Lots of Reasons to Love The Arizona Desert

(This Article orginally appeared in the Fall 2011 Print Issue of Flagstick Golf Magazine)

by Joe McLean

It is easy to understand why Canadians head south to “the Valley of Sun, Phoenix, Arizona area, in increasing numbers to beat the winter blahs.

What better warm golf destination with more than 200 golf courses available for play than the arid Sonoran Desert climes with their picturesque mountain vistas. Desert golf by any standard is target golf with the objective of hitting ribbons of green fairways set in vast expanses of desert sand, wild brush and cactus. With cuts to my arms and legs being lessons enough, I’ve learned to not try and retrieve my golf balls from these desert wastelands.

Locals play the wastelands as lateral hazards in order to speed up play and also avoid the potential bites from resident snakes. As one of my regular golf partners has told me numerous times – “Joe, they make thousands of new golf balls every day.” Unless your golf ball rests against a cactus in the desert area, you can usually chip out, BUT always remember as you set out to find your errant golf ball the rattlesnake sign featured prominently in the vicinity of the first tee.

Views on desert golf courses are phenomenal with rock formations having been set in place for millions of years. One has to wonder how these massive rocks have not toppled from their perfect, symmetrical balanced settings. Water hazards are few and far between and usually dry.

Gold Canyon (Photo: Joe McLean)

Before you set out on your games of desert golf remember to apply sunscreen, wear protective headgear and carry a few bottles of water.

Our first stop on a recent weekend tour with the folks from Montreal’s Gendron Travel was the Lookout Mountain Golf Course at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort. After a 1:30 arrival at the Phoenix airport, our mid afternoon game of golf was a rush to play as many holes as possible before the sun set at 5:20 pm.

Weaving through rugged mountain terrain bordering the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, the Lookout Mountain golf course offers spectacular views of both Lookout Mountain and Piestewa Peak.  More prominent than the omnipresent scenery and challenging play were the ever-present rabbits in plentiful numbers foraging for food. Two-legged intruders playing golf don’t seem to bother their grazing patterns. Our lead group was able to play 16 of the available 18 holes before the first of many spectacular Arizona sunsets.

Apart from their magnificent golf course, the Pointe Hilton Tapiatio Cliffs Resort has something for each visitor with their Falls Water Village including a three and a half acre oasis of pools and waterfalls, hiking, biking and rock climbing programs, the Tocaloma Spa & Salon, as well as five themed on-property restaurants. After a splendid late evening meal at the Pointe in Tyme Restaurant our group was shuttled to the top of North Mountain for heavenly chocolate desserts at Different Pointe of View. Sitting around the patio fire-pit roasting marshmallows and dipping them in decadent flavours, our group was treated to a panoramic view of the twinkling lights of Phoenix and the surrounding mountains. A tip to the wise – Let the shuttle operators at the resort convey you both up and down North Mountain on your visit.

The Pinnacle Course at Troon North in Scottsdale, designed by Tom Weiskopf, has been ranked as one of the top daily-fee golf courses in the Grand Canyon State along with its sister course The Monument. The Pinnacle Course winds its way through natural ravines and the foothills of the Sonoran desert in the shadows of Pinnacle Peak in the high desert North of Scottsdale. One could spend the day hitting Callaway balls at the full length driving range or putting on the massive putting green featuring severe elevation featuring changes and amazing photo ops.

Measuring anywhere from 4883 – 7025 yards from five sets of tees, the Pinnacle course offers dramatic elevation changes interrupted by large granite boulders with shots to tight landing areas and requisite carries over wastelands. A beverage in the Dynamite Grill overlooking the 18th green is a must if only to view the desert surroundings and Pinnacle Peak while listening to tales of woe and others of success on one of the premiere golf courses in the Arizona Desert.

After we freshened up at our Hilton accommodations, we were treated to a light meal and a brief tour of the Phoenix Art Museum.

Checkout came all too early and we were off to The Boulders featuring two Jay Morrish designed, award-winning golf courses. Even though it was early morning, the clubhouse area was a picture of orderly chaos with attendants loading carts and marshals holding back anxious golfers waiting for their tee times. When we reached the first tee of the South course, our starter gave the most basic of instructions – “Keep it on the short grass.” As with most golf courses, this instruction was prophetic and wasn’t about to be followed.

My errant tee shot evoked another comment from our starter “That’s a miss but don’t worry, it’s too cold for the snakes to be out.” Dropping at my point of entry to the wasteland, I was looking at one of many spectacular sights that I was to encounter during my game – a double-tiered green protected by bunkers and massive boulders left little room for error.  If I was to describe each hole, this narrative would become repetitive. Fortunately my 5 wood approach finished a foot from the cup for an unexpected tap-in par.

Ribboning through the Sonoran desert, each hole was framed by massive Saguaro cacti, mesquite, palo verde trees and 12 million year-old granite boulder formations seemingly precariously balanced and silhouetted against the picture-perfect blue sky. Even though adobe-styled structures could be found throughout the course, a sense of calm and serenity prevailed throughout our round of golf on pristine fairways and generous sized greens. Wildflowers blooming in vivid shades of magenta, gold and lavender as well as desert creatures including a coyote, chuckwalla lizards, deer, jackrabbits, quail and roadrunners only added to our appreciation of our surroundings. A camera is an essential fifteenth club on The Boulders and even if you were to be penalized you would still walk away with some amazing pictures to enhance your memory.

The Boulders (Photo: Joe McLean)

Following a more than satisfying lunch at Bogey’s where golf club grub is brought to a new level, we were given a brief tour of the exclusive resort accommodations available at The Boulders. Whether you are staying at the main lodge or one of the guest casitas, you will find native North American crafts and original art on display. Glass skylights and wood-burning fireplaces provide warmth, light and a welcome ambience. The Golden Door Spa provides requisite treatments as well as a work-out area and can arrange other amenities including hot-air ballooning, gliding, mountain and rock climbing, bi-plane flights, horseback rides and desert jeep and Grand Canyon tours.


Our home for our final two nights was the Hyatt Summerfield Suites and after a brief tour, we were off to dinner and cocktails in Old Town Scottsdale where you have to be careful when you ask for when ordering hot and spicy.

With the dawn of another perfect Arizona day, we were off to the Gold Canyon Golf Resort. Before we played golf, we were given a brief tour of a few of the resort’s unique casitas which offer a variety of amenities including indoor and outdoor spas, suites, wood-burning fireplaces and private patios offering panoramic views of the majestic Superstition Mountains and spectacular desert sunsets.

Featuring the Sidewinder and Dinosaur Mountain award winning courses at the base of the legendary Superstition Mountains, Gold Canyon is located a short drive east of Phoenix and well worth the drive. Our game of golf on the #1 ranked public golf course in Arizona was the perfect way to end our Arizona visit. Dinosaur Mountain, with its scenery, dramatic elevation changes, abundant wildlife and exhilarating views, made for a final memorable golf experience in the Valley of Sun.

After teeing off on the first hole with a green back-dropped by Dinosaur Mountain, anticipation grew as we approached each new hole. We were not disappointed. When you rate courses by the “WOW” factor, Dinosaur Mountain rates in the mid teens. Although we were treated to spectacular views from most of the teeing grounds, a look back on completed holes was even more exhilarating. It would be hard for any rollercoaster ride anywhere in the country to rival our designated route with our cart-paths winding up, over and around Dinosaur Mountain.

Oh yes, the golf was memorable and spectacular with generous landing areas and pristine greens eagerly awaiting the arrival of our golf shots which didn’t seem equal to our surroundings. A cocktail on the Bar & Grill patio was accompanied by our final memorable desert sunset.

My perfectly cooked medium prime rib meal at The Dutchman’s Hide Out was the ideal meal to cap an outstanding journey trip to the Valley of Sun. On our trip we were treated to magnificent accommodations, restaurants and golf courses and were left to wonder what other treasures the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas of Arizona would have in store for Canadian Visitors.

I’m sure there are many as we just scratched the surface on our brief visit. Oh well, now back to the frigid north.

Fast Facts

Gendron Travel


Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau


Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau


Mesa, Arizona Convention and Visitors Bureau


Hyatt Summerfield Suites


Lookout Mountain Golf Course


Troon North Golf Club


The Boulders


Gold Canyon Golf Resort


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