When looking westward, the state of Arizona often gets disregarded next to the big city glitz and glamour of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but it’s time now for people to take notice of this overlooked state. Arizona become the 48th state on Valentine’s Day 1912, several decades before Alaska and Hawaii would join the Union. In its 94 years of statehood, Arizona has made its mark on the country, and for our purposes, it has certainly made its mark on golf.
Arizona boasts a thriving sports landscape to complement its natural landscape. The state is home to the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals, and Phoenix Coyotes. The FBR Open (formerly the Phoenix Open) is played at the TPC of Scottsdale each February. The event is known as one of the most exciting events on Tour, in part due to “The Loudest Hole in Golf,” the par-3 16th. In total, a mind-boggling 7,200 holes of golf can be found within the confines of the state’s borders.
A sizeable sampling of pro golfers hail from Arizona, among them Phil Mickelson, Billy Mayfair, Tom Lehman, Natalie Gulbis, and Lorena Ochoa. The University of Arizona and Arizona State University’s golf teams are perennially ranked near the top of the nation. Even Annika Sorenstam played for the University of Arizona, and she’s from Sweden!
There’s a reason so many pro golfers come from Arizona—the golf is amazing! Over four hundred courses dot the desert, and these verdant oases might just deceive newcomers into believing that they are seeing a mirage. Private courses, public courses, old courses, and new courses—the amount of variety Arizona’s tracts offer ensures that golfers will never tire of golfing in the Grand Canyon state.
Part of what draws golfers to Arizona is its top shelf list of course designers. The state has attracted the world’s premier fairway architects to transform miles of sand into lush, green stretches of paradise. Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Tom Weiskopf, Rees Jones, and Arnold Palmer are just some of the golf course designers that have contributed their work to Arizona’s golf scene.
Perhaps the state’s love affair with golf can be linked to its Valentine’s Day inception. The list of courses has grown continuously over the past two decades, eclipsing 400 in recent years. In addition to the wealth of courses already playable, 40 to 50 additional golf courses are currently in the building or planning stages. Three PGA Tour events are played in Arizona: the aforementioned FBR Open, The Chrysler Classic of Tucson, which is played at Tucson National Golf Club, and The Tommy Bahama Challenge, which is hosted by Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale.
Arizona has plenty going for it to attract golfers from all over the world. With numerous “hot spots” spread throughout the state from Scottsdale to Phoenix to Tucson, golfers will always be close to another superb golfing opportunity. For those coming from out of town, Arizona boasts major airports in both Phoenix and Tucson, in addition to luxurious accommodations across the state.
Arizona’s resorts are what separate it from the competition. The cream of the resort crop is located in Tucson. For example, the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort has 45 holes of golf on its property. The Lodge at Ventana Canyon and its 36 holes of golf are another prominent member of the golfing community, and the new 575-room Starr Pass Golf Club has a 27-hole Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Facility on-site. These three sites, as wonderful as they are, don’t constitute one percent of all the golf in Arizona.
The Phoenix/Scottsdale area is the most prolific location in Arizona. With over 200 courses in the Phoenix metropolitan area alone, the region accounts for half the courses in the entire state, many of which have been nationally ranked or recognized. The head of this class is certainly Troon North Golf Club, not to be confused with its British Open namesake. This Tom Weiskopf-designed 36-hole facility is perennially ranked as the best Arizona has to offer. The Troon North Monument Course has been ranked #6 in the “Top 100 You Can Play” course list by Golf Magazine and #8 in Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Non-Private Golf Courses.” The Troon North Pinnacle Course was ranked the #2 Best New Upscale Course in America by Golf Digest when it opened in 1996. Golf Magazine Senior Editor Brian McCallen may have said it best when he called Troon North “the crown jewel of desert design, a 36-hole complex by which all other facilities are judged.”
The list of courses in the Phoenix area would be too long to include within the pages of Golfing Magazine, but here is a small sampling of some of the wonderful designs that populate the desert: We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, The Boulders Golf Resort, The Golf Club at Eagle Mountain, Talking Stick Golf Club, The Phoenician Golf Resort, and the Marriott Wildfire Golf Club at Desert Ridge. These courses make up the higher end of the Arizona golf spectrum. For a quality round of golf that remains affordable to the average golfer, visit Papago Golf Course, Cave Creek Golf Course, The Duke at Rancho El Dorado, Granite Falls Golf Club, or Superstition Springs Golf Club.
The great news for visiting golfers is that a large percentage of courses in Arizona are public. Some of the best public courses can be found in Sedona. The Sedona Golf Resort, which sports spectacular views of local landmarks Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock, is one of them. The challenging Williams’ Elephant Rocks Course is another. Add local jewels like Emerald Canyon Golf Course, Lake Powell National Golf Course, Pinetop Lakes Golf and Country Club, and Apache Stronghold Golf Club to the mix, and one can see why Northern Arizona gives its big city competition a run for its money.
Arizona is a great place to enjoy golf, but it’s also one of the few places that can truly improve your game, as well. There are numerous instructional schools to help anyone’s game, with the most well-known being The Jim McLean Golf School at The Wigwam Resort and Golf Club. The golf school opened in the fall, and features McLean’s signature 8-Step Swing teaching system. McLean was recently voted the #3 golf instructor in the country by his peers in a Golf Digest survey. The resort features two courses, the Gold and the Blue, that were designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and were recently renovated by Forrest Richardson. Located in Phoenix, The Wigwam should be at the top of the list of any aspiring low-handicapper.
The answer to all your vacation queries is as crystal clear as the water surrounding the island green on the TPC of Scottsdale’s 15th hole. Arizona has it all—beautiful weather, world-class golf schools, comfortable and convenient accommodations, and distinct and varied golf courses that are as beautiful to look at as they are enjoyable to play. Book a trip to Arizona today—just watch out for the sand!