Talking Stick Golf Club co-hosts the GCSAA Golf Championships

The GCSAA Golf Championships invade Arizona in 2024 for the first time in 33 years.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Superintendent Paul Blumke will be right in the middle of the action when Talking Stick GC in Scottsdale, Ariz., serves as a host for the GCSAA Golf Championships in January. Photo by Fred Newman

You’ll have to excuse Paul Blumke for not entering the field in the upcoming GCSAA Golf Championships, presented by The Toro Co. “I’d like to play,” Blumke says, “but I’ll be a little busy.”

Hundreds of golfers, many just like him, will understand. As they shoot for a trophy, Blumke will focus on providing exemplary conditions for their golf games in the Arizona desert. Blumke, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 25-year association member, oversees the 36-hole Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, one of the facilities playing host to tournament action Jan. 27-29. Talking Stick will be the site of play in the Four-Ball competition Saturday, Jan. 27, as well as the Golf Classic on Sunday and Monday, Jan. 28 and 29.

Besides Talking Stick, two other desert standouts will host GCSAA play. Camelback Golf Club and its Ambiente and Padre courses will be the site for the National Championship, while Whirlwind Golf Club at Wildhorse Pass in Chandler will host Four-Ball and Scramble events at its Cattail and Devil’s Claw courses (see “Crash course(s)” on Page 42).

This will be the first time since 1991 that the GCSAA Golf Championships are held in the Grand Canyon State (fun fact: The GCSAA Conference and Trade Show was staged in Las Vegas that year and began the day following the golf tournament in Scottsdale). Another piece of trivia: Talking Stick didn’t open until seven years later, in 1998.

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Talking Stick GC maintenance team member Michael Heusman at work. Photo courtesy of Paul Blumke.

Inside the competition

2024 marks the 74th playing of the GCSAA tournament and is a milestone year for the partnership between the association and Toro — this will be the 30th consecutive year that the equipment company serves as the primary sponsor of the event.

The GCSAA Golf Championships offer a competition for players of all skill levels and interests. Here’s a quick primer on the different competitions and divisions of play available:

National Championship: The competition for the association’s best players is a 36-hole, stroke-play event. Qualifying members (Class A, B, C, retired members in those three classes and AA-Life) within a handicap index range as determined by tournament officials (not to exceed 5.0) are eligible.

Golf Classic: Players in this competition are flighted by handicap for 36 holes of golf using the point quote system. Three senior flights are available for those who indicate a desire to play in a senior flight, and all affiliate members will be placed in the affiliate flight regardless of age or handicap index. All flights in the Golf Classic crown winners in both a gross and net division.

Four-Ball: The Four-Ball is a two-person team, best-ball competition that features three flights determined by net team handicap, with gross and net divisions in each flight.

Scramble: A fun, four-person team event that uses traditional scramble rules. Players choose the best drive from the group and play from there, repeating the process until completing the hole.

Chapter Team: This competition uses scores from players in the National Championship and Golf Classic. Chapter teams are traditionally five players each, but only the top four scores from each day of play are used to determine the chapter team’s score. Players may not compete on more than one team.

For more information about the GCSAA Golf Championships and to register, visit Early bird registration rates are available through Oct. 8, with advance registration rates available through Dec. 3. Standard registration ends Jan. 7.

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Youth golfers participated in the Notah Begay III Junior Golf Championships at Talking Stick in May. GCSAA, Harrell’s and the Notah Begay III tournament teamed up to educate youth on turf management careers. Photos by Howard Richman

Two of a kind

For the last dozen years, Blumke has overseen the premises that were envisioned by the design team of Coore & Crenshaw, whose goal was to deliver two decidedly different layouts. The O’odham Course (formerly the North Course) is a links design with grasslands and unique bunkering that features crowned greens. It has changed since Blumke arrived. “There were no trees, but Mother Nature changed that. You play angles,” he says. 

The Piipaash Course (formerly the South Course) and its mountain backdrop offers a more traditional layout, with tree-lined fairways and water features. “It’s more parkland — more trees, normal rough cut, elevated greens,” Blumke says. 

Both courses feature MiniVerde bermudagrass greens and 419 bermudagrass tees, fairways and roughs. When the GCSAA Golf Championships come to town, greens will be overseeded with Poa trivialis, with perennial ryegrass on everything else.

“There’s no gimmicks. It’s fun to play,” Blumke says of the two courses.

Westward expansion

A native of Fond du Lac, Wisc., Blumke was guided toward a path in golf course management by Wayne Kussow, a renowned soil science instructor at the University of Wisconsin. But it was Blumke’s grandparents who provided an extra push into the business when they transformed a farm into a driving range, later adding a nine-hole course that, in time, became 18 holes known as Oakgreen Golf Course & Driving Range.

How Blumke arrived at Talking Stick is a story in itself. “It was out of necessity. I needed a job,” Blumke says. “I knew what I wanted to do. I just stuck with it.” After serving as an assistant in Wisconsin, including a stint at Kenosha Country Club, Blumke moved west, landing in Bakersfield, Calif., 15 years ago as a grow-in assistant at the then-under-construction McAllister Ranch Golf Course. Blumke was tantalized by the opportunity there — until the economy tanked in 2007. “We went from nothing to ready to open, but then it never opened,” says Blumke, who was there less than one year. “I was disappointed to see it fall apart. It was hard to watch.”

Although the land on which McAllister Ranch was located remains unfinished, Blumke is squarely focused on the here and now. That’s exactly what his parents, David and Cheryl Blumke, expected. “He’s very ambitious as far as work ethic. He sets goals. He has things he’s shooting for in his career and what he wants to do in life,” David Blumke says. “There’s a lot of satisfaction maintaining a golf course.”

Talking Stick General Manager Roy Smith certainly is extremely satisfied with Blumke’s performance. “Paul Blumke is the best superintendent that I have had in my 15 years in the golf industry. He is the same guy every single day. No matter the challenge, which there have been many, he keeps his cool and gets the job done,” Smith says. “He understands the business and is willing to compromise on just about anything. His course conditions have been the most consistent I have ever seen, which speaks to a sound program and keeping his staff engaged. He takes pride in his work and in lifting up his staff members when he can.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Blumke received an honor for growing the game during the Notah Begay III tournament.

Community center

Talking Stick features a 12-acre driving range that is 150 yards wide by 360 yards long, making it the largest public practice facility in the valley, according to the club. The club is on tribal land belonging to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which encompasses 56,000 acres with 12,000 registered community members. The community owns both courses. 

Two years ago, the tribal council decided to incorporate American Indian names into the two courses. The O’odham is named for the Pima tribe and the Piipaash for the Maricopa tribe. The courses are the site each spring for the Scottsdale Open, which showcases professionals and amateurs.

There’s also this: Talking Stick is a partner with The First Tee of Phoenix, a program that gives kids enriching experiences on the course. Talking Stick was the program’s 14th location nationwide. 

For Blumke, he’s situated right where he wants. Come late January, he’ll be right there when the GCSAA Golf Championships visit to give his place(s) a try. 

“I’m excited. It’s a little nerve-wracking to have all your peers take a look around,” Blumke says, “but I know we’ll put our best foot forward.”

Crash courses:

Anyone playing in the final round of the GCSAA National Championship at the Camelback Golf Club’s Padre Course might want to seek out Thom Wilbur for advice.

Wilbur has been a fixture at the club for 40 years, so he knows a thing or two (or a thousand) about the place. Although he earned an engineering degree at Arizona State University, Wilbur had designs in another field of interest when he worked during college at Camelback’s Indian Bend Course, which in time had its name changed to Ambiente. “I watered palm trees,” says Wilbur, a 17-year GCSAA member. “I loved what I was doing. Forty years have gone by. Time has flown.”

Wilbur, though, hasn’t gone anywhere. He is joined at Camelback by Greg Brandriet, CGCS, who oversees Ambiente and arrived in late April this year from South Dakota. “He’s catching on quick. It’s a huge change for him,” Wilbur says.

Indeed, says Brandriet, a 14-year association member and a past winner of GCSAA’s Grassroots Ambassador Leadership (GAL) Award, presented quarterly in partnership with The Toro Co. He quickly realized he wasn’t in South Dakota anymore. “I traded in my ski passes for golf passes,” he says. “I’m really excited to be a host for the championships. We’ve got two really good, different courses.”

Here’s a breakdown on all the courses playing host to the GCSAA Golf Championships, Jan. 27-29 in Phoenix:

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course

Talking Stick Golf Club, Scottsdale

  • Events: Four Ball, Saturday, Jan. 27, O’odham and Piipaash courses; Golf Classic, Sunday, Jan. 28, and Monday, Jan. 29, O’odham and Piipaash courses
  • Superintendent: Paul Blumke
  • The 411: Both courses are the work of the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. O’odham is a par 70 that plays 7,133 yards. The par-4 third hole is the No. 1 handicap at 450 yards. O’odham features broad, angular holes, crowned greens and close-cropped approaches. Piipaash, meanwhile, is a parkland-style layout with tree-lined fairways and raised greens defended at the sides, offering a straightforward style of play on the 6,833-yard, par-71 layout.

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course

Camelback Golf Club, Scottsdale

  • Event: National championship, Sunday, Jan. 28, Ambiente Course; National championship Monday, Jan. 29, Padre Course.
  • Superintendents: Greg Brandriet, CGCS (Ambiente); Thom Wilbur (Padre)
  • The 411: Ambiente was designed by Jason Straka for Hurdzan-Fry Environmental Design. It’s a 7,225-yard, par-72 layout that features eye-catching elevation changes and rolling fairways with significant drops. The Padre Course is an Arthur Hills design that showcases towering trees, multiple lakes and impressive bunkering. The par-72 course measures 6,903 yards.

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course

Whirlwind Golf Club at Wild Horse Pass, Chandler

  • Events: Four Ball, Saturday, Jan. 27, Cattail Course; Scramble, Sunday, Jan. 28,  Cattail and Devil’s Claw courses.
  • Superintendents: Matt Bachmann, director of agronomy; Dean Hall, Devil’s Claw 
  • The 411: The 7,218-yard, par-72 Cattail Course displays deep canyons and pristine lakes in the foothills of the Sierra Estrella Mountains. Devil’s Claw is a 7,029-yard, par-72 course with gently rolling fairways, big greens and stunning vistas. Gary Pranks designed both golf courses at Whirlwind Golf Club at Wild Horse Pass.

Howard Richman ( is GCM’s associate editor.