Golf in Arizona can be pretty hard to describe in a general sense. There are so many different courses (400-some and counting) with so many different layouts (desert, traditional, links) scattered throughout such diverse topography, few adjectives are broad enough to cover it all.
There is one aspect of golf in Arizona that can be generally described however: the weather. Arizona enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine annually and an average temperature of 72 degrees. The Grand Canyon State is not only the birthplace of desert-style golf – target golf through natural obstacles such as cacti and arroyos – but is also home to more traditional courses ranked highly by various golf publications.
Topography and geography play a significant role in the style of course, so here’s a survey of the state’s golf by region.
Golf Courses in Phoenix and Central Arizona
Everyone’s talking about Reservations here. Note that capital “R.” While the Phoenix area has no shortage of beautiful, storied courses, it is the newer courses developed on Native American lands that have some of the fastest-filling tee sheets. We-Ko-Pa on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation and Devil’s Claw and Cattail courses at Whirlwind Golf Club on the Gila River Indian Reservation are among the reservation standouts, not only because of their layouts and surroundings, but also because of the history of the land they sit on.
At Devil’s Claw, tee boxes look towards sacred mountains. As with all courses in this area, golfers will want to be off them well before the sun hits its zenith in the summer.""
Reservation golf isn’t the only highlight here, though.
Scottsdale, just northeast of Phoenix, is the birthplace of desert golf. Developed to be sensitive to the environment, desert golf courses work with the local topography: the amount of land that can be used is limited, and local habitat must be used as a target area for golfers to play into. In Arizona, that means hitting through sandy washes, around bulbous barrel cacti, soaring saguaros and massive boulders and down narrower-than-usual fairways. Desert golf is target golf at its best. Sample desert golf at The Boulders.
Golf Courses in Tucson and Southern Arizona
While Tucson has über-lux courses that would fit right in around Phoenix (try Starr Pass or Arizona National), it also has plenty of affordable courses where a weekend tee time in peak season will cost between $35 and $50 (Quail Canyon Golf Course or any of the five municipal courses, Dell Urich, Randolph North, El Rio, Silverbell and Fred Enke).
For golfers looking for a course that won’t feel like playing at home, but aren’t quite ready to commit to a desert course, try del Lago Golf Club; it plays more like a desert/links hybrid with broad fairways melting into the surrounding desert scrub.
Golf Courses in Northern Arizona
For a traditional course in a very untraditional setting, Northern Arizona is the place to go. “Traditional” in layout at least. There’s nothing traditional about teeing off under red rock towers in Sedona or challenging yourself with substantial elevation changes when you’re already more than a mile above sea level.
Sedona Golf Resort is consistently ranked as one of the top five courses in the state. Its layout is often considered among the finest, and most fun, in the Southwest.
Rates at many northern courses are stable (not likely to be reduced in summer, like those in the south), but that’s because summer temperatures are routinely 10 to 15 degrees lower in the north (15 to 20 degrees lower in Flagstaff) because of the elevation.
Golf Courses on Arizona’s West Coast
Western Arizona definitely has its priorities straight: courses just might outnumber towns here. Which means that courses definitely are not crowded. Golfers here are generally not on a full golf vacation, but are rather vacationers to Lake Havasu or Lake Mead who want to break up their boating, fishing and swimming with a day or two of golf. But don’t expect to totally escape the water. The courses at London Bridge Golf Club and Bridgewater Links have views out over Lake Havasu. At Emerald Canyon Golf Course, between Lake Havasu and Parker, enjoy a great golf bargain, as well as overlooks onto the Colorado River.
Golf Courses in North Central Arizona
Fact: Arizona is more mountainous than Switzerland and more forested than Minnesota. When the weather’s too warm elsewhere, head for Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine or Springerville and courses where water, sand and desert scrub aren’t the only hazards. In this area, watch out for elk and deer as well. The added challenges are worth it though: a shot off the tee will soar 10 percent further at these elevations. (The Alpine Country Club is one of the highest in the country at 8,220 feet above sea level.) To the east, there are 90 holes of golf around Prescott, including 36 belonging to one of the best affordable courses in the state (Antelope Hills Golf Course).