Ten Questions: All About Golfing in Arizona

By Michael Hegarty, Contributor

With more than 11 million rounds of golf played annually in Arizona on its 350 courses - and an average temperature of 72 degrees to go along with 300 days of sunshine - it's no wonder that the Grand Canyon State is one of the most popular golfing destinations. Below are some answers to common questions that travelers have when trying to put together there ideal golfing getaway in the Valley of the Sun and its neighboring cities.

Isn't Arizona one big desert golf course?

Almost. The Valley is surrounded by a desert that is being engulfed by the country's sixth largest city by splicing up the outskirts into some of the best golf courses in the nation. More than 350 courses are spread out across the state, with the Phoenix-area housing approximately 200 of them, leaving plenty of options in Tucson and the higher elevations (Flagstaff rises to 7,000 feet). But not all Phoenix/Tucson courses are desert target ranges.

A wide variety of styles - from the traditional layouts of the Arizona Biltmore's Links course to rolling fairways and water-plagued courses like Superstition Springs Ocotillo to the tree-covered courses up north. There still are plenty of target courses like the Boulders, where the desert borders offer thick brush, cacti, rattlesnakes and little hope of finding your ball, let alone playing it. That's why many courses offer a desert rule - one stroke and play it from where the ball entered the desert (which like a water hazard).

When you ask someone in Arizona about it being so hot, they say "It's a dry heat." But so is an oven. How do people live, let alone golf, in that weather.

It is hot, with summertime temperatures reaching over 110 degrees in the summer in Phoenix; Tucson is generally about 10 degrees cooler and the northern locations even cooler than that. But what the temperature reads is usually what it feels like it. There is little humidity (except during the monsoon season in July and August when the Valley records about 70 percent of its 8 inches of annual precipitation). A warm breeze often keeps the heat moving and actually can cool you down some. The sun still beats through, with sunshine reigning over the valley more than 300 days out of the year. An average temperature of 72 degrees makes for unbelievable winter months of short sleeves or light sweaters (although snow did disrupt this year's Tucson Open). The secret to golfing in the summer (which many do, especially with the drastically reduced green fees) is drink plenty of water. And if you have to consume something stronger, save it for the air conditioned clubhouse.

Winter is a beautiful time to play golf in the warm weather. But can I still golf if I can't afford $200 a round?

Granted, while the top-end courses may charge you an arm and a leg to torture yourself on their incredibly challenging and beautiful layouts, there are plenty of worthwhile courses that want empty your wallet. For starters, Phoenix and Tucson offer great city courses with cheap rates year round at Papago and Randolph, respectively. And with more and more courses being built each year, newer courses often offer cheaper rates to entice golfers to their tracks.

The best of both worlds - great courses at affordable prices - can be found in the numerous playing cards programs that are available, such as ones by Troon Golf and SunCor Golf that allow repeated play at a variety of courses at discounted rates. But the best rates are in the summer, when many courses can drop their green fees to entice golfers to venture outside of their pools. And many do, with early morning tee times going quickly, so plan ahead if you can.

Now that I've decided to head to the desert, how do I get to Arizona?

Twenty-three airlines, including all the major ones fly into Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport (which serves 36 million passengers a year), and it's a hub for both America West and Southwest Airlines - so both of these usually offer the cheapest rates. While Tucson and Flagstaff both have airports, it's cheaper, and often a lot quicker, to simply rent a car and drive the 90 minutes south or 2 ½ hours north. Besides, there are plenty of great courses between the airport and wherever you're headed for your round of golf. Los Angeles is just a six-hour drive away - with a detour in the golfing/spa oasis of Palm Springs not a bad place for a pit stop.

Once I'm there, how do I get around?

With the city - and the golf courses - spread out, rental cars are encouraged. Taxis are available at the airport and major hotels (some even offer free airport shuttles), but you're better off renting a car if you plan on playing any courses off the property you're staying at since the drives are often too long for a reasonable taxi rate.

Does anyone have a room to spare?

The Phoenix metro area offers more than 50,000 hotel and resort rooms, with Tucson providing a healthy assortment as well. Many resorts offer enough golf and amenities to keep you on property during your whole visit. Prices range from the high-end resorts at the Phoenician, Arizona Biltmore and Ritz to the inexpensive motels throughout the state. If you can think of a hotel chain, odds are they have one in Arizona. Naturally, rates are at their highest during the cooler winter months, and just like the golf courses, many resorts offer unbelievable summer packages that often include both rooms and golf and possibly meals. Check around, with enough searching you can find a location and price that suits your needs.

Where can I watch the pros hit it around Arizona?

Many courses have PGA Tour players residing in the developments - most notably ASU alum Phil Mickelson at Grayhawk- but the best way to see them is during one of the numerous professional tour stops. The Phoenix Open routinely draws the Tours largest crowds, with close to half a million people attending the tournament that concludes on Super Bowl Sunday, a few weeks after the Tour has made its annual stop in Tucson. The LPGA and Senior Tour also play tournaments in both cities and the Buy.com tour just added an event in Phoenix for later this fall.

Yeah, but can I play the same courses?

The Phoenix Open is played at TPC of Scottsdale and is open to the public to try out the birdie-laden stadium course where local resident Mark Calcavecchia recently set a tour record of 28-under par. TPC even offers a (cheaper) desert course that is a good alternative or a excellent compliment to a 36-hole outing. In Tucson, the ladies tee it up at Randolph Golf Course, a wonderful 36-hole municipal course that is an inexpensive challenge for amateurs and professionals alike. The other tournaments are held at private courses.

What other sporting events can I catch in Arizona?

There's always somebody playing in Arizona with all four major professional leagues housing a team in Phoenix - the Suns, Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Coyotes - along with representatives in the WNBA (Mercury), Arena Football (Rattlers), and indoor soccer (Thunder). Ten major league squads (seven in Phoenix, three in Tucson) spend more than a month in ballparks throughout the state during spring training. The college scene is also active with successful athletic programs at ASU in Tempe and the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Both universities host annual bowl games, most notably the Fiesta Bowl, which often crowns its winner as the national champion. NASCAR and Indy racing also make stops in the state with thoroughbred and greyhound racing run most of the year.

What else is there to do between rounds of golf?

Some of the interesting sites around Arizona to check out start off with the Grand Canyon - where you can take a train there, see the big picture from a helicopter or travel by foot or mule to the canyon bottom or travel down the Colorado River in a white water raft. Other worthwhile sites include: the beautiful red rocks of Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon; Meteor Crater; the wine country south of Tucson; Arizona's London Bridge at Lake Havasu on the western border; hiking or walking through Phoenix's 17,000-acre South Mountain park, Sabino Canyon in Tucson; fishing or boating on the numerous lakes; or simply taking in the diverse terrain of the cacti-laden desert that turns into pine-covered mountains in the north.

For a unique adventure, try a hot-air balloon over the Valley, and for foreign travelers, Nogales, Mexico is just 45 minutes south of Tucson.

Michael Hegarty, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment