When geese form their vees and mornings are crispier than the fallen leaves, we migrate back to Arizona where sun deprivation is an oxymoron. Fly to Phoenix’ Sky Harbor International airport and join the fun in the valley of the sun. With over 300 golf courses and much more to explore, here are a few favorites.
Start in Scottsdale at the Xona Resort and all your golf and activities will be arranged. Or stay at the luxurious Fairmont Scottsdale Princess whose Willow Stream spa features unique amenities such as the Havasupai waterfalls al fresco, and rooftop pool facing Camelback Mountain. Next door is the TPC Stadium Golf Course, home to the Phoenix Open. Famous for its football stadium style, rowdy 16th hole and the Birds Nest with live music, it boasts the largest attendance on the PGA tour in February. Nearby is a smorgasbord of top courses, notably Troon North’s Monument and Pinnacle, and Grayhawk’s Raptor and Talon, providing premium golf and real estate for quails, bobcats and celebrities. The Westin Kierland brings Scotland to Scottsdale with the option of playing in kilts, toting your clubs on a segway, scotch tasting and the occasional bagpiper off the 18th green.
Just minutes away, Fountain Hills delivers dramatic desert views at several courses, including SunRidge Canyon where javelinas (wild desert boars) graze on prickly pear cactus. At Eagle Mountain, par 4’s are tempting to drive, but an errant shot could lead to lost balls, guarded by desert reptiles amidst the thick, prickly, and rocky hillsides. We-Ko-Pa, next to the Fort McDowell casino usually ranks in the top 5 for Arizona golf with a serene and challenging 36 holes managed by Derek Crawford, whose other brother Daryl manages the Karsten ASU course in Tempe. Designed by Pete Dye, it is conveniently close to the airport, for tee times coming and going.
Proceed north to Rancho Manana in Carefree, whose cottonwoods and adobe buildings create a truly old ranch feel, where movie stars would retreat. You almost expect to see Ronald Reagan sitting on the hood of a Hudson wearing his fedora hat. The course traverses the hills and canyons of Cave Creek requiring accurate tee shots and a great short game. Nearby Desert Forest’s unusual layout is absent of fairway bunkers, out of bound markers, and water hazards. One of the most awarded courses in America, the undisturbed desert provides the architecture and challenge to reward patience and control. Also in Carefree, the Boulders’ 36 holes of target golf are a real desert treat where fairway rabbits at dusk bring coyotes out of the hills for dinner. Retreat to their Golden Door Spa for healthy rejuvenation.
Westside of Phoenix, Happy Valley Road off I17 leads golfers to a happy place, through the grand entrance of Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia. Reasonably priced, the fairways are guarded by native grass where chipmunks frolic on a sunny day but where you do not want your balls to stray. Continue north on I17 to Arizona Highway 179, and you will never forget the moment you first behold the magnificent Red Rock formations of Sedona that envelope your very soul. As you play Sedona Golf Resort, glance back from the 4th green and you don’t know whether to golf or pray; the scenery is that intense. At the 5th tee box, praying seems the best option as the distance is 623 from the tips and against the wind. This course will make a believer out of you. Believe the starter about the tricky undulating greens and believe this beauty is unmatched. The towering cliffs of red sandstone against a blue sky, continue this truly unique landscape at the Robert Trent Jones designed Oak Creek Country Club in Sedona. Pink jeep tours explain the history and vortex phenomenon. When in Sedona, we always eat at Shugrue’s Hillside. The spectacular views and cuisine are only topped by the entrance of special guests, such as Kathy Whitworth, the ”winningest” golfer in the world. If weather permits, go all the way to see a world wonder, The Grand Canyon. Drive or take the train from Williams. In fall or spring, you might even tee, then ski at Flagstaff.
They never found the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine, but one of Arizona’s best treasures looms in the Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, 45 minutes east of Phoenix. The immaculate condition of 36 holes, set against the stunning backdrop of Superstition Mountain made this a top favorite of the LPGA players over the years. Further east, Gold Canyon’s Dinosaur course is one of the most intriguing layouts with elevated tee boxes, expansive desert and mountain views. Watch the deer prance while roadrunners snatch baby quails out of the sagebrush, ignoring the mothers’ attempts at distracting with a feigned broken wing. En route to these courses visit Encanterra, a special Tuscan kingdom with plush patio furnishings to watch the finishing holes of Tom Lehman’s fun design and the majestic Superstition Mountain beyond. La Casa is one of the most impressive clubhouses in the world.
In South Phoenix, The Raven, the Legacy and Vistal provide great values as well as The Foothills, sentimental to us for our first date, a hot 105 degree round in June. Continue south, stopping at Whirlwind and then Southern Dunes Golf Club. Southern Dunes started out as a private all male club, but soon became all access and then public. It’s funny how the economy changes things. One thing that didn’t change was the layout of a great track. Now owned by Harrah’s Ak-Chin Resort, the sloping fairways with wind-swept sand dunes and prairie grass form a tricky layout for the frequent qualifiers held there.
Southern Arizona offers a more laidback feel. Hear the echoes of cowboys of yesteryear. The Ritz-Carlton Resort and Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, off the 10 freeway, hosts the Accenture Match Play Championships in February. Set within the Tortolita Mountains, Jack Nicklaus’ Signature courses are carved into the canyons and arroyos of rugged terrain that contrast with the emerald shade of the fairways and greens. Every hour shines a different light on the near and distant vistas, while the layout of each hole provides a golfer’s challenge. A rich treat with fair golf rates, most people could live in the well appointed locker rooms. Enter the spa and you will never want to leave.
Ventana means window in Spanish and the Ventana Canyon Golf courses in Tucson provide a spectacular tee to green window to the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon and the valley floor of Tucson below. The oratory senses are delighted as well as the visual, by the symphony of birds and the babbling sound of mountain streams. The steep and famous tee of the par 3 at hole 3 is surrounded by rock boulders looking out to a canyon creek drop off with a target green like the devil’s mouth with only his uvula to land on. Nothing left, right, short or long will suffice. Stay at Lowe’s Resort or the Lodge at Ventana Canyon to book the course and you may decide to join as many discerning members have from New England and all parts of the world.
Tombstone is within an hour of Tucson with daily gunfights and saloons for after golf diversion. Nearby Mount Lemon provides a ski and tee opportunity when the snow is right or a nice ride up the lift for hiking when it’s not. South of Tucson, Otero Ranch, the first Spanish land grant in the southwest, was creatively transformed yet preserved as the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa. If the king of Spain had visited, he never would have released it. Made famous first by Bing Crosby’s purchase and later by the movie Tin Cup, starring Kevin Costner and Renee Russo, the resort was a favorite of the Duke, John Wayne and now a favorite of ours. Home to an abundance of rare feathered friends that summon birders with binocs from around the globe, the fairways cross the Santa Cruz River valley, with three separate nines. Since the first fairway is shared by a cow chewing it’s cud alongside its calf, the scorecard rule states, “Ball landing on cow pie: pick, lick, and place no closer to the hole”. The Stables restaurant once housed the horses and the dairy barn with two silos now serves as an elegant furniture and accessory shop. Stay and play in one of the well appointed casitas or haciendas.
Arizona is one of the most diverse states, geographically and culturally. Professional sports, spring training, music, clubs, museums, restaurants and shopping abound. Special events and packages are offered in all parts for great family, singles, couples or business outings. Go to www.scottsdalecvb.com , www.visittucson.org, or www.arizonaguide.com to start planning. Once you try it, you may want to buy and now is a great time for that. North, south, east and west, Arizona golf is the best.