photo: Experience Scottsdale

The Swing of Things: The Best Golfing in Scottsdale

By Curtis Gillespie

For golfers and sun-seekers alike, Arizona means freedom from parkas, mitts and icy windshields. Many Albertans make a beeline to Phoenix, an oasis of warmth, culture and cuisine in the Sonoran Desert. But over the past few decades, the city of Scottsdale has carved out an equally unique character. It’s essentially a suburb of Phoenix, but feels a world away when you’re teeing off on a rock-laden course. After recently playing these exceptional layouts, I’m very pleased to share a few pointers—on and off the links.

7,090 yards, Par 72
Designer: Tom Fazio

One of the better-known clubs in the Valley of the Sun, it boasts two courses: Talon and Raptor, the latter of which will host three upcoming NCAA Championships (2020–2022). This is a big deal in the golf world, as more players make the leap from college to professional tours. Desert golf often calls for long hikes through scrubby, barren moonscapes, but the Raptor elegantly winds through the Sonoran Desert, moving so artfully in spots that greens are close to the next tee. On an early-morning tee off, don’t be surprised if you hear chirping birds or see a gecko scurry beneath the underbrush. Take your time on the fairway to do a little cactus spotting—the course hosts a seemingly endless variety.

Après-golf: Pop over to Taliesin West, the winter home and school of famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it sits on the slopes of the McDowell Mountains east of town. Wright retreated to his “desert laboratory” to craft furniture, teach eager students and relax with his family. Today, it offers insights into one of the world’s great minds and still operates as an architectural school. While Taliesin West hosts several guided tours, the Night Lights circuit makes for a great date under the starry desert sky—you’ll even encounter a fire-breathing dragon! Reserve well in advance at this popular site.

The Phoenician
6,518 yards, Par 71
Designer: Phil Smith

Though it’s been on this site for decades, nestled in the shadow of Camelback Mountain, the course recently underwent extensive renovations. It falls squarely within the resort style, meaning generously wide fairways and not overly penal hazards. It’s also a relatively short course by modern standards. And while it may not have the difficulty or native hazards of many other Scottsdale courses, it has a key element that most courses do not: Once you’re done, you can’t wait to play it again. It has great hole-to-hole variety, stunning views of the south valley from the middle holes of the back nine, and the right amount of challenge to leave you feeling tested without getting beaten up.

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Après-golf: The Phoenician Resort is a valley institution. The CAA/AAA Five Diamond hotel dominates the south flank of Camelback Mountain and feels like an epic wellness retreat. If relaxation is what you seek, you’re in for a treat. The sprawling pool cascades down the hillside toward a spa, gym and tennis courts. Nourish your body at Mowry & Cotton with its extensive menu and sunset views of Camelback. Nibble on blistered shishito peppers and charred hanger steak or opt for inventive fowl dishes such as citrus-infused pheasant. For a nightcap, craft your own cocktail at a mixology class in the restaurant.

golfing in scottsdale arizona tpc stadium
The 16th hole on TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course (photo: Aflo Co. Ltd./Alamy)

TPC Scottsdale Stadium
7,261 yards, Par 71
Designers: Tom Weiskopf & Jay Morrish

Every February, this course hosts the biggest party on the PGA Tour: the Phoenix Waste Management Open, a.k.a. the Greatest Show on Grass. Boisterous spectators gather at the par-3 16th hole, a Roman-style coliseum accommodating up to 20,000 bogey-thirsty golf fans. As the day lengthens, cocktails flow and errant shots by the pros are greeted with howls of derision. Antics aside, the course is a strong layout, with greens as fast as bowling lanes. The difficulty increases exponentially the closer you get to the green, with deep bunkering and slopes leading to water hazards. Purists may not warm to the TPC given that it’s built for spectator golf: Crowd-friendly mounds buttress both sides of most holes. Though not the most visually compelling course, TPC will certainly test your game.

Après-golf: For dinner and drinks, head into Old Town Scottsdale. Though its Old West patina faded long ago, it still boasts shaggy, ambling charm. Grab a cold one at Sip Coffee & Beer House, with its 17 taps of rotating brews. You can’t go wrong with local faves like SanTan’s Devil’s Ale or Church Music IPA by The Shop Beer Co. Thirst suitably quenched, walk around the corner to Virtù Honest Craft. Nestled in the Bespoke Inn, the eatery is best enjoyed on its tree-lined patio. Chef Gio Osso’s award-winning menu fuses Mediterranean and Southwestern fare: fresh seafood and classic Southwest dishes like ribeye steak and crispy pig’s ears, a haute-cuisine twist on pork rinds.

Troon North Monument
7,070 yards, Par 72
Designers: Tom Weiskopf & Jay Morrish

This club combines the character of Grayhawk, the enjoyability of The Phoenician and the challenge of TPC. It derives its name from Scotland’s Royal Troon, where course architect Tom Weiskopf won his only major. Set high above the valley, the club’s two courses, Monument and Pinnacle, wind around Pinnacle Peak. With huge boulders in the middle of some fairways, Monument feels like golfing in a giant rock garden. A few holes on the back nine even circle Pinnacle Peak, where piled-high slabs of ancient bedrock look like they could tumble over a ridge onto the fairway below. Troon North is an essential Scottsdale golf experience—beautifully conditioned, challenging to just the right degree, visually stunning and architecturally balanced.

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Après-golf: If you still have energy to burn a day after golfing the mighty Monument, take a hike up Pinnacle Peak, the 182-metre-high granite rock that defines Scottsdale’s skyline. The three-kilometre trek to the top takes about an hour. Along the way, you’ll pass over Sonoran Desert terrain, which offers both micro and macro views—from colourful cacti and tiny lizards to panoramic vistas of the entire Phoenix valley. Go early in the morning on a weekday to avoid both the heat and crowds. If muscles start to ache, swing by the spa at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale. Its unique golfer’s massage uses warmed golf balls to knead tight muscles and golf-related stiffness.

golfing in scottsdale arizona desert botanical garden
Wandering the Desert Botanical Garden (photo: Scottsdale Tourism)

Spend a day in this city directly south of scottsdale

Stay: AMA members save between 5% and 15% at select hotels in Tempe, including Aloft, Best Western Inn of Tempe and Hyatt Place Tempe.

Eat: Don’t sleep on Snooze. The popular brunch spot has a vast menu, including breakfast pot pie (above) and a pancake flight.

Show: Musicians at Low Key Piano Bar tickle both the ivories and funny bones with a duelling-pianos-meets-comedy performance.

Chill: The first-ever Cold Stone Creamery opened in 1988 in Tempe. It’s still there when you need a sweet treat (3330 S McClintock Drive).

Hike: Affectionally known as “A” mountain for the large letter near the top, Tempe Butte offers a steep but quick climb for incredible views.

Drink: Not your typical pub, Pedal Haus Brewery serves up ping-pong and bean bag toss along with craft brews and Bavarian pretzels.

Explore: At the Desert Botanical Garden, you’ll find 50,000 plants—from cacti to wildflowers to lush trees—in the red rock landscape.

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