Northern Arizona Towns Offer Alternative to Bustling Phoenix

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

SEDONA, AZ - On a typical late summer day at the Oak Creek Canyon Country Club, Director of Golf Gary Pearce will look at the weather map on television, note the 100 plus degree temperatures in the Phoenix area, and scratch his head.

Oak Creek is one of the best courses in northern Arizona, but Pearce says he is amazed that more Valley of the Sun residents don't make the quick trip up Interstate 17 to escape the heat during the summer months.

"What we have found is that for us, because our rates tend to be more expensive than Phoenix's in the summer time, is that we see fewer players from Phoenix in the summer," Pearce says. "We have a wonderful golf course up here, but our rates don't fluctuate like they do in Phoenix because it's up to 15 degrees cooler here."

Pearce is not alone in his dismay - golf directors from Flagstaff to Prescott wonder why northern Arizona doesn't attract more in-state and out-of-state golfers.

"I think in the summer time that people sit and watch the television and see that its 100 degrees in Phoenix and Tucson and they think its that hot here," Pearce says. "Our tourism divisions need to do a better job of getting the word out that northern Arizona is nothing like Phoenix or Tucson."

In fact, the only thing that Prescott, Flagstaff and Sedona may have in common with their southern state siblings is an abundance of great golf. But unlike the cactus-lined fairways of the southern deserts, northern Arizona layouts won't confront weary golfers with target style golf.

"I think most of the courses in northern Arizona are much more traditional and get away from the desert style courses," Pearce says. "You can come here and play golf the way you are used to playing it, in a setting that is nothing like what you are used to."

It is this unique golfing landscape, Pearce says, that keeps golfers coming back for more. Sedona mystifies visitors with its famous red rocks and crystal clear streams. Flagstaff offers true mountain style golf and one of the state's most vibrant downtowns. Prescott is home to some top-notch multi-course facilities and one Wild West attitude.

Pearce laments the fact that many of the region's great courses offer a pleasant diversion from the courses of Phoenix, rather than forming the basis of a major golf trip.

"We get lot of play from outside of Arizona, but our prime season is the same as Phoenix's season in the winter months," Pearce says. "When people visit Phoenix, some golfers decide to come up for a extra day or two to play up here. We'd love to see the tables turned on that."

True, there are five square mile plats of land in Scottsdale that are home to more big name golf courses than these three towns combined. But there are also more traffic jams, air pollution, and five hour rounds in the Valley of the Sun than there are Sedona, Flagstaff, or Prescott.

"The courses up here are spread further apart, but driving to them is half the fun," Pearce says.

Northern Arizona Golf Capsules


Oak Creek Country Club: Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Sr. teamed up to create on of northern Arizona's most sought-after rounds of golf. Oak Creek CC is located at the base of Sedona's famed Red Rocks and sports a classically designed layout more reminiscent of the Midwest than the southwest.

Jones Sr.'s mantra was that "every hole must be a hard par or an easy bogey," but Oak Creek CC also contains a good bit of Jones Jr.'s trademark playability. The course is set on 145 pristine Sedona acres, and captivates golfers with a variety of hole shapes and elevation changes. October rates range from $60 to $85. Call (888) 703-9489 for more information.

Sedona Golf Resort: To play a Gary Panks designed golf course is to love it. Sedona Golf Resort is everything a resort golf course should be: Fun, playable, and challenging enough from the back tees to test low handicappers.

Both Golf Digest and the Arizona Republic have ranked the course as one of the top five in the state, and some publications consider the 6,646-yard layout one of the finest in the southwest. The course's elevation fluctuates between 3,900 and 4,200 feet.

Elevated tee shots to downward spiraling fairways are the norm, but Pank's mixes in the occasional uphill grinder just to keep golfers in check. October rates range from $75 to $99. Call (877) 733-9885 for more information.


Elden Hills Golf Club: If there is one town in northern Arizona that is sucking wind when it comes to golf courses, its Flagstaff. Maybe its because the town's 55,000 residents prefer skiing or hiking to golfing, but its hard to say. Elden Hills Golf Club, just a stone's toss from downtown, is the only public golf offering in town.

For those used to playing around the finely manicured fairways of Phoenix, Elden Hills can seem a little rough around the edges. But if you take into consideration the cost (typically under $40 for a round), the ultra friendly pro shop staff, and the surrounding environment, (more pubs than you can shake a putter at), Elden Hills becomes an attractive pit stop.


Prescott Lakes Golf Club: Don't let the fact that this former territorial capital of Arizona has a street called Whiskey Row fool you. Prescott is home to an unusual number of great golf courses for its size, and that number recently bulged with the addition of the Hale Irwin designed Prescott Lakes Golf Club.

Prescott Lakes is a links-style golf course that is confined to 12 majestic acres. Irwin embraces the land's native American heritage with hole names and Petroglyph imprints of each animal that mark every tee box. Each hole offers six sets of tees, named after a different animal of Native American significance. The back tees, Black Bear, play at 7,216 yards. Next up Cougar, Antelope, Coyote, and Jackrabbit. The front tees, Roadrunner, play at 4,724 yards. Call (877) 643-3501 for more information.

Hassayampa Golf Club: Tom Weiskopf doesn't get the national "pub" as a course designer that a Pete Dye or a Tom Fazio do, but ask any golfer that has played even one of his layouts and they will gush with accolades.

Weiskopf carved this dramatic course out of pines, boulders, lowlands, natural brooks and canyons to insure every golfer a challenging and awe-inspiring round. The only kicker is that the course is private, and yes, it is costly ($50,000 for a membership). But hey, you could be in the market, right? Call (520) 445-0009 to arrange a test drive.

Antelope Hills Golf Club: Thirty-six holes of championship caliber golf in one convenient location - Flagstaff eat your heart out. Gary Panks designed the South Course, which is wide open and has mounding along the fairways and greens. The South Course has more bunkers, and is more of a links style course that has become a favorite of visitors to the area.

The North Course, designed by Lawrence Hughes, is completely different golfing experience. The course is 50 years old with 50-foot elm trees, narrow fairways, and small greens. Essentially, it is like nothing you'll find in these parts. The North Course is favorite among locals, but also appeals to visitors with an appreciation for classic layouts. Greens fees range from $20 to $36. Call 800-972-6818 for more information.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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