In my mind, when it comes to a winter golf oasis, there is nothing finer than Scottsdale. Home to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Scottsdale area boasts more than 200 golf courses, many of which are accessible to the public. Each year when the PGA Tour converges on TPC Scottsdale for the “Greatest Show on Grass,” thousands of recreational golfers escape the winter freeze for bright blue skies set against picturesque desert mountain ranges in central Arizona.
Playing in the desert is special in its own right—target golf at its finest where in most places you’ll find dirt instead of rough when you miss the fairway.
When it comes to Scottsdale there are a deluge of options. Here’s a look at the best courses the public can play in the Scottsdale area.
Troon North (Monument & Pinnacle)—Scottsdale
Sometimes a golf course leaves an impression that lasts a lifetime, and when it comes to Scottsdale that course for me is Troon North’s Monument course. The Tom Weiskopf design weaves its way around the edge of Pinnacle Peak and is the finest form of desert golf. Natural wash areas are littered with Saguaro cactus and granite boulders that appear to have been sprinkled from above throughout the property.
None are bigger than the behemoth rock formation resting in the middle of the par-five 3rd hole. Nicknamed “The Monument,” the 556-yard hole features a massive boulder set 240 yards from the tee box in the center of the fairway where the hole doglegs sharply to the right. Legend has it that Weiskopf tried to remove the boulder multiple times to no avail, so he left it. Troon North is pure desert golf with a ton of character.
We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro & Cholla)—Fort McDowell
Travel 40 minutes northeast of downtown Scottsdale and you’ll find the definition of the undisturbed desert golf experience. Residing on Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation reservation land, We-Ko-Pa is home to the Saguaro and Cholla courses—36 holes with zero residential development set in the shadows of the area’s well known mountain ranges.
From the moment you arrive at We-Ko-Pa, you realize you are in for a unique experience. The clubhouse features architecture derived from the Yavapai culture and a terrace view that showcases both Red Mountain and the McDowell Mountains in the distance. The newer Saguaro course was designed in 2006 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, while the original Cholla was laid out in 2001 by architect Scott Miller. While both courses offer a variety of playable and demanding holes, Cholla offers a more quintessential target style of play and Saguaro is the more walking-friendly option with tees close to previous greens. During any given round you could be joined by a few playing partners—an array of native wildlife roams the fairways at We-Ko-Pa including coyotes, roadrunners, and lizards.
Grayhawk (Raptor & Talon)—Scottsdale
Located 20 minutes north of downtown Scottsdale, Grayhawk’s Raptor course has hosted a multitude of high-profile events since opening in 1994 including the inaugural playing of the 2000 Williams World Challenge (now Hero World Challenge) and the PGA Tour’s Fry’s.com Open (now Safeway Open) from 2007–09. The course will welcome the best collegiate golfers in the country for the NCAA Division I golf championships for the next three years, 2021–23.
Tom Fazio’s Raptor course is a fun, straightforward jaunt with huge fairways and green complexes full of undulations, requiring a precise short game to master. The Talon course, designed by two-time major champion David Graham and architect Gary Panks, is a creative desert challenge giving golfers clear views of the McDowell Mountains and offering holes with steep drop-offs on the back nine.
With classic tunes streaming out of faux rock speakers on the rock ‘n’ roll driving range, Grayhawk exudes a cool factor. Be sure to hit “Phil’s Grill” after the round. The restaurant named after Grayhawk ambassador Phil Mickelson is a lively post-round spot littered with memorabilia from Lefty’s Hall of Fame career.
TPC Scottsdale (Stadium Course)—Scottsdale
The ultimate “play where the pros play” experience is all about timing. While the PGA Tour will tee it up at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February, the key to experiencing TPC Scottsdale is to arrive in Arizona about a month prior to play the Stadium course—when the grandstand build out for the Waste Management is complete and you’ll feel like a pro strolling from tee to green.
Designed by Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, TPC Scottsdale is a lush golf course that is maintained to PGA Tour standards year round. The wow factor is amped up at the 163-yard par three 16th, which feels like golf’s version of the Roman Coliseum. Surrounded entirely by grandstands, you can imagine the 20,000 rowdy fans chanting your name as you peg it in the ground and cheering when you find the putting surface (or booing when you don’t).
Don’t worry, the PGA TOUR pros aren’t the only ones who can take on TPC Scottsdale. You can play The Stadium Course after the Waste Management Phoenix Open too!
— TPC Network (@PlayTPC) January 28, 2020
Quintero Golf Club—Peoria
Sometimes you have to travel a bit to find a gem. Located about 40 minutes from North Scottsdale in Peoria, the Rees Jones design is worth the drive and has an extremely secluded feel.
Set along the Hieroglyphic Mountains, the golf course is tucked away on land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. Basically, it’s just you and the golf course. Multiple elevated tee boxes provide views of the Sonoran Desert for miles, while strategic Jones bunkering challenges golfers of all skill sets. Be sure not to rush out after your round as Quintero’s clubhouse was voted the Best 19th hole in the Valley in 2019.
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What is your favorite golf course in Scottsdale? Let us know in the comments section.