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Travel: Golf in the Arizona desert, with all the comforts of home
by Kelly Hill

Dear Michigan Golfers,
Summer – and therefore the best of Michigan’s golf season - is speeding to another end and you will soon once again need to be creative if you are to extend your own golfing pleasure. But one can only be so creative when the inevitable winter snows begin to cover your favorite course.

Let me offer a luxurious and challenging alternative to those dark winter weeks when only golf will cure your winter blues. Look west, to the Scottsdale area of Arizona. I recently spent an exhausting week of golfing research in the Arizona desert and am here to report my findings.

First, any good golf vacation needs a comfortable place you can call home, a place where you can relax and relate your links tales to those who may have prefer to shop rather than swing. My suggestion for a luxurious, convenient and golf-crazy place to call home while golfing the Arizona desert is Resort Suites of Scottsdale. Located an easy 30 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in northern (read: less congested) Scottsdale, Resort Suites (www.resortsuites.com) lets you make the call, from one to four bedrooms in your suite. However many you need, every suite features generous dining and living room areas, a full kitchen and a full bathroom off each bedroom.

At check-in, be sure you receive a pamphlet that will accompany you throughout your stay. Inside youll find addresses and telephone numbers as well as - and this is the most important part - driving directions to countless courses in the Scottsdale and Phoenix areas as well as other parts of Arizona. The staff is more than gracious in assisting you with your selections of courses and in arranging tee times. Following the driving directions, they’re flawless.

I played four courses in six days and spent the other two less than four hours north of Scottsdale marveling at the Grand Canyon (get up early one day and watch the sunrise over the canyon, it’s breathtaking). Three of the courses I played are desert courses that have been developed by SunCor Resort and Golf Management, which is a division of SunCor Development Company. Two of those courses are in the immediate Scottsdale area and the third - the Sedona Golf Resort - is a destination in itself. The other course I played is a more traditional golf course Intrawest Golf, a leading developer and operator of mountain resorts across North America.

If you can play only one course in the Scottsdale area, make it SunRidge Canyon. I played this beautiful course early in my visit and recommended it numerous times later, particularly to a couple of jovial Canadians from northern Alberta who were on a golfing venture in the Phoenix area.

Opened late in 1995, SunRidge Canyon (www.suncorgolf.com) was designed by course architect Keith Foster and runs along the floor of a canyon just west of the town of Fountain Hills, which is adjacent to Scottsdale. Foster, who designed a par-71 course that plays 6,823 yards from the back tees, needed to move just 200,000 cubic yards of earth in the construction of SunRidge canyon as he made the most of the canyon setting and natural rock out-croppings.

The clubhouse at SunRidge Canyon is a Hacienda-style structure with a Santa Fe influence that offers spectacular views of the Four Peaks mountain range.

Located less than a two-hour drive north of Scottsdale (if you follow Resort Suites driving directions, you’ll drive the Carefree Highway, and that’s an indication of how pleasant this drive is), is the Sedona Golf Resort, a 6,642-yard, par-71 Gary Panks course that winds its way over, through and around the famed Red Rocks of Sedona.

I played with a German from Hamburg who repeatedly stopped before a shot, went to his bag for his camera and snapped off a few frames so as to better remember his visit to perhaps Arizonas most picturesque golf course. Despite the awesome setting in which this golf course is located, you’ll need to stay focused on your game while playing this golf course, however, as it is not a typical resort course.

Sedona Golf Resort (www.sedonagolfresort.com) also features a 17,000 square-foot clubhouse that offers panoramic views of the golf course as well as Sedona’s Red Rocks.

The third SunCor property I played, which chronologically was the first Arizona course I played, was Sanctuary Golf Course at Westworld (www.sanctuarygolfaz.com), an easy 10-minute drive from Resort Suites. Opened in November of 1999, the Sanctuary is just that, an environmentally friendly golf course that works closely with the Audubon International Institute to provide a wildlife habitat dedicated to the sustenance of native plant and animal species.

This course, a par-71, 6,650-yard tract designed by Randy Heckenkemper, is nestled in the majestic foothills of the McDowell Mountains. The courses eco-sensitive layout took advantage of the natural terrain and vegetation and features wetlands and cattails mixed with cactus and mesquite to form an inviting desert-golf oasis.

While the course at the Sanctuary incorporates some of the newest advancements in water conservation and environmental preservation, the courses clubhouse is a sculpted stone and stucco building that offers the usual amenities but also features unparalleled views of the Scottsdale’s Camelback Mountain as well as the entire Valley of the Sun.

Panks worked with former U.S. Open and PGA Champion David Graham to create The Raven Golf Club at South Mountain, which is located only moments from the Phoenix Airport. This 7,115-yard par-72 features expertly maintained fairways that are framed by thousands of mature pines, African sumac and Oleander trees as well as vistas of rugged desert mountains and the Phoenix skyline.

Opened late in 1995, The Raven is a traditional golf course developed on 162 acres in the middle of the Arizona desert. Located directly across from South Mountain Park, which is the largest city park in the world, The Raven came highly recommended by knowledgeable players in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.

The course, however, is a popular spot for sizable outings, so if you want to play a traditional course in the desert, you may have to be willing to accept a shotgun start early in the morning. Playing golf early in the morning is the best way to avoid the afternoon heat, but the best way to enjoy a golf course is to play it as it was designed, rather than having to open play somewhere along the course. When your 18th hole features a series of stunning waterfalls, some of the allure and drama of a quality golf course, as well as much of the architect’s intent, are lost when your finishing hole in No. 1.

Oh, by the way, if you have time following the countless rounds of golf available in the Valley of the Sun, Resort Suites of Scottsdale features four swimming pools.

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