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Desert Drives

Published: Sep 30, 2011
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We-Ko-Pa Golf Club
Credit: Scottsdale CVB
From the mystical red rocks of Sedona down to the famed fairways in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun, and on to the ponderosa pine lined greens at Williams, Arizona boasts more than 300 golf courses, each with its own unique terrain and challenges. With a climate to be envied – yes, year round play is the reality – golf is never out of season in Arizona.

Two-thirds of the courses are concentrated in the metropolitan Phoenix area (and many others near Tucson) but the more out-of-the-way parts of the state still boast endless sunshine and drop-dead gorgeous scenery, along with the bonus of affordable play, special packages and getaways designed especially for golfers.

Want to hit the ball at some top-notch tee off spots? Arizona has something to suit every skill level, budget and landscape preference.

Ventana Canyon Golf Course
Credit: Tucson CVB
Tucson & South
A member of the Historic Hotels of America, the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa stretches over 200 hectares at the foot of the dramatic Tumacacori and Santa Rita Mountain Ranges. The resort’s three nine-hole championship courses were designed by renowned golf course architects Robert “Red” Lawrence and Ken Kavanaugh, and were featured in Kevin Costner’s movie Tin Cup. Practice facilities include a full-length driving range, putting green, pitching hole and bunker for mastering sand shots. Tubac Golf Resort & Spa has been recognized by Conde Nast Johansens as one of two finalists for the prestigious 2011 Awards for Excellence as The Most Excellent Golf Resort.

For decades, the Omni Tucson National Resort has been hosting prestigious PGA Tour events, played by the very best in the game. Selected as one of Golf Digest’s “75 Best Golf Resorts in North America” the 262-hectare desert resort overlooks the Santa Catalina foothills. As host course for the PGA Tour’s Chrysler Classic of Tucson and the Southern Arizona Open, the resort is home to two distinctly different 18-hole courses. The desert-style target course, designed by Tom Lehman, combines native desert vegetation with strategic fairway bunkering. The PGA pros rank the last hole as one of the most challenging finishing holes on the tour.

Designed by world-renowned golf architect Tom Fazio, the award-winning Mountain and Canyon courses of The Lodge at Ventana Canyon are surrounded by lush Sonoran desert vegetation and spotted with towering saguaro cacti. The elevation changes and large rolling greens create exciting challenges for even the most experienced golfer. The onsite Ventana Canyon Golf Academy offers half-day and full-day instructional programs.

The luxury JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa is surrounded by a forest of saguaro cacti in Tucson Mountain Park. The resort’s three nine-hole courses (Rattler, Coyote and Roadrunner) make up the Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Facility along with a double-loaded driving range, putting and chipping greens, clubhouse and top-quality golf shop with equipment rentals and lessons.

Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa
Credit: Greater Phoenix CVB
Phoenix – Valley of the Sun
Surrounded by the Sonoran Desert, the We-Ko-Pa Golf Club at the Radisson Fort McDowell Resort is a daily fee golf facility that consists of two 18-hole courses. In addition, there is a large practice facility and a full service clubhouse. Golfweek has recently ranked the Saguaro course as the number one public access course in Arizona.

Within minutes of the Phoenix airport are three championship courses operated by two Native American communities, seamlessly blending the state’s most popular game with the natural desert surroundings. At the luxurious Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, the Whirlwind Golf Club covers 37 hectares of turfed area and 60 hectares of desert landscape of cottonwood, mesquite, saguaro and rolling terrain. The club’s 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 developed to challenge golfers of all skill levels. The third course, in nearby Mesa – the new Toka Sticks (on the site of the former Williams Air Force Base Golf Course) – plays 6,700 yards from the back tees and features some terrific holes that will challenge even the best of players. The greens are some of the best in the valley. 


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TPC Stadium Course
Credit: Greater Phoenix CVB
ecently ranked “# 1 in the state” by Golfweek, the Talking Stick Golf Club (also managed by Troon Golf) has two uniquely different golf courses in a spectacular desert setting with vistas of the distant mountains. From links-style adventure through the grasslands to a traditional style of play on tree-lined fairways, there are options for golfers of all skill levels. The club offers the best practice facility in the valley, including a huge putting green and a driving range that is 150 yards wide and 360 yards long.

First class golf experiences are part of the facilities at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, home to some of Arizona’s best courses including the TPC Stadium Course (site of the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open), the TPC Scottsdale Champions Course and Tom Fazio’s challenging links at the Grayhawk Raptor Course. The onsite Fairmont Leisure Services Team is like having your own personal golf concierge.

The Boulders Resort
Credit: Scottsdale CVB
The Boulders Resort in Scottsdale is home to two championship-level, Jay Morrish-designed courses, listed among the finest in the United States. The resort’s Golf Academy offers immersive, multi-day golf packages and one-on-one instruction.

Guests at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale enjoy special privileges at both The Pinnacle and The Monument championship golf courses at Troon North Golf Club, the birthplace and flagship property of Troon Golf. In 2009, Golf Digest named the club among the top 75 best golf resorts in North America. The ball-flight simulator at the club’s Callaway Golf Performance Center provides instant feedback on every swing, allowing players to elevate their play using the same advanced technology used by the pros.

Sedona Golf Resort
Credit: Sedona CVB
Central Arizona
There’s plenty of Western soul in sleepy Wickenburg, a town of cowboys and ranches just 88 kilometres northwest of Phoenix. Golf Digest Magazine ranked the golf club at Rancho de Los Caballeros as one of the top five rated courses in the Phoenix area and one of the top 100 courses in the US. Set at the foot of the scenic Bradshaw Mountains, this lush Sonoran desert course offers beautiful driving ranges in rolling terrain, putting greens, and a short game practice area.

Along the eastern edge of the White Mountains, the Alpine Golf & Country Club (elevation 2,500 metres) is the highest golf course in the Southwest. Constant breezes create the coolest summer golfing in the state. Alpine’s course fairways are surrounded by dense groves of aspen trees, blue spruce and ponderosa pines, and the majority of greens are small and fast.

Designed by course architect Gary Panks, the 18 holes of the Sedona Golf Resort flow through a cedar-strewn valley between the area’s famed red rocks. The championship course receives a continuous four-star rating from Golf Digest. One of the most photographed holes in the western United States, the sweeping view of Cathedral Rock from the tenth hole is often heralded as the most breathtaking in all of Arizona golf.

Lake Powell National Golf Course
Credit: Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce
Northern Arizona
Near Flagstaff, the Continental Country Club Golf Course is an interesting mix of narrow undulating tree-lined fairways and more open, meadow-like holes, with moderate to fast greens. The pros on staff teach all levels from individual to small group classes, as well as regular clinics.

At the Lake Powell National Golf Course in Page, the 18-hole championship course sits atop a high mesa with stunning vistas of the Vermillion Cliffs, Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. The course includes full practice facilities with a driving range and two putting greens. Several hotels in the Lake Powell area offer popular “stay and play” packages.

The air is cooler at Williams, one of the gateway towns to the Grand Canyon and the home of the municipal Elephant Rocks Golf Course, one of the top courses in Northern Arizona. At 2,100 metres above sea level, Elephant Rocks is a perfect escape from the summertime heat of the valley. The 18-hole course winds through a forest of tall ponderosa pines and tree-lined fairways. In 2000, architect Gary Panks redesigned the layout, adding nine holes to create championship play while still retaining the character of the original design.

Arizona’s West Coast
Designed by Arnold Palmer, Mesa del Sol Golf Club near Yuma features 18 championship holes of golf in a tranquil desert setting. A recent renovation of the on course bunkers and upgrading in the clubhouse, the stunning desert setting, plus reasonable green fees make this one of the most picturesque and affordable golfing experiences in the Southwest.

At Parker, Golf Digest calls the Emerald Canyon Golf Course – carved out of the landscape overlooking the Colorado River – as the “best bargain in Arizona” and “a four-star rating.” In addition to the 18-hole par 72 championship course, there are two practice greens, a putting green, lighted driving range and full-service pro shop.

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. Players have a view of the famous London Bridge (transplanted here in the late 1960s), Lake Havasu and the surrounding high desert.

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