The State Of The Cart
Once upon a time in the early 20th century, when duffers came to southern Arizona for the warm winter sun, they encountered dirt fairways and oiled sand greens. In mid-century, as golf grew more popular and course designers more skilled, the Sonoran Desert began to bloom with Midwestern-style rolling greens flanked by ponds and trees. Then, in the 1980s, restrictions on water use led to the creation of challenging target courses, with thin ribbons of fairway threading through untamed – and unirrigated – desert terrain.
Today, oiled sand excepted, Arizona offers layouts of every configuration at more than 300 courses, making the state one of the world’s premier golf destinations. Two-thirds of the courses are in Greater Phoenix, with many of the rest concentrated in and around Tucson. With a steady influx of golf schools, golf shops, golf vacation packagers and gated golf communities, the state’s high tee-off profile continues to rise. And deep discounts on green fees in summer, as well as air-conditioned carts, mean golf is never out of season in Arizona.
Some Top Tee-Off Spots
Greater Phoenix: With nearly 200 courses, it’s tough to come up with a definitive “best ” list, but target courses consistently praised include Tom Fazio’s challenging Raptor at Grayhawk in Scottsdale; the Native American-owned We-Ko-Pa on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation, with unobstructed mountain views; and Jay Moorish’s South course at The Boulders in Carefree and his Monument course at the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North, both known for their eye-popping scenery.
Traditionalists enjoy the Scottish-style links laid out by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore at the Talking Stick South course, on land owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community; and the Arizona Biltmore’s Adobe course, created in 1928 by celebrated golf course architect William P. “Billy” Bell and recently revitalized to the tune of $4 million. Pete Dye designed the ASU-Karsten course in Tempe as a bit of a hybrid, adding desert accents to the turfed areas.
The Whirlwind Golf Course at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort boasts turfed areas, along with desert landscape of cottonwood, mesquite, saguaro, native grasses and rolling terrain. The two courses (Devil’s Claw and Cattail – both managed by world famous Troon Golf) feature gradual elevation changes, great bunker designs and multi-tiered greens.
While winter golf in the Valley of the Sun is often at a higher premium, municipal courses like Papago in Phoenix and the Champions course at Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale are both inexpensive and much sought after.
Tucson: Selected as one of Golf Digest’s “75 Best Golf Resorts in North America” the Omni Tucson National Resort overlooking the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains has hosted countless PGA Tour and NCAA events at two distinctly different 18-hole courses (the PGA pros rank the last hole as one of the most challenging finishing holes on the tour). The desert-style target course designed by Tom Lehman combines native desert vegetation with strategic fairway bunkering. Players can approach each hole in a variety of ways, keeping the course challenging and unique with each new round.
The municipal Tucson course at the Fred Enke Golf Course is known for its hilly terrain (golf carts recommended), vast teeing areas, large greens, strategic bunkers and sand traps. With its semi-arid, limited turf design, grass is used only on the tees, ball landing area, and greens, with undisturbed native plants comprising the remainder of the landscaping. Of the city’s five reasonably priced municipal courses, the flagship Randolph, long the site of LPGA tournaments, is a favourite for traditional play,
Tucson CVBPlayers can custom build golf getaways at the Mountain and Canyon courses of The Lodge at Ventana Canyon. Designed by world-renowned golf architect Tom Fazio, these unique resort courses are surrounded by lush, native Sonoran desert vegetation and spotted with majestic saguaro cacti. The changes in elevation and large rolling greens of these award-winning courses create exciting challenges for even the most experienced golfer.
The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa offers packages that combine golf at their three award-winning courses, with fine dining and spa. The luxury property is surrounded by a forest of saguaro cacti in Tucson Mountain Park. The resort’s three nine-hole courses (Rattler, Coyote and Roadrunner) each have their own driving range and putting green, equipment rentals and lessons.
The Rest of the State: In the west, Parker’s Emerald Canyon, following the shores of the Colorado River, leads duffers on a wild but gorgeous golf ride. Near Lake Havasu City, affordable play is found at The Courses at London Bridge Golf Club where memberships can range from unlimited golf to twilight golf to monthly passes on their two courses. Gary Panks had a hand in three top courses to the north, all links-style: Elephant Rocks at Williams, ponderosa pine-shrouded greens at nearly 2,100 metres; the South Course at Antelope Hills in Prescott, offering great mountain and granite dell views; and Sedona Golf Resort, with breathtaking red rock backdrops. The Continental Country Club Golf Course in Flagstaff is an interesting mix of narrow undulating tree-lined fairways and more open meadow-like holes, with moderate to fast greens Down south, the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa boasts a 27-hole championship course designed by Robert “Red” Lawrence and Ken Kavanaugh, and is where many of the scenes in Kevin Costner’s movie Tin Cup were filmed; and the Arnold Palmer-designed Mesa del Sol Golf Club, near Yuma, features 18 championship holes of golf in a picturesque desert setting.
Watching the Pros
Of Arizona’s many golf events, three to check out are the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open (late January/early February; TPC of Scottsdale), the world’s best attended and watched golf tournament; Accenture Match Play Championship (February; Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain in Marana, near Tucson), and boasting a US $8.5 million purse in 2011; and the PGA’s Nationwide Insurance Tour, Gila River Golf Classic.
For additional Arizona travel information and deals, visit www.arizonaguide.com.