Boulders North a pricey, satisfying Scottsdale-area golf option

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Boulders NorthCAREFREE, Ariz. - Ever wonder what happened to that boulder that chased Indiana Jones? It's here in Carefree, just a short drive from North Scottsdale, residing in the big bunker just off the 17th green on the Boulders North course.

Every hunking bit of it. At least, it sure looks like that movie blockbuster boulder.

If you're unfortunate enough to land your tee shot behind this monster on the grass, you're looking at a good six-foot loft over the Indiana Jones boulder. If you're cursed enough to plop a shot right behind it in the sand bunker, you're looking at hitting out parallel or backwards.

No one's moving this impediment. And the Indiana Jones boulder seems very comfortable in its retirement.

Introduce yourself to Boulders North. This is the less scenic of the two Boulders courses by far.

"We don't like to admit this, but the South is a little more scenic," Boulders Head Professional Dean Ballard said. "The South is a little bit better."

This is like remarking that Angelina Jolie is more mysteriously beautiful than the Playboy Playmate of the Month. It's true, but you're not exactly slumming if you go with the alternative.

Boulders North does not possess quite the show-stopping power of its South sister that winds up through the boulder formations. But it's not quite as penalizing as Boulders South either. South believes in corporal punishment if you stray from its fairways into the large desert areas. A few mishits and suddenly your scorecard's on death row.

"I like the other course better, you're in the desert more," said conference-attending golfer Eddie Lunn. "But you do really have to place your tee shots (on the South). It might not be for everyone."

"I've never played another course like it," first-time Boulders player Mark Ehrenzeller said of the North, the only Boulders course he played.

This captures the Boulders viewpoints. If you play the North first, without ever having the South to contrast it with, you're liable to think it's one of the more enjoyable courses you've experienced. The only way Boulders North comes up lacking is if it's compared to Boulders South, a candidate for top-10 course in the entire Phoenix-Scottsdalegolf mecca.

Once you get onto the back nine of Boulders North even that nitpick may fall away.

Boulders NorthIt's a steady succession of fun, eye-catching holes. On No. 11, you're forced to shoot between two towering cacti right in front of the tees. The cacti are arranged like goal posts on a football field and if a golfer manages to par this 445-yard par 4, he's apt to feel like he just split the uprights with a 55-yard field goal.

No. 14 is a 183-yard par 3 where you can either go for the pin with a shot right over a big pond (about 175 yards of clear from the back tees) or play it safe by shooting left along a skinny slice of bunker populated fairway. Wimping out here can often lead to a bigger number than just taking on the water clear, with sliced shots left bouncing off the cart path into the desert.

No. 16 tests with a desert bush clear off the tee (a common theme on Boulders North) and then an even larger forced carry right before the raised green. If you end up in this rocky gully, you're not getting out.

Then, it's on to meeting the Indiana Jones boulder.

Still, Boulders North is not a sadistic punisher. Especially if you move up from the 137 slope rating back Blue tees. None of the forced carries require Herculean feats. The fairways are not that tight. This is a course where you can relax and enjoy kidding around. Boulders North allows hackers their share of moments.

"It's one of the most fun times we've had playing in a long time," Ehrenzeller said.

No wonder some of Boulders 350 members wait for their North Course day to play (one of the 18s is open only to the members each day, the other open to the public in an every other day rotation).

"We actually have a number of members who prefer the North because it's a little more playable," Ballard said.

It looks like that Indiana Jones boulder knew what it was doing. As retirements spots go, this is a heck of a place for rocks.

The verdict

If Boulders South is closed to members only on the day you're playing, don't despair. Boulders North is a worthwhile play. Architect Jay Morrish gives you five par 4s that measure at least 424 yards on the back nine. Mother Nature provides plenty of desert backdrops to contrast with the green.

And it's going to be green. On a visit in the first week of November, when many of the other courses in the Phoenix Valley were raggedly coming out of overseed, Boulders North looked as green as a major league ballpark on Opening Day. The course was in consistent great condition, hole after hole after hole.

The desert rabbits lounging on the tee boxes and rats you see scurrying by in the brush seem shocked that something so green could be out here.

The service steps up to that standard. The bag attendants refuse any tips, insisting it's covered in the greens fees. "I haven't seen one person here who doesn't greet you with a big smile," Ehrenzeler said.

Of course, with $245 peak season greens fees, that should be expected. This brings out the bottom line on Boulders North. It's so consistently good, but not wowing. If you're going to play one $250 course in Arizona, this probably isn't the best bet. If you have the bankroll and schedule for more, Boulders North will not disappoint in the least.

Dining out

Boulders NorthThe greater Old Town Scottsdale area is home to many of the best restaurants in Arizona. Chef Nobuo Fukuda works wonders with his counter side tasting menus at Sea Saw ((480) 481-9463), producing dishes every bit the equal of New York's more famous Nobu at a third of the cost.

For a happening, mingling spot, you only have to go down the alley behind Sea Saw and open the unmarked door to the Kazimierz World Wine Bar ((480) 946-3004). Sure, this forced, faux mysteriousness is a little cheesy, but once you get inside the comfortable place where the Phoenix area's thirty-somethings relax with a selection of 1,800 wines to choose from, you'll forgive it. Make sure you try the Country Pate.

Stay and play

If you're playing Boulders, your high-end accommodations counterpart is the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess ((800) 257-7544). This sprawling AAA Five Diamond resort offers huge pool complexes that are open 24 hours a day. No more fitting your schedule around the pool schedule.

The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort ((602) 997-2626) is far enough away from the hustle and bustle to provide a relaxing getaway retreat and close enough to easily reach all the areas you want to visit. This sprawling complex includes a meandering, slow-raft-lounging pool and a putting practice course. There are half a dozen golf courses within a 10-minute drive

Fast fact

The very high-end, high-brow Boulders actually traces its roots back to a very humble municipal course. Carefree Municipal Golf Course was the first course built on this site in 1969.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


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