Phoenix golf courses save time-strapped business travelers a trip to the desert

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

If you're staying in a downtown Phoenix hotel and can't make time to golf one of the area's great desert courses, you're not out of luck. Papago, Encanto Park, Raven at South Mountain and Arizona Grand G.C. are easily accessible.

Arizona Grand Golf Course
Arizona Grand Golf Course's "Jailhouse Steps" bunkers can be punishing, but not as punishing as being stuck in meetings.
Arizona Grand Golf CourseRaven at South Mountain G.C. - No. 18Encanto Golf Course
If you go

PHOENIX - You're in the Valley of the Sun, the cradle of Arizona desert golf, but it sure doesn't feel like fairway heaven from here.

In fact, the view from your hotel room is decidedly urban jungle. Red cranes stretch high into the sky, even higher than your soundproof, non-opening 20th-floor window. Steel beams gleam in the sunshine, the tiny dots of distant construction workers making their way across.

Welcome to downtown Phoenix. No golfer of sound mind would choose this zip code as a base for experiencing the region's wonderland of courses. But sometimes circumstances dictate the dilemma.

Maybe you're in town for business at the convention center, smack in the heart of downtown. Maybe you found a room rate you just couldn't pass up, what with ritzy golf resorts predominating in Scottsdale. Maybe your company put you here precisely because you're not supposed to be golfing.

"I guess I got sort of a reputation for being the crazy golfer at my job," Craig Sanderson said, sitting in the lobby bar of the downtown, '70s-vintage Hyatt Regency.

"I probably told too many stories about the great courses I got to play on trips," Sanderson said. "Because now they book me into this place every time and fill up my days with meetings."

Don't worry. That can be overcome too. With a little extra planning and ingenuity, downtown can be a more than serviceable base for a Phoenix golf spree, even if you'll be cooped up most of the day in conventions halls or meeting rooms.

That said, this is not the time to revel in that Troon North or Grayhawk round -- unless you're planning to look for a new job.

"My rule is that I don't play a course that's more than 14 minutes away," said Michael Barlow, another businessman golfer.

But that's not as limiting as you might think. You won't see any green from your window, but it's out there, closer than you realize.

Phoenix golf courses

Papago Golf Course has been called one of the country's best munis for so long that should be part of its name, and it's only nine miles from the convention center area.

Not close enough? It's only three miles to Encanto Park Golf Course. You might even be able to see your hotel from this city-owned course, one of the state's oldest tracks - you'll be shooting toward skyscrapers on several holes. Just don't expect anything close to resort green fairways.

You say want to play a really good golf course? Raven at South Mountain, an almost Midwest-style track with 5,000 pines and green everywhere, is 10 to 15 minutes from the convention/hotel nexus, depending on the traffic on 17 North.

The lack of stark, ball-gobbling, play-delaying desert obstacles and a staff that keeps play moving in a friendly, non-hassling manner makes Raven South Mountain a hurried golfer's best friend. It's not unheard of to clock a 90-minute nine late in the day.

Arizona Grand Golf Course is another mid-range course just 10-odd minutes from that downtown meeting room. The fairways are tight enough to drive some golfers batty, but there's a run of truly memorable holes.

No. 12, a.k.a. the Jailhouse steps, features a three-level bunker series climbing to a high raised green. . But even that will seem like sweet relief to someone who's spent the day staring at Power Point presentations.

"People do have to work in this town," businessman golfer Joseph Vasquez said, shaking his head. "You get here and everyone expects you'll have all day to golf. Everyone else is talking about it when you're out to dinner. It can drive you stir crazy if you don't get out there to play at least nine."

Phoenix quick dining

The businessman's golfing lunch is virtually a sanity protector on a Phoenix trip. (Like you need to hear that afternoon convention speaker.) But when you're trying to cram in nine or 18 holes without being missed, the only thing worse than searching for a place to play is searching for a place to eat.

You don't have time to dawdle over restaurant reviews. It's all about getting something good relatively quick and, most important, near the hotel.

The Arizona Center is an easy option A. This outdoor mall and office center, an easy walk from the Hyatt, the Wyndham and most of the convention-area hotels, has a few serviceable chain restaurants and Sam's Café, a moderately priced spot with good Southwestern food. You could do a lot worse in Phoenix than a few meals at Sam's.

The Arizona Center is also a good place to pick up some local gifts for the spouse and kids back home and see a movie.

If you make it to Raven South Mountain or Phantom Horse for twilight nine, Quiessence stands out as a guaranteed memorable post-round meal. This is an actual working farm, but it's right off Baseline Road, one of Phoenix's main corridors.

The dining room's actually a small cabin - it's like you're visiting someone's house for dinner.

Really pressed for time? The revolving restaurant on the top floor of the Hyatt has better food than you'd think. And you can definitely scope out a few golf courses from here. Just don't ask us how to expense the green fees.

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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