Why golf has gone gourmet in Arizona

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX, Ariz. - The world of golf has come a long way from when mandatory furniture in the clubhouse restaurant consisted of a dozen Formica-topped tables, a condiment bar for hot dogs and two TV sets.

And nothing could be further from that stereotype than Phoenix-Scottsdale where you can start your meal with turtle soup laced with sherry, a tempura ahi tuna roll or prime rib carpaccio. Dinner is served on real tablecloths, and the prices aren't hot-dog and hamburger style either. But you'll probably find the TV sets are still there with bigger screens than ever.

This dining revolution has gone on for several years, attracting a lot of hungry guests who don't golf but still enjoy the 19th hole ambiance. "Certainly the golf clubhouse restaurants here are a cut above what they are anywhere else," says Carole Carter, director of public relations for the Fairmont Princess Hotel.

The Fairmont operates The Grill at the TPC Stadium Course in Scottsdale, a restaurant chosen by the Arizona Republic as the Best Steakhouse in the Phoenix area. "We specialize in dry prime-aged beef," Carter says. "It has an awesome nutty flavor and it's one of the only places in the city that you can find it. We also have a fresh fish market with seafood on display. We have four different varieties every night."

Grill prices can range from $39 to $47 for those fancy cuts of beef; potatoes and vegetables are included, but salad is extra, running about $8-plus.

When the weather is mild, the best tables are on the patio overlooking the 18th green of the course where the FBR (Phoenix) Open is held every January.

At Grayhawk Golf Club in North Scottsdale, the menus are "price friendly" at the Quill Creek Café and Phil's Grill (named after Phil Mickelson), says Brian Bevard, director of food and beverages at Grayhawk.

The club is an extremely popular lunch destination for non-golfers as well as golfers. "Our whole philosophy is to make a stand on our own in the community aside from the golf," says Bevard, "and we have one of the best patios in Scottsdale."

On a recent warm April day, when we talked to Bevard, several people were waiting to sit on that patio with its 40 to 50 spots for diners, while the Quill Creek dining room remained empty. Everybody loves to watch the golfers come in on the 18th and lose their balls in the pond next to the green.

"Our menu is comparable to places like Houston's or Charleston's or Earl's," says Bevard.

Among the most popular items are prime rib sliders served with pepperjack cheese ($3.75 each) or baby back ribs with prickly pear sauce ($23). The same menu is served all day. Serious entrees - halibut, ribeye or salmon, for example - run from about $16 to $26 while sandwiches can run $8 or $9.

The Tonto Bar & Grill in Cave Creek on the site of the Rancho Manana Golf Club features New American cuisine, served up in an upscale cowboy style dining room. Restaurant co-owner John Malcolm says that courses have undergone a gourmet explosion in part because golf itself has gotten so expensive. "Someone willing to pay $150 for a round of golf and spending four or five hours at the club expects a luxurious experience all the way around," he says. "They're looking for gourmet food rather than just a hot dog."

That's why you'll see fairly chic-sounding entrees like Campfire Grilled Grouper with Orange Tomato Salsa, Tequila Corn Sauce, Wilted Field Greens and a Toasted Pine Nut Texmati Rice ($18) or Grilled Beef Tenderloin Medallions on Red Pepper Mashed Potatoes with Portabella Mushrooms, Caramelized Pearl Onions and Five Peppercorn Sauce ($20). The grill also has an all-day menu with burgers and club sandwiches and entrée salads as an alternative.

Malcolm stresses that you won't see golfers only in his dining room: "A quarter of our customers are from the golf crowd. But there are also business people and ladies lunches and people coming in sport coats to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries."

Another clubhouse restaurant that draws heavily from the community is Bernard's at Ocotillo Golf Club in Chandler, which brings in a big high-tech lunch crowd from nearby Intel and similar firms.

What makes golf clubhouses a popular destination, says Erica Sharp, manager of Bernard's, "is that they have brought in better chefs who create different menus at every course. We have an eclectic American-style menu with steaks and hamburgers, of course, but also with dishes like salmon penne pasta. And we have Italian buffets on Friday nights."

One of her favorites at Bernard's is calamari steaks sliced thinly, breaded and deep fried and served over citrus beurre blanc caper sauce ($7.50). She also recommends the halibut and seafood.

So after your next round in Arizona, check out the clubhouse dining room before you head back to your hotel. It maybe exactly the place you want for dinner.

Here's info on places mentioned above as well as a couple of other dining spots; all offer great golf as well as good food:

• The Grill at the TPC Stadium Course is located at 17020 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale. Phone: (480) 585-4848. Green fees at this course, designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish are among the priciest in the Valley of the Sun. Web: fairmont.com.

• The Quill Creek Café and Phil's Grill are located at Grayhawk Golf Club, 8620 E. Thompson Peak Parkway, Scottsdale. Phone: (480) 502-1700. Grayhawk has two courses, the Talon and the Raptor. Web: grayhawk.com.

• Bernard's Restaurant is located at the Ocotillo Golf Club at 3751 S. Clubhouse Drive, Chandler. Phone: (480) 917-6660. Web: ocotillogolf.com. This Troon-managed golf club has 27 holes by Ted Robinson.

• Tonto Bar & Grill is located at Rancho Manana Golf Club, 5736 E. Rancho Manana Blvd., Cave Creek. Phone: (480) 488-6962. Web site: tontobarandgrill.com. Sit on the patio and enjoy views of Skull Mesa and Elephant Butte as well as the golf course.

• The Brittle Bush Bar & Grill is located at Kierland Golf Club, 15636 N. Clubgate Drive, Scottsdale. This is all part of the Westin Kierland Resort. Phone: (480) 905-3279. Web site: kierlandgolf.com. The golf course has 27 holes, designed by Gary Panks.

• The Meritage Steakhouse is located at Wildfire Golf Club at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, 5225 E. Pathfinder, Phoenix. Phone: (480) 293-5000. Web site: wildfiregolf.com. Wildfire has two courses, the Faldo and the Palmer.

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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