Cactus Makes Perfect

Arizona golf vacations aren’t one-size-fits-all. Here’s how buddies, families, couples and athletes can do the desert right.

By Joe Passov

The Buddy Trip


TPC Scottsdale (Stadium)

Back-slapping with your pals reaches its zenith at the par-3 16th hole, where Tiger’s 1997 ace amid the Roman Coliseum atmosphere still echoes. Equally dramatic are the 15th and 17th, two risk/reward beauties at the home of the biggest, loudest event in the game, the Waste Management Phoenix Open. (17020 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale; 480-585-4334,

Troon North (Pinnacle)

Scottsdale’s finest melding of beauty and brawn is this Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish collaboration that sports massive rock outcroppings, cactus-framed landing areas and a plethora of flawlessly conditioned, strategy-infused holes. (10320 E. Dynamite Rd., Scottsdale; 480-585-5300,

We-Ko-Pa (Cholla)

A “must-play” practically since it opened 10 years ago, this Scott Miller design zigzags through canyons, climbs atop ridges and tumbles down mountain slopes in its 7,225-yard journey. A trio of split-fairway holes and no roads or homes makes for an inspired desert treat. (18200 E. Toh Vee Cir., Fort McDowell; 480-836-9000,


Zona Resorts Scottsdale

Ignore the fact that this place is on its third name in five or so years. It knows how to do golf groups. For value-minded travelers who crave a hotel that caters specifically to golfers, Zona is a slam-dunk, thanks to its suites ranging from one to four rooms, a golf concierge, Wi-Fi and HD TVs and the perfect North Scottsdale location.  (7677 E. Princess Blvd., Scottsdale; 888-222-1059, 

Talking Stick Resort

This year-old, tribally-owned, 15-story, 497-room hotel sits adjacent to both its Coore-Crenshaw designs. When the daylight vanishes, golfers disappear into the adjacent Casino Arizona, for gaming, dining and sports watching. The top-floor Orange Sky restaurant and the Wandering Horse Buffet are both worth your while.   (9800 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale; 480-850-7777,

Radisson Fort McDowell

While the vistas of the McDowell Mountains, Red Mountains and Four Peaks are terrific, it’s the next-door proximity to We-Ko-Pa’s courses that most appeals to buddies. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s also next door to the Fort McDowell Casino. (10438 N. Fort McDowell Rd., Scottsdale/Fountain Hills; 480-789-5300,


Don & Charlie’s

The classic Cactus League spring training hangout, but a treat any time of year, this Chicago-influenced Scottsdale tradition serves up some of the best baby back ribs in town, but the real attraction are the walls covered in sports memorabilia and trophy cases, mostly devoted to baseball. (7501 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale; 480-990-0900,

Z Tejas Grill

The centrally located Tatum and Shea location features a great vibe, from Happy Hour on and classic entrees with a Southwestern kick. Try Tom Lehman’s two favorites, the Voodoo Tuna or the Diablo Chicken and save some room for the ancho chile fudge pie for dessert. (10625 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix; 480-948-9010,

Mastro’s Ocean Club

Nestled into trendy Kierland Commons on the Phoenix/Scottsdale border, the “OC” parcels out warm piano music, flown-in-daily fish, steaks that sizzle so hot they spit, a handsome crowd and most memorably, dry ice martinis that arrive bubbling up like a cocktail you’d get at Herman Munster’s house. (15045 N. Kierland Blvd., Scottsdale; 480-443-8555,


Casino Arizona

Two accessible locations on tribal land along the eastern edge of Scottsdale offer Las Vegas-style gaming, dining and entertainment. The 101 & Indian Bend version features keno, poker, more than 600 slot machines and adjacency to the Talking Stick Resort and golf courses. (9800 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale; 480-850-7777,

Whether you check out this place or its sibling Axis/Radius around the corner, it’s worth at least few hours and a cover charge to experience some really attractive young people at a white-hot Old Town Scottsdale nightclub. Six bars, a huge outdoor patio and live music with DJ are among the other attractions. (7340 E. Shoeman Ln., Scottsdale; 480-970-5000,

Scottsdale Gun Club

Few attractions in town let the boys be boys quite like the indoor shooting range at SGC. Training sessions are available, eye and ear protection are provided and gun rentals include a variety of handguns, rifles and shotguns and ever-popular machine guns. Shrug off your misfires on the golf course by blasting away at the electric motorized targets. (14860 N. Northsight Blvd., Scottsdale; 480-348-1111,



The Boulders (South)

Adorable bunnies nibbling grass at the tee box and javelinas tromping through ravines with faces only a mother could love are among the natives you’ll encounter playing with your loved one. Better still are the six-story boulders straight out of The Flintstones that come into play throughout. (34631 N. Tom Darlington Rd., 480-488-9028,

Superstition Mountain (Prospector)

Nestled into the foothills of the spectacular Superstition Mountains, this once-private Jack Nicklaus design witnessed such winners as Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa when it hosted the LPGA. The perfect, hyper-fast greens help illustrate why it was voted “Best Conditioned Course” on Tour. (8000 E. Club Village Dr., Superstition Mountain; 480-983-1411,

Talking Stick (South)

Perhaps not as strategic as its sibling, the North, but the flat, parkland-style South is a delight in its own right. Artfully crafted Coore-Crenshaw bunkers, mountain panoramas, an absence of houses and occasional wild horse sightings on this tribally-owned track are highlights. (9998 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale; 480-860-2221;


Royal Palms

Former first couple George and Laura Bush have enjoyed the oasis-like serenity at this Phoenix institution—and why shouldn’t they, what with the hacienda-style set-up, fabulous Camelback Mountain views, amazing Alvadora Spa and romantic T. Cook’s Mediterranean restaurant. (5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix; 602-840-3610,

The Boulders

Two sublime Jay Morrish courses, casitas with cozy fireplaces and the Couples Massage in the Couples Sun Suite are among the many attractions at this melt-into-the-landscape property north of Scottsdale. Retail therapy is available next door at El Pedregal marketplace. (34631 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree; 480-488-9009,

Arizona Biltmore

This Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired “jewel of the desert” dates to 1929 and has hosted every U.S. President from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush. At least two famous couples, Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned here, amid the mountains, gold-leaf lobby ceiling and now, a superb spa. (2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix; 602-955-6600,


La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

The nation’s only four-diamond Mexican restaurant dishes out wood-beamed ceilings, flagstone and beehive fireplaces and an adjacent Tequileria bar, complete with tastings. Do not miss the house-made guacamole, prepared tableside, the Valley’s ultimate appetizer. (7575 E. Princess Dr., Scottsdale; 480-585-4848,

Elements at Sanctuary on Camelback

Iron Chef America winner and Food Network personality Chef Beau MacMillan operates out of one of the loveliest restaurant settings in the Southwest, with stunning mountaintop views of the Valley below. Happily, the food matches the surroundings, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients from seasonal harvests. (5700 E. McDonald Dr., Paradise Valley; 480-607-2302,

T. Cook’s at Royal Palms Resort

Nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain, the epitome of Phoenix fine dining rolls out inspired Mediterranean cuisine in an atmosphere that oozes class and charm, but not stuffiness. The fire-roasted rotisserie entrees and cozy piano bar will put you in the mood for sure. (5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix; 602-808-0766,


Scottsdale Art Walk

Every Thursday evening, Old Town’s more than 100 art galleries extend their hours to show off their wares. Enthusiasts stroll a handful of Scottsdale’s most charming and historic streets for the ultimate art meet and greet. Look for periodic special themed events coordinated by the Scottsdale Gallery Association. (Main Street and Marshall Way, Scottsdale Arts District, Scottsdale; 480-990-3939,

Musical Instruments Museum

Phoenix’s newest cultural attraction boasts more than 300 exhibits and 10,000 items from around the globe, organized by country and culture. In the Experience Gallery kids (and adults) can play a variety of instruments, including drums, guitars and an enormous gong.  Video concert footage, photos and costumes are among the other highlights. (4725 E. Mayo Blvd., 480-478-6000,

Desert Botanical Garden

The vivid red sandstone of the Papago Buttes forms a compelling backdrop for this living repository for native cactus and wildflowers of every description. Specialized tours, workshops and seasonal exhibits are all part of the educational offerings, but the walk alone is the perfect introduction to Arizona. (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix; 480-941-1225,



The Phoenician

Three shortish, stunningly beautiful nines in the shadow of Camelback Mountain form the perfect backdrop for golfers aged 8 to 80, with a Family Tees program available. The Desert and Canyon nines flirt with native flora, notably the unforgettable drop-shot par-3s on the Desert loop. (6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale; 480-423-2449,


Situated 15 minutes from the Chicago Cubs spring training site, this walkable Ken Kavanaugh design features superbly sculpted bunkers and camera-worthy vistas of Red Mountain. Longbow hosts the prestigious Heather Farr AJGA event, so you’ll walk in some famous footsteps—when those feet were smaller. (5601 E. Longbow Pkwy., Mesa; 480-807-5400,

Camelback (Indian Bend)

A 10-minute shuttle ride away from the family-friendly Camelback Inn, a JW Marriott Resort & Spa, this mature 33-year-old spread is flat, palm-lined and is without forced carries. While few individual holes are memorable, the overall experience, amid the mountains and luxury homes, is most pleasant. (7847 N. Mockingbird Ln., Scottsdale; 480-596-7050,


Westin Kierland

Whether mom and dad are tackling a third nine, working the abs, or shopping at Kierland Commons next door, they can get away knowing that the small fry are well looked after. The Westin Kids Club greets children ages 4-12 with lizard-spotting contests, nature walks and swimming in the 900-foot-long river pool for starters. (6902 E. Greenway Pkwy., Scottsdale; 480-624-1000,

JW Marriott Desert Ridge

The state’s largest resort hotel at 953 rooms is anything but convention central. Serious golfers will warm to the Arnold Palmer and Nick Faldo courses (with free golf specials for the kids) and the young ones will dive right into the lazy river pool or jump over to the Family Escape Center. (5350 E. Marriott Dr., Phoenix; 480-293-5000,

Camelback Inn, a JW Marriott Resort & Spa

Bill Marriott, the namesake chairman of the renowned hotel chain, used to vacation here as a kid, so he has ensured this flagship property is family-friendly, from the playable championship 18s, to the pitch-and-putt course in the resort’s front yard. (5402 E. Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale; 480-948-1700,


Buca di Beppo

The vibe, the noise, the fun—the food! Southern Italian fare is on tap, and it’s all delicious, served up family-style in gigantic portions, but it’s the atmosphere and the value that makes it so special for families. Entrees will please sophisticated palates, but the kids will feel right at home. (3828 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale; 480-949-6622,

Sugar Bowl

An Old Town Scottsdale favorite since 1958, this wholesome ice cream parlor and restaurant is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, from the pink building outside to the soda counter inside. The soups, salads and sandwiches are pretty tasty, but it’s the reasonably priced ice cream sundaes that are the real draw. (4005 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale; 480-946-0051,

Dave and Buster’s

Maybe the best destination in town for both kids and adults who enjoy their distractions, this 65,000-square-foot emporium at Desert Ridge Marketplace offers three restaurants, bowling, billards, televised sports throughout and games of every description from classic arcade activities to race car simulations. Oh, and the food is good, too. (21001 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix; 480-538-8957, daveandbusters,com)


Desert Storm Hummer Tours

This 17-year-old Scottsdale outfit offers one of the “Top 100 Adventures in America” as voted by National Geographic. If rugged 4 x 4 up-close action through the desert and mountains east of Scottsdale sounds like fun, hold on and enjoy the ride. (480-922-0020,

CrackerJax Family Fun & Sports Park

Whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, this North Scottsdale fun park lives up to its name. A two-level, 66-bay automated driving range, miniature golf, go-karts, bumper boats and batting cages are among the many diversions. An indoor arcade awaits in case of the rare rainy day; brand new is the bungee dome for the adventurous. (16001 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale; 480-998-2800,

Rawhide Western Town & Steakhouse

Situated south of Phoenix at the tribally owned Wild Horse Pass resort, this Old-West theme park features burro and horse rides, train and stagecoach rides and a six-gun theater with Wild West plays and shootouts. Live music, dancing, shopping and an excellent restaurant completes the picture.  (5700 W. North Loop Rd., Chandler; 480-502-5600,



We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro)

The rare desert course that was designed to be walked, this Coore-Crenshaw creation features Old World stylings, with emphasis on contour and the ground game and the next tee located adjacent to the previous green. New World trappings include thorny underbrush and the namesake cacti framing the hilly fairways. (18200 Toh Vee Cir., Fort McDowell; 480-836-9000,

Grayhawk (Raptor)

Tom Fazio carved out this eighteen from the flat desert floor in 1995. Skip your morning workout, because entering, raking and exiting Scottsdale’s deepest, biggest bunkers will burn all the calories you’ll need. Handsome McDowell Mountain panoramas and the watery risk/reward closer might leave you breathless as well. (8620 E. Thompson Peak Pkwy., Scottsdale; 480-502-1800,

Eagle Mountain 

Fairways at this rolling, scenic Scott Miller design are sculpted into massive bowls, which helps redirect wayward drives, but gives your calves a stairmaster-worthy experience walking back up to the cart paths from fairways and greens. The downhill plunge at the par-4 18th sets up one of the desert’s most memorable holes. (14915 E. Eagle Mountain Pkwy., Fountain Hills; 480-816-1234,

Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North

Combining fitness with environmental stewardship is the resort’s Desert Preservation Hike, which begins with a walk to adjacent Pinnacle Peak Park, followed by a guided trek in the desert. Guests then plant a cacti or other native flora. Toss is the Four Seasons’ superb service and spa and you’ve got a winner. (10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr., Scottsdale; 480-515-5700,

Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain

Aside from the signature spa and astounding views (and cocktails) emanating from the Jade Bar, the resort serves up fitness trainers such as Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Misty Hyman and Olympic runner Mike Schneider, as well as the Triathlon Prep program, a 3-day package that mixes workouts with spa time. (5700 E. McDonald Dr., Paradise Valley; 480-948-2100,

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

Just walking the length and width of this sprawling luxury resort will burn a few calories, but its health-conscious dining options, acclaimed Willow Stream Spa and certified personal trainers for fitness, yoga, pilates or tennis just might make you forget the famous TPC Scottsdale Stadium course right outside the door. (7575 E. Princess Dr., Scottsdale; 480-585-4848,

True Food Kitchen

This innovative new restaurant is a collaborative effort between acclaimed Fox Restaurants and best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil. The result features a menu peppered with local and regional ingredients that appeal to folks looking for balance in their lives. The bison burger, kale salad and sweet potato hash are healthy favorites. (2502 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix; 602-774-3488,

Chelsea’s Kitchen

A favorite of Phoenix Sun Grant Hill, this roadhouse-style restaurant appeals to non-NBA athletes as well, via feel-good offerings such as ahi tacos, brussels sprout salad and pan-roasted short ribs. The courtyard patio is a popular option, as are the complimentary sea salt-topped chocolate chip cookies they dispense on your way out. (5040 N. 40th St., Phoenix; 602-957-2555,

Seasons 52

Calorie counters satisfy their cravings at this mid-town Phoenix eatery that serves fresh, grilled, seasonally inspired items—and offers full nutritional breakdowns on every item. They also provide alternative menus, including Low Sodium, Lactose Free, Gluten Free and Vegan. The custom flatbreads that start your meal are superb. (2502 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix; 602-840-5252,


Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving

The Bondurant School has educated everyone from NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson to Senator John McCain’s wife, Cindy, in the thrill-packed art of maneuvering a swift-moving race car. Group programs, go-carts, gear and apparel—it’s all a go-go here. (20000 S. Maricopa Rd., Chandler; 800-842-RACE,

Handlebar J

Grab your Stetson and a cold one and let your hair down at this Scottsdale legend where live country music and two-step dancing have rattled the rafters for more than 50 years. Check out the free dance lessons on Tuesday and Wednesday—and bring your foursome for the line dancing on Tuesdays. (7116 E. Becker Ln., Scottsdale; 480-948-0110,

Camelback Mountain

It doesn’t just sit there to look pretty—centrally located Camelback Mountain is meant to be experienced. Some walk, some practically run up the mountain’s two major trails, neither of which is particularly long, but are considered moderate to difficult by experts. Popular Echo Canyon is the steeper hike, while Cholla Trail is rockier. 


Brand new golf courses in Greater Phoenix may be non-existent, but somehow, the buzz is back. So is Phil Mickelson. No, Lefty hasn’t relocated to his old stomping grounds; he’s invested in them. He and his old Arizona State University coach (and current agent) Steve Loy have formed the M Club, a concept that allows one to purchase a single membership and enjoy playing privileges at multiple clubs—both private and public. One such club is the old Sanctuary at WestWorld, which sports a new name, McDowell Mountain Golf Club, together with course improvements that enhance playability, such as widened fairways, improved sight lines, a thinned-out desert and fewer forced carries.
Another clean-up effort has paired with newly stellar course conditioning to return the Raven at South Mountain to its late 1990s glory days. Armed with its revised name, the Raven-Phoenix, and its 10-minute drive time to the airport, this bird is flying high again.
Trend-spotters have identified two more items to put on the radar screens of traveling golfers. First is the opening to the public of once-private clubs. The two biggest to unlock the gates are the 36 holes at Superstition Mountain, former LPGA Tour and Champions Tour site, and the Rees Jones-designed Quintero, considered by some to be among the nation’s best.
A final newsmaker is the introduction of a Short course within a course at two of the region’s greatest layouts, Troon North and the Boulders. Both are nine-holers of executive length that allow for a taste of the experience at a fraction of the price and time it takes to play. With the Champions Tour returning to Desert Mountain in 2012 and new fan zones and cell phones debuting at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Phoenix, Scottsdale and their surrounds are crackling with fresh golf energy.