Over-the-top mega-courses, with every imaginable amenity, are of course the focus of many golfers. Misted and air conditioned carts and a luxury condo as part of the package are easy to arrange. These courses are perhaps the Holy Grail for golfers, and not to be missed.
But the state is dotted with an enormous variety of other course that offer challenging, exciting play at a fraction of the cost. You never know where they’ll pop up. For a complete Arizona course listing with rating and score cards, go to www.azgolf.org.
Tucson & Southern Arizona
In Southern Arizona, Green Valley is an affordable golf mecca with almost a dozen courses concentrated within a 95-kilometre radius.
San Ignacio, an 18-hole championship desert course, meanders through groves of mesquite, while Haven has attractive, wide fairways that keep even the worst duffer out of trouble. Torres Blancas, another 18-hole championship course, has been sanctioned by the Audubon Society as a provider of habitat for migrating birds. The two 9-hole Quail Creek courses wind through a community of lovely retirement homes.
South of Green Valley, Tubac Golf Resort & Spa is located on the historic Otero Ranch. The 27-hole championship course was featured in the 1996 golf movie Tin Cup starring Kevin Costner. At a couple of points fairways cross the Santa Cruz River, and a challenging par-3 hole has an island green. Adjacent to the resort, Tubac Village is a renowned arts colony with interesting galleries, boutiques and crafts shops.
Half an hour south of Tubac in Rio Rico, Esplendor Resort offers a Robert Trent Jones Sr. 18-hole championship course. Fairways, along the Santa Cruz River, are lined with huge cottonwood and mesquite trees, requiring skill in shaping shots. Because fairways are tee to green, it is high-handicap friendly, but also offers significant challenges for long hitters.
Farther south, Kino Springs Golf Course in Nogales is a regulation 18-hole course with vastly different front and back nines. Situated in grasslands ranching country on the historic Estancia Yerba Buena Ranch, it’s on a major North American flyway and attracts an amazing number of bird species.
Sierra Vista CVBFort Huachuca, a bit further east in Sierra Vista, is best known as a military base, but its Mountain View Golf Course is open to civilians. The 18-hole course follows the base of the Huachuca Mountains and has water on five holes.
Tucson golf courses run the gamut from desert to Scottish traditional, and everything in between. Standouts in the uber-golf category include the Canyon and Mountain courses at Loews Ventana Canyon (stay for dinner at the Ventana Room, one of two Five Diamond restaurants in the state). The PGA tour often has been held at the 27-hole Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Facility at J. W. Marriott Starr Pass. The challenging up-and-down terrain in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains creates spectacular vistas. Jack Nicklaus designed the course at the Westin La Paloma, which is known as one of the top courses in the country for both men and women golfers.
Metropolitan Tucson CVB
Golf that’s more moderately priced is available at Tucson’s Arthur Pack Desert Golf Club, El Rio Golf Course characterized by flat terrain and mature trees, and the North and South Courses at Randolph Park, where the PGA was held a number of times. The long and challenging North Course has eucalyptus-lined fairways and sneaky water hazards. At Tucson’s Santa Rita Country Club it’s hard to keep your eyes off the gorgeous mountain scenery and on the ball. Heritage Highland is another course where views take centre stage. The course meanders through the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains.
Raven Golf Club at Sabino Springs, a newer course, is known for its preservation of native plants and ecological sensitivity in leaving desert springs undisturbed. Among all the desert courses in the Tucson area, the 27-hole Tucson National is a standout as a more traditional course. Generally considered one of Arizona’s top ten golf courses, the Golf Club at Vistoso (an upscale subdivision north of Tucson) was designed with the desert in mind. Native vegetation has remained undisturbed, which adds greatly to the beauty of the landscape. Among more water-oriented courses, Silver Belle Golf Course follows the west bank of the Santa Rita River. With multiple lakes and a flat terrain it is a forgiving course unless the Santa Rita intervenes.
Phoenix & Central Arizona
The Phoenix/Scottsdale area has become legendary for over-the-top courses that attract players from all over the world. Most notable are Troon North where 36 holes of superb golf are woven into the Sonoran desert, TPC Stadium Scottsdale, the home of the PGA Tour’s FBR Open and Grayhawk, where the Talon and Raptor courses wind through stunning desert landscape. The two 18-hole courses called We-Ko-Pa in Fountain Hills on Scottsdale’s eastern edge are owned by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, and were recently ranked by Golfweek as the #1 public access course in Arizona.
There are also plenty of courses that offer more affordable golf. The three 9-hole courses at the Kierland Golf Club create 27 holes of championship golf that’s attractive even in the summer because it offers air conditioned golf carts. A notch in price below the area’s top tier courses, Camelback Golf Club is Arizona old-school golf at its best. Mature trees, great views of Camelback Mountain and classically styled holes create a memorable golf experience on this American links-style course.
With three 18-hole courses to choose from, the Wigwam Golf and Country Club in Litchfield Park truly has something for everyone. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed the Gold course in the 1960s, and it’s been renowned as a classic ever since.
Local golfers consider TPC Champions one of the best values in town. It provides public golfers with a tour-caliber course that can be walked, and balances strategy with design so as not to favour any one type of player. Sanctuary Golf Club, a Scottsdale city-owned golf course at Westworld, is not only a superb 18-hole course, but is the first course in Arizona to garner the prestigious Audubon Signature Status as a haven for native plants and wildlife. McCormick Ranch Golf Club in the heart of Scottsdale features two championship courses. It’s been around for 37 years and tends to be overlooked, but it’s fun and sporty to play and the price is right.
In Phoenix, the revamped Papago Golf Club recently hosted the LPGA event. The course has been a local secret for years, attracting golfers of all levels with its iconic red buttes that provide terrific scenery. Eighteen-hole Encanto Golf Course in central Phoenix is the state’s third oldest course. Wide, level fairways and a limited number of obstacles mean you can’t get in too much trouble here. In Cave Creek, just north of Scottsdale, Rancho Mañana’s par 70 championship layout takes on some of the rustic charm of the historic dude ranch that now is part of the resort property. The course poses a significant challenge for low handicappers, but is satisfyingly playable for golfers at all levels.
Desert Canyon Golf Club in Fountain Hills is a desert mountain layout that plays through an upscale residential community. With strategic elevation changes and classic views of iconic Four Peaks, it accommodates all levels of play with challenging, interesting holes. In North Mesa, Longbow Golf Club was redesigned in 2003. This mid-range 18-hole course is ideal for all-around play.
Ocotillo Golf Resort in Chandler is managed by renowned Troon Golf, which means players enjoy the highest standards of service and course conditions. The traditional-style course with three nine-hole courses is known as one of the state’s finest daily-fee facilities. Also in Chandler, San Marcos Golf Course has a past studded with presidents, dignitaries and celebrities. Opened in 1913, the course is nestled in the midst of a property that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Its 18 holes are lush, beautiful and challenging.
In the shadow of the legendary Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction, at Gold Canyon Golf Resort players can choose from two Golf Digest four-star rated championship courses. The Dinosaur Mountain course has been rated the #1 public course in Arizona for two consecutive years. Aptly named, the Sidewinder course snakes around the base of Dinosaur Mountain, through natural arroyos and dry creek beds. Both provide a Sonoran Desert experience that’s big on scenery and challenges.
Just south of Phoenix’s beautiful South Mountain, Whirlwind Golf Course at SheratonWild Horse Pass Resort & Spa offers 36 holes of championship golf woven around the cultural heritage of the Gila River Indian Community. The Gary Panks-designed courses take full advantage of the scenic beauty of the mesquite, saguaro, paloverde and cottonwoods that dot the course. Golfweek magazine recently named Whirlwind as a “Course of Distinction” among its list of the top resort courses in the United States. For an apres-golf treat, the resort’s Aji spa offers muscle-relaxing massages designed specifically for golfers.
Sundance Golf Club in Buckeye, in West Phoenix, offers dramatic views of the White Tank and Estrella Mountains from its challenging 18 holes. The Greg Nash-designed course blends the best of the desert with occasional areas that are lush and green. Another Greg Nash design, Hillcrest Golf Course, entices players to Sun City West. A previous host of LPGA and Senior PGA events, it’s noted for tall palms, rolling terrain, bold bunkers and sparkling lakes.
South of Phoenix in Casa Grande, Francisco Grande Golf Club is the longest course in the state. The site was the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants in the 1960s and the course was built to entertain players when they weren’t training. Remnants of those days are apparent in the bat-shaped pool and wading pool in the shape of a ball. A “visor” extends from the top of the resort tower building.
Rancho de los Caballeros Golf Club, part of a historic guest ranch in Wickenburg, gets rave reviews from low handicappers for unexpected challenges. The Signature hole number 13 is consistently rated as one of the state’s most challenging par fives. Apres golf, schedule some time at the Ranch House Spa for a Golfers Relief Massage.
Page Lake Powell Chamber of CommerceNorthern Arizona
In the state’s northern reaches, even little Williams has a pretty 18-hole golf course. Elephant Rock Golf course is a mature layout named for a nearby rock formation. The back nine were built in the 1920s on the town’s north side by railroad workers. Open seasonally, it closes “when the snow sticks,” says the pro.
Amazing views are the hallmark of Lake Powell National Golf Course. Situated on a high bluff overlooking Vermillion Cliffs, Glen Canyon Dam and beautiful Lake Powell, it’s difficult to know whether to watch the ball or enjoy the scenery. The 18-hole facility is located in Page, on the state’s northernmost border.
North Central Arizona
Courses in mile-high Prescott include StoneRidge Golf Club, where the altitude, and views, can quite literally take your breath away. Considered an adventuresome course for the arroyos, rocks and ridges that frame the fairways, the thrills come at bargain prices. The traditional layout of Antelope Golf Course has been drawing golfers since 1956. Nestled in a pretty valley between the Mingus and Bradshaw mountain ranges, Prescott Golf & Country Club offers great views and lush tree-lined fairways.
Sedona’s red rock country provides spectacular scenic backgrounds for courses in the area. The Sedona Golf Resort winds around the famed sandstone cliffs. Designed by Gary Panks, Golf Digest voted it one of the top five best public courses in the state. In Oak Creek Canyon, the Oakcreek Country Club course, designed by the Jones father and son, fairways are classic tree-lined doglegs. The course, say golfers, is player friendly, allowing room for error and space to recover. Canyon Mesa, an executive course with holes averaging 140 yards, caters to those just learning the game as well as those working on their target golf skills.
Arizona’s West Coast
On Arizona’s West Coast, Yuma attracts snowbirds by the thousands with well-priced, well-kept, challenging courses. Desert Hills municipal is an 18-hole championship course that has hosted professional events that include the Ben Hogan and Nike tour events. The little Foothills Executive Course is a sporty challenge for those who play a shorter game. Westwind Golf Resort is part of an RV park, and offers well-priced play on an interesting course. The 18-hole championship Emerald Canyon Golf Course in Parker is laid out along the scenic Colorado River. Carved out of mountains and canyons, it is considered a hidden treasure for its interesting layout, natural beauty and fees that are substantially below those of metro Phoenix courses.
The Refuge Golf Club in Lake Havasu City is the centrepiece of a private, gated community bordering the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. The 18-hold Arnold Palmer Signature Design is laid out to take advantage of stunning views of the Colorado River and surrounding mountains. Experienced golfers face changing elevations, unique water hazards and formal and wasteland bunkers from the challenging 7,083-yard championship tees, while beginners (and everyone in between) can get the feel of championship golf from the 5,199 yard front tees. A beautiful Tuscan-style clubhouse and full practice facility make play here a world-class golf experience.