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Blazing a Golf Trail in Sweet Home Alabama  by Grant Fraser
Grayhawk Golf Club - Talon Course

I hate Canadian winters. My distaste for our winters grows the older I get and is exacerbated by the fact that I want to play golf year round.  Watching golf on television in January and February just doesn’t do it for me. In fact, watching the tour pros play in Hawaii, Arizona or Florida makes me dread winter even more. I equate it to visiting an award-winning winery but not being able to sample any of the product. Fortunately I am able to temporarily escape winter’s grasp and prolong my season by venturing off to a warm golf climate a couple of times a year between November and March.

Recently I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to experience what it is like to play golf in the desert. Phoenix has been on my golf wish list for years simply because I have never played golf in the desert before. With approximately 4.5 million residents, Phoenix is the 4th largest metropolitan area in the United States and home to over 200 golf courses – more than most countries have in total. Despite being in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, the variety of the golf courses scattered throughout the Greater Phoenix Area is most impressive.  What makes this area so special is that it is the only place on earth that offers a unique and authentic desert golf experience. You want to play golf in the desert - you come here.

Although Florida is regarded as the official “sunshine state”, the phrase befits Arizona as well as the sun shines 330 days of the year. Despite scorching heat during the summer months, daytime temperatures are perfect between October and April. Not surprisingly, you’re likely to run into plenty of sun-starved Canadians on the golf course this time of year.   

So where should you play? With hundreds of golf courses to choose from, it would take the average golfer several years to play them all. For this reason, I decided to create a Top 10 list of the best golf courses in the area to help the next Phoenix-bound foursome plan their next golf getaway.  While some may not agree with the order of my rankings, I’m confident the ten courses I’ve selected will certainly not disappoint.  (Note to reader – Only courses that I have played were eligible to appear on my Top 10 list.)

So, as my favourite late night television talk show host does every night, here are the Top 10 courses you should play on your next golf trip to Phoenix, Arizona...

Number 10 – Papago Golf Course – This was my first introduction to desert golf. Built in 1963, Papago has long been considered the Valley of the Sun’s best municipal golf course, having hosted the 1971 U.S. Public Links Championship. The golf course recently underwent a $12 million facelift with the help of the Arizona Golf Association and Arizona Golf Foundation. The length of the course now measures 7,333 yards and remains a local favourite nearly 50 years after it first opened.

ASU Karsten Golf Course
ASU Karsten Golf Course         

Number 9 – ASU Karsten Golf Course – Designed by Pete Dye, ASU Karsten is a 7,026-yard, links-style course nestled beside ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium.  The course is home to perennial golf powerhouse ASU and the alma mater of PGA and LPGA Tour professionals Phil Mickelson, Billy Mayfair and Grace Park.



Legend Trail Golf Club
Legend Trail Golf Club         

Number 8 – Legend Trail Golf Club
– Situated in the Sonoran Desert, Legend Trail is both a challenging and fair test of golf. Designed by Rees Jones, the course measure 6,845 yards and is known for its impeccable conditioning and spectacular desert vistas of Pinnacle Peak.




Southern Dunes Golf Club
Southern Dunes Golf Club         

Number 7 – Southern Dunes Golf Club
– Owned by the Ak-Chin Indian Tribe, Southern Dunes was designed by the Scottsdale design firm of Schmidt-Curley and PGA Tour champion Fred Couples. Situated on 320 acres twenty-five minutes south of Phoenix, Southern Dunes is not your typical desert golf course as there are no cacti lining the fairways. Instead, golden fescue grass and lush eucalyptus trees provide the scenic backdrop behind the greens and tees. At 7,517 yards, Southern Dunes is one of the longest courses in the area. Not surprisingly, the course has hosted the U.S. Open qualifier as well as the Arizona State Amateur in 2007 and 2009.

Eagle Mountain Golf Club         

Number 6 – Eagle Mountain Golf Club – Carved through the rocky slopes of the McDowell Mountain ravines, Eagle Mountain is a unique 6,777-yard golf course that features natural box canyons, rolling hills and lush desert valleys. The course is renowned for its dramatic elevation changes and stunning vistas of the Sonoran Desert Valley.



Grayhawk Golf Club - Talon Course
Grayhawk Golf Club - Talon Course         

Number 5 – Grayhawk Golf Club (Talon Course) – There are two exceptional golf courses at Grayhawk – Talon and Raptor. I’ve only played the Talon Course which is considered to be the more forgiving of the two. Nevertheless, the 6,973-yard Talon Course is certainly deserving of being on any Top 10 list. Designed by former U.S. Open and PGA Champion David Graham and architect Gary Panks, the Talon Course has received many accolades over the years having hosted the final rounds of the inaugural Anderson Consulting World Championship of Golf in 1995.

Superstition Mountain - Prospector Course
Superstition Mountain - Prospector Course         

Number 4 – Superstition Mountain (Prospector Course) – Designed by Jack and Gary Nicklaus, Superstition Mountain is a luxurious residential golf community surrounded by the breathtaking Superstition Mountains. As the name implies, there is something mystical and alluring about this place as the rocky face of the ever-present mountain range changes colour with every passing moment of the day. The Prospector Course measures 7,185 yards and has hosted several professional events including the 2002 Countrywide Tradition tournament and the LPGA Safeway International tournament (2004 to 2008).

TPC Scottsdale - Stadium Course
TPC Scottsdale - Stadium Course         

Number 3 – TPC Scottsdale (Stadium Course) – Measuring 7,216 yards, the Stadium Course is where golf’s gladiators congregate every year to compete in what is now referred to as the “Greatest Show on Grass”. Designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, TPC Scottsdale raised the bar of desert golf and is still regarded as one of the Top 10 public golf courses in Arizona by Golf Digest. The last five holes are the most enjoyable, especially the famous par 3, 16th hole and the short, par 4, 17th hole. Just imagine yourself on the 16th tee with 100,000 fans eagerly waiting to scream in your backswing. Land on the green and you’re the most popular guy on earth; miss the green and you’re nothing more than weekend hack. That’s what makes the Stadium Course so special – you get to experience what it’s like to be a tour player for a day.

Number 2 – Troon North Golf Club (Monument Course) - Located in the Sonoran desert, Troon North epitomizes desert golf. There are two extraordinary courses that comprise the Troon North experience – Monument and Pinnacle. Both are outstanding desert golf courses but it is the 7,028-yard Monument Course that gets the nod as Troon North’s crown jewel. Designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf in 1991, the golf course meticulously weaves its way through rocky desert terrain. When you look around you can’t help but feel distracted by the rocks and gigantic boulders that line the contrasting green fairways. Desert flora, bushes and towering saguaro complete the landscape providing an abundance of Nikon moments and an unsurpassed golf experience.

And the Number 1 golf course you should play on your next golf trip to Phoenix, Arizona is...

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club - Saguaro Course
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club - Saguaro Course         

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (The Saguaro and Cholla Courses) – Yes, both receive my number one selection as the two courses at We-Ko-Pa are my indisputable favourite desert golf courses in the area. In fact, I am going to go one step further and state that We-Ko-Pa is one of my favourite golf destinations in the world! Meaning “Four Peaks”, the origin of the club’s name comes from the indigenous Yavapai Nation after the prominent and sacred mountain range visible to the east.  Recently, a friend of mine told me that he and his wife were planning a golf holiday to Phoenix and wanted to know where they should play. I recommended all of the courses on this list but said We-Ko-Pa was the best of the bunch. Both golf courses exemplify desert golf to perfection as there is nothing else out here but you and what Mother Nature has created. The 7,225-yard Cholla Course was the first to open (2001) and is the brainchild of golf course architect Scott Miller. Five years later the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw created the 6,966-yard Saguaro Course, the second desert masterpiece of the We-Ko-Pa duo.

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club - Saguaro Course
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club - Cholla Course         
So there you have it. My Top 10 list of the best golf courses you should play on your next golf trip to Phoenix, Arizona. Enjoy them all. You won’t be disappointed as it is here, and only here, that you will find the best and most authentic desert golf courses in the world.  

Fast Facts

Great Places to Stay:

There are many hotels to choose from in the Phoenix area. Here are two I would recommend that are conveniently located in Scottsdale and in close proximity to the golf courses.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess – 1-800-344-4758, www.fairmont.com
XONA Resort Suites – 1-888-222-1059, www.xonaresort.com

Golf Course Information:
ASU Karsten Golf Course – (480) 921-8070, www.asukarsten.com
Eagle Mountain Golf Club – 1-866-863-1234, www.eaglemtn.com
Grayhawk Golf Club – (480) 502-1800, www.grayhawkgolf.com
Legend Trail Golf Club – (480) 488-7434, www.legendtrailgc.com
Papago Golf Course – (602) 275-8428, www.papagogolfcourse.net
Southern Dunes Golf Club – (480) 367-8949, www.golfsoutherndunes.com
Superstition Mountain- (480) 983-1411, www.superstitionmountain.com
Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale – 1-888-211-6593, www.tpc.com
Troon North – (480) 585-5300, www.troonnorthgolf.com
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club – (480) 836-9000, www.wekopa.com

General Information:
Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau – 1-800-782-1117, www.scottsdalecvb.com
Visit Phoenix – 1-877-CALL PHX, www.visitphoenix.com

Click to visit Scottsdale Convention and Visitor's BureauClick to visit Scottsdale Golf





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