Boulders South golf course in Carefree: Rocks with nicknames, great game and pain

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Boulders South at the Boulders Resort is one of the most dramatic golf courses in Scottsdale, featuring rock formations some 12 million years old. The green fees aren't exactly cheap, but this is the kind of course you come to the Phoenix-Scottsdale area to play.

Boulders Resort - South golf course
Boulders' green, green fairways are a showy contrast to all the prickly, stark desert.
Boulders Resort - South golf courseBoulders Resort - South GCBoulders Resort - South golf course - 7thBoulders Resort - South golf course - greens
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The Boulders Golf Club - South Course

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Meandering across 1,300 acres of pristine Sonoran Desert, the Boulders Golf Club offers two stunning championship courses that play through the foothills of the Black Mountain. Both the North and the South Courses were carved from the hillsides, offering stunning views throughout. The South Course is the newer of the two and many say it is more scenic.

18 Holes | Resort/Semi-Private golf course | Par: 71 | 6917 yards | Book online | ... details »

CAREFREE, Ariz. -- The picture dominates one wall in the spartan office. The image could be mistaken for something taken in Egypt back before the pyramids. Or even something straight from Mars. It just rocks — tons of hulking rocks — in a bare almost red desert.

Boulders Resort Head Professional Dean Ballard isn't some sci-fi or ancient civilizations buff though. That photo is an aerial shot of his resort's golf courses. From back before anyone ever dreamed a section of barren, rocky desert would make for one heck of a theatrical golf setting.

Some of the boulder formations around the golf courses are 12 million years old by scientific calculations.

People were so sheltered back then. Deprived of the pleasures of playing a par 4 with risk-reward boulders.

"That photo gives you an idea of how isolated this place was," Ballard said. "You couldn't see anything but rocks for miles."

It's been more than two decades years since course architect Jay Morrish unleashed his take on rock golf in Arizona. You can see a lot more now, including a parking lot usually full of devoted players and a newly renovated resort. But the rocks still steal the show.

Especially on the Boulders South golf course, the track Morrish built right into the desert foothills. Play the South -- the showcase course -- and you'll be making peace with several hulking beasts of boulders.

Okay, peace may be a strong word. Especially if one too many Pro-V1s end up smacking into solid boulder and caroming off into the desert."You'd better place your tee shot when your playing the South," conference-attending golfer Eddie Lunn said. "If you're spraying the ball all over, it's going to be a long day. It's a great course though.

"You're really right up against those rocks. I haven't played another course like it."

Boulders South comes in at No. 5 on's Top 10 Arizona courses and that ranking is a testament to its staying power. In a golf mecca like Phoenix-Scottsdale, it is easy to become yesterday's news in a few tomorrows.

With Boulders, the buzz continues two decades later.

It helps when some of your cave age boulders get nicknames like only pro athletes and well ... rock stars usually garner.

The gravity-defying, nature-sneering, yes-you-have-to-look thrice hulking several elephant tons boulder naturally perched on what looks like a bench about as sturdy as a toothpick (the bench is another natural smaller rock) next to the tee on the par-3 seventh was dubbed Rosie's Rock. Sadly, the nickname comes from the wife of Boulders' founder Rusty Lyon (what self respecting theater golf boulder wants to be named after the better half of some rich guy nobody's ever heard of?).

Don't worry though. Rosie's Rock isn't going to rumble off that optically precarious perch and crush you in anger as you tee off. It's been stuck in that position for millions of years. Really. Step right up and concentrate on firing one on that green.

The other boulder pile with a moniker is more of a rock building. Looming over No. 5's green, it's taller than almost all the actual buildings in Scottsdale, reaching nearly 20 stories. It's called Boulder Pile (OK, the nicknames could clearly use some work -- still how many rocks do you know that have them?)

Boulder Pile is an arresting sight of its own, so much so that it can almost make you forget what a great hole you just played. South's No. 5 is a weaving 545-yard par 5 that requires two uphill shots and leaves many golfers grappling with club selection and guts belief.

That's the thing about Boulders South. You can get so caught up in the theater of the boulders that Morrish's work goes unnoticed. Until you're back in the clubhouse, talking about what a great time you had out there in the rocks.

Boulders South: The verdict

If you're looking for the caviar of Scottsdale golf, don't forget Boulders South. This is the type of desert course you come to the Phoenix-Scottsdale resort corridor to play. Assuming you can afford the green fee.

Boulders South is a safe splurge as golf splurges go. Its fairways and greens almost always seem to be really green, creating an even better and more showy contrast with the stark cacti areas. Boulders South really does cut into the rocks and part of the fun here is the cart path journeys through narrow passageways of stone. (Even Rambo's not walking this course).

Those intimidated by narrow fairways -- and potentially ever-inflating scorecards - might want to stick to Boulders North. The South makes hesitant golfers pay for the show. And not just in the way they expect.

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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