2003 best of Arizona golf has something for everyone

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Picking the best of Arizona golf, in itself one of the best venues for golf in the United States, is the kind of task that can keep you awake nights. But here are the nominees.

Best New Courses You Can Play

The Duke at Rancho Eldorado, near Maricopa, south of Phoenix. Canoa Ranch Golf Club in the Green Valley area of Tucson.
San Pedro Golf Course in Benson, near Tucson.
Sundance Golf Club in Buckeye, suburb west of Phoenix.

Actually, The Duke and Canoa Ranch are probably tied for first. Both are the designs of outstanding architects, David Druzisky at The Duke and Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley at Canoa Ranch. Both offer great rounds at reasonable prices. Canoa Ranch also has wonderful mountain vistas. The Duke should become even better as the course and its landscaping matures.

Best Resorts With Golf

Boulders Resort in Carefree with two courses.
Westin Kierland in Scottsdale-Phoenix with the 27-hole Kierland Golf Club.
J.W. Marriott in Scottsdale-Phoenix with Wildfire Golf Club (Palmer and Faldo courses).
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler with Whirlwind Golf Club (two courses).
Phoenician Hotel and Golf Club (27 holes) in Scottsdale.

These are all resorts that actually operate golf courses as opposed to those where there is golfing nearby, and all have more than 18 holes of golf available.

The big, new places are Kierland, the Marriott and Wild Horse Pass, and they're all great. But nothing compares to the serene beauty and magnificent landscape surrounding the Boulders where you can stay in villas overlooking fairways and greens. The Phoenician is a world-famous hotel with 27 holes of golf besides.

Must-Play Courses for Visitors

The Stadium Course at the Tournament Players Club in Scottsdale.
The Talon and Raptor at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale.
The Monument and Pinnacle at Troon North in North Scottsdale.
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club in Fountain Hills.
Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa.
The North and South Courses at the Boulders Golf Club in Carefree.

Not long ago, we surveyed local hotel concierges about the most popular courses. They told us that the first three on our list were the places that tourists most often want to play - and with good reason. They're superlative. But the last three are also wonderful. The green fees at We-Ko-Pa, designed by Scott Miller, and Las Sendas, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., in particular, are also a better value. All six places are going to be quite unlike anywhere else you have ever played.

Best Scenery in the Phoenix Area

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club in Fountain Hills east of Scottsdale.
SunRidge Canyon Golf Club in Fountain Hills.
The Golf Club at Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills.
The Dinosaur at Gold Canyon, east of Apache Junction.
Tonto Verde Golf Club in Rio Verde, east of North Scottsdale.
All these courses are located slightly outside the traffic and hubbub of the Phoenix area and all are variations of the desert-target style that Arizona invented and made famous. The not-to-be-missed We-Ko-Pa, on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, is the newest of the lot and has scooped up many honors and awards. It was designed by local architect Scott Miller. Tonto Verde, with two courses by architect Gary Panks, and the Dinosaur at Gold Canyon are the farthest from Phoenix but are well worth the trip.

Best Scenery in the Tucson Area

Arizona National Golf Club in Sabino Canyon in Tucson.
Ventana Canyon Golf Club (Canyon and Mountain Courses) in Tucson.
The Gallery at Dove Mountain (North and South Courses) in Marana.
Tucson has a slightly higher elevation than Phoenix and so many of its courses have much more lush vegetation and rugged peaks. But these four are especially beautiful. Arizona National, laid out by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is the home course of the University of Arizona golf team. The Gallery is actually semi-private and may eventually close to public play.

Best Value

Talking Stick Golf Club (North and South courses) in Scottsdale.
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club in Fountain Hills.
The Golf Club at Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills.
Rancho Manana in Cave Creek.
The Dinosaur and the Sidewinder at Gold Canyon.

It's not that these courses are cheap, by any means. But they are places that will cost slightly less than some of the big names that attract travelers in high season. Talking Stick and We-Ko-Pa are both on Native American property. Eagle Mountain is a great desert-target course with lots of challenge. Rancho Manana is a beautifully landscaped mountain-style course in a town that will surprise you with its rustic Old West charm.

Gems That Should Get More Attention.

Talking Stick Golf Club (North and South Courses) in Scottsdale.
Dove Valley Ranch in Cave Creek.
Estrella Mountain Ranch Golf Club in Goodyear, west of Phoenix.
Legend Trail Golf Club in Scottsdale.
Longbow Golf Club in Mesa.

These are not "underrated" courses; they've gotten their share of great reviews. But because they're a little older now, many people have forgotten about them and how wonderful they are.

Talking Stick was the first modern course built on Native American land. Dove Valley Ranch is a smooth and playable course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Estrella Mountain Ranch is a superb course designed by one of Jack Nicklaus' sons, Jack Nicklaus II, in a rugged mountain setting. Legend Trail, designed by Rees Jones, will remind you of Grayhawk. Longbow, challenging to start with, has been recently renovated by an outstanding Arizona architect Ken Kavanaugh, its original designer.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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