Desert character. It can’t be conjured, landscaped or kindled with twinkling bulbs. John Ford knew that. So did Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis L’Amour. Spend a few days in Greater Phoenix and you’ll understand, too. America’s sixth-largest city still has cowboys and red-rock buttes and the kind of cactus most people see only in cartoons. It is the heart of the Sonoran Desert and the gateway to the Grand Canyon, and its history is a testament to the spirit of Puebloans, ranchers, miners and visionaries. This timeless Southwestern backdrop is the perfect setting for family vacations, weekend adventures or romantic getaways. Each year, 14 to 16 million leisure visitors travel to Greater Phoenix. They enjoy resorts and spas infused with Native American tradition, golf courses that stay emerald green all year, mountain parks crisscrossed with trails, and sports venues that host the biggest events in the nation. The best way to learn about America’s sunniest metropolis, of course, is to experience it firsthand. The following information will give you a snapshot of what to expect before your visit and provide sound reference material after you leave.
Greater Phoenix encompasses 2,000 square miles and more than 20 incorporated cities,including Glendale, Cottsdale, Tempe and Mesa. Maricopa County, in which Phoenix is located, covers more than 9,000 square miles. Phoenix’s elevation is 1,117 feet, and the city’s horizon is defined by three distinct mountains: South Mountain, Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak.
Windswept rural Scotland might be the birthplace of golf, but sun-burnished Phoenix seems divinely suited for the game. Shrouded by mountains on three sides and covered by a canopy of near-perpetual blue sky, Phoenix and its neighboring communities are home to more than 200 courses. Many of those courses were designed by the greats, and most don’t have merely one signature hole, but many. Some courses occupy desert canyons where civilization feels a world away, while others are part of opulent resorts where golfers can indulge themselves with a post-round spa treatment.
Greater Phoenix’s golfing roots are a century old. In 1910, nine holes were laid out on oiled dirt at the Ingleside Inn in then-sleepy town of Scottsdale. Early courses were built near canals and irrigated by flooding them with canal water. These days, Scottsdale is home to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which annually attracts 500,000 boisterous fans to the TPC at Scottsdale, making it the best-attended event on the PGA Tour. Since taking over as title sponsor of the Phoenix Open, Waste Management has put an increased effort in reducing energy usage and increasing recycling, making the Phoenix Open the “greenest” tournament on the PGA Tour.
One Phoenix golfing experience not to be missed is Arizona Biltmore Resort’s Scotsflavored Links Course, one of two layouts next to the only resort to be inspired by the genius of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. And for those golfers who want to hit the greens as soon as they touch down in the Sonoran Desert, there is Raven Golf Club at South Mountain. Its parkland course is lined with mature pines and located just minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Another popular 18-hole option is located at The Legacy Golf Resort, just across the street.)
Phoenix also boasts eight affordable municipal courses that accommodate a variety of skill levels. The city’s Papago Course, recognized as one of the top municipal courses in the region, affords golfers views of beautiful red-rock formations on every one of its 18 holes. And municipal courses aren’t the only option for golfers looking for value in Phoenix: Surprisingly affordable tee times can be reserved during the summer, when top resort courses offer seasonal specials of $50 and less.
TPC of Scottsdale’s Stadium and Desert courses, designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, are open to everyone, not just the pros. The Boulders Golf Club’s North and South courses, also designed by Morrish, are among the most challenging and scenic layouts in the Southwest thanks to the rugged landscape that gives the club its name. Another classic beauty is The Golf Club at The Phoenician resort, with three nines called Canyon, Desert and Oasis. Gainey Ranch Golf Club also has three nines, with a waterfall at No. 9 on the Lakes course. The club is private, but guests at the adjacent Hyatt resort can play it. Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s tough Las Sendas, a public course in Mesa, boasts Arizona’s highest slope rating of 149 and features a double-dogleg par-5 18th. More forgiving yet just as astounding is the Golf Club at Eagle Mountain, which roams through box canyons, across rolling hills and into desert valleys while giving panoramic views of Phoenix.
Troon North is the flagship course for the Scottsdale-based developer and management company Troon Golf, which operates more than 140 courses throughout the U.S. and around the world. Its Monument and Pinnacle courses weave a patchwork of emerald in a stunning high-Sonoran Desert setting. And for sheer natural beauty, We-Ko-Pa, on Yavapai Nation reservation land, offers unsurpassed mountain vistas, with no homes, roads or commercial developments in sight. The JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, Arizona’s largest hotel and convention complex, is home to Wildfire Golf Club. It features an Arnold Palmer layout with expansive greens and a Nick Faldo-designed target course with threatening, turf-lipped bunkers.
At two other resort courses—Whirlwind Golf Club at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Kierland Golf Club at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa—golfers needn’t get hot under the collar. These are the first two courses in the world to provide golf carts equipped with air-conditioning devices that blow aromatherapy-infused air around golfers’ necks during hot summer rounds. Golfers wanting to experience the true breadth of Phoenix courses can try to shoot eagles on the Raptor and Talon courses at Grayhawk Golf Club, or take aim at Rees Jones’ Legend Trail Golf Club, which styles itself as the “Cypress Point of the Desert.” Then there are Starfire’s three Palmer layouts at Scottsdale Country Club, the two Jack Nicklaus courses at Superstition Mountain and 27 parkland holes by Ted Robinson at Ocotillo Golf Resort.
Whatever course visiting golfers choose—target, parkland or oasis—they can expect beautiful conditions thanks to 310-plus days of annual sunshine, an average temperature of 85 and some of the most progressive irrigation techniques in the country.
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