor was ready for the big dance at the 2020 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Golf Championship. Unfortunately, it was cancelled, but the 2021 and 2022 events are set for the next two years.
In partnership with The Thunderbirds and the Phil & Amy Mickelson Charitable Fund, the Thunderbird International Junior has grown into one of the most prestigious events on the AJGA schedule. Beginning in 2000, Mickelson now competes against players formerly in the field such as Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff, Hunter Mahan, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth.
And last but not least, 60,000 boys and girls on teams spanning all 50 states make their way through local and regional qualifiers to compete on Raptor for the PGA Jr League Championship, 2016-2022.
“We’ve ended up covering a wide range,” said Shoe. “Youngsters could play PGA Jr League, then the Thunderbird, NCAAs and maybe even a PGA TOUR event someday. Rickie Fowler played in the Thunderbird and then almost won the Frys.com Open.”
The innovation didn’t stop with the burly lineup of tournaments. The clubhouse itself – which opened alongside Raptor – raised eyebrows at the time, especially for an entirely public club. It’s a timber-beam, stacked-stone, Southwestern-lodge-style beauty with the Golf Shop and Trading Company as the pearl. It has operated since day-one as a pure retail environment, with an impressive variety of hip appeal for men, women and children.
Like the golf shop, the restaurants were intended to attract golfers and non-golfers with innovative indoor-outdoor spaces built with the tame weather in mind. The Quill Creek Café overlooks Raptor and the McDowell Mountains. Phil’s Grill is a comfortable sports pub with a collection of his memorabilia on display: Ryder Cup gear; Sun Devils-era persimmon driver; Masters pin flags; and a Talon course-record scorecard, 61, with a bunch of circles.
“F&B and retail tended to be for practical stuff like golf balls or quick bite to eat at the turn,” said Shoe. “Our plan was to elevate both to enhance the golf experience. Coffee at Mojo, shopping, cold beer in Phil’s. Make a day of it. Take it all in.”
For several years after opening, things settled into a rhythm until they kicked up a bunch of dust in 2012 with the opening of Isabella’s Kitchen. Fueled by the same outdoor-living style, the restaurant overlooking Talon has taken off like a rocket to become a North Scottsdale hot spot. About the same time, Grayhawk launched the Morning Joint after converting a banquet room into a coffee shop. Part patio and part living room, it’s popular among golfers and locals alike.
Grayhawk’s twist on shopping, dining – and especially golf – settled nicely into the broader golf community over the past 25 years. At the same time hundreds of the game’s best competed for championships, hundreds of thousands of everyday golfers also competed for pride.