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Golf Chicago! Golf-away Destinations

Arizona Has Soft Shoulders

Arizona has soft shoulders indeed and we’re not referring to their highway system, but rather the availability of great golf vacations at great prices. So where do the shoulders come in? That’s travel agent talk for the off-season. If December through March are the peak months for winter weary Midwesterners then the other months of the year are non-peak, or the “shoulders” of the travel season. But don’t think the shoulders are in any way second-rate, definitely not! In fact the weather in those months can be the best, as more rain falls in the autumn and winter months in Arizona than any other time of the year. You say it’s too hot in the spring in Arizona? Well, consider temperatures from the National Weather Service Heat Index. For example, if the temperature is 95 degrees and the relative humidity is 75% (that would have been the middle weeks of this August in Chicago), the Heat Index is 130 degrees and that’s how it would feel to you. However, if the humidity is 15% and the temperature is still 95 degrees the Heat Index is only 91 degrees and you won’t even be perspiring.

Arizona certainly is known for high temperatures, but those really high numbers aren’t seen until July. But you can play there in April or in October when the temperatures are somewhat lower and the low humidity makes them easy to bear. And when you figure in the low shoulder season rates available at many resorts and golf courses, the temperatures get even cooler!

In the Phoenix metro area golf is everywhere you look. There are over 115 courses and they run the entire gamut in terms of price and difficulty of play. In terms of accommodations, it’s the same story. Phoenix has some of the plushest resorts in the United States, but the price structure in Arizona is probably more varied than any other golf destination in the country. Literally something for everyone
If that something for you is all-out elegance then your choices would include such marquee names as the Phoenician, The Scottsdale Princess or the Arizona Biltmore. You won’t find a more finely manicured course than the one at the Phoenician. The first hole looks more like a midwestern course with tall tress, thick rough and appropriately placed fairway bunkers. But the holes slowly wind up into the foothills of Camelback Mountain becoming more desert like in character so that by the thirteenth hole you will have a 100 foot drop the a par-3 green. The venerable Arizona Biltmore Hotel has two courses for its guests, the older Adobe Course and the newer Links Course. Both play across the flat desert floor, except for few holes on the back nine of the Links. Both layouts are not terribly demanding and are fun to play. The Scottsdale Princess, on the other hand offers guests priority tee times at the adjacent Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale with its Stadium and Desert Course. The Phoenix Open is played on the Stadium Course so you can get a feel for what the touring pros have to contend with every January. Another fine course that recently underwent renovation is Marriott’s Camelback Golf Club! Try it!

Troon Golf, the company that manages Galena’s Eagle Ridge Resort also has a strong presence in the Valley of the Sun. Their courses, Legend Trail, Talking Stick, a Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coar design, and Kierland are always in great condition, offering a fair and fun challenge to all golfers. For those golfers seeking a more traditional venue, the Orange Tree Golf and Conference Resort has wall-to-wall fairways and plenty of off-course amenities. Two other courses worth mentioning are Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club in Cave Creek and the ASU Karsten Course. Dove Valley offers some very reasonable fees during the week as compared to weekend rates and has some nice rolling topography. On the other hand the Karsten Course was built on flat desert land adjacent to Arizona State University, and is the home course for the Sun Devils. But this Pete Dye-design has all kinds of built-in challenges as only Dye can do.

Diversity might be considered the keynote at the Pointe Hilton Resorts since no less than three separate resorts are available in the Phoenix area. There’s the Pointe at South Mountain, Tapatio Cliffs and one more Pointe Resort at Squaw Peak. The Pointe Golf Club at Tapatio Cliffs offers a testing 131 slope rating that begins innocently enough with a short flat par-4 of 330 yards, but the fun really begins a few holes later as play progresses over Tapatios sloped fairways and hills bordered by North and Lookout Mountains. By the back nine you will be playing a true modern desert golf course with plenty of shots over wash areas and craggy ravines. It’s great fun, and whether you play there or at the courses at the other Pointe resorts there is always a welcome and luxurious nineteenth hole.

For a more budget-minded golf vacation the Arizona Golf Resort in nearby Mesa offers their own golf course, deluxe accommodations and a slower pace for those who really want to get away from it all. The 6600-yard golf course offers a mature layout with plenty of trees, enough water to keep a golfer honest off the tee, and four par-3 holes that average 215 yards in length.

A fairly recent innovation in destination golf vacations is the condominium/suite rental concept. Rather than deal with the impersonaity of hotel living you can rent a condominium suite from one to four bedrooms and retain some of the privacy that hotels often can’t offer. The Resort Suites of Scottsdale offers various golf packages in their setting of individual suite accommodations. Their list of available golf courses include the very best in the Valley such as The Boulders, The ASU/Karsten Course, Troon North and Red Mountain Ranch.

While there is more than enough golf in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area to satisfy even the hardest of die-hard golfers one should visit Tucson while in the Grand Canyon State. There are outstanding golf destinations in Tucson that shouldn’t be missed. One “don’t miss “ spot is Loews Ventana Canyon Resort and Tom Fazio’s dramatic Canyon Course. First, Loews Ventana Canyon is truly world class in every aspect of its operation. The setting of the resort, against the Santa Catalina foothills and the warm ambience of the resort make it a very special place. Fazio’s design is no less special, as it dramatically leads the player through canyons, and crevasses of the Catalina Foothills. Natural rock features, immense cactus stands and land contours blend with the course to make it an unforgettable experience of what it means to play golf in the Sonoran Desert. And a demanding test the course can be from the back Gold tees the course is rated 74.0, but is merely 6300 yards!

Another memorable place in the Tucson environs is the Tucson National Resort and Spa. Formerly the site of the PGA’s Northern Telecom Open, the 27 hole layout was originally designed by Robert Bruce Harris, who often contributed his extensive talents in the Chicago area and certainly Tucson National has the feel of many of our own courses. But don’t be lulled by the familiarity, the course offers plenty of challenges, the 18th hole ranked as one of the most difficult finishing holes on the PGA Tour at 440 yards with a large lake that has a penchant for swallowing golf balls. Off the course Tucson National hospitality is top-notch with some of the finest spa facilities in the entire southwest, making for a very nice one-two combination.

While Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson get most of the headlines, there are excellent and sometimes great courses in other regions of Arizona that are still close in to the cities. To the north of Phoenix lies Los Caballeros Golf Club in Wickenberg, an old dude ranch that now sports a desert-styled course with some very nice rolling terrain thrown in for good measure. Also in the same vicinity lies Prescott, with traditional and desert layouts at scenic Antelope Hills Golf Course, as well as newcomer Prescott Lakes G.C., an upscale course designed by Hale Irwin.

Not surprisingly, Sedona Golf Resort gets as much attention as any course in Arizona. And perhaps this is deserved as the resort sports some of the best views of the area’s incredible Red Rocks. But Oakcreek Country Club, right next door, a joint effort by architects Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr. offer vistas just as spectacular.

Whether you head to Arizona in the peak month of January and February this has only been a little taste of all the state has to offer golf-wise. But do think about the shoulders of May through June or September through November. The weather is still good, not too hot and the golf bargains abound. It’s like having your cake, eating it and still have some change in your pocket!

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Last Updated: 9/17/01