If you went to Phoenix and could only play at one golf facility, which one would it be? That’s the question I basically asked myself when trying to come up with my top 10 public golf facilities in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.
Admittedly, it wasn’t easy, but I based my answers on predominantly one factor: Which courses are the most fun to play? After all, isn’t that why most of us play golf?
Measuring the fun factor is determined by scenery, shot values, challenge, course conditions, length of the round and how memorable the course is. If I walk away from a course and can immediately recall most of the holes, that’s huge. If I spend much of the day looking for golf balls — whether they are mine or my playing partners’ — well, that’s not so much fun. So give us enough room to hit it and find it off the tee. And make it interesting. That’s the way I see it.
The following 10 golf courses excel in all these areas. But that’s just my opinion. We’d be interested in yours as well, so feel free to contribute to the comment section below.
My list of top courses:
1. Troon North Golf Club, Scottsdale
Often named as the best public facility in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, Troon North Golf Club is backed up by 36 holes of wonderfully designed classic desert golf (with a little British Open influence) by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. Troon North’s Pinnacle Course, set against the base of Pinnacle Peak, is classic desert target golf. Generally considered the better of the two, however, Troon North’s Monument Course is named for the monument boulder on the third hole. With tees perched high above fairways, it has a few forced carries and a lot of great vistas from the tees. Both courses feature great views as well as some spectacular homes that are set well off the course. Practice facilities are also outstanding, and there’s also a short course if 36 holes isn’t enough or you want a great warm-up before tackling either course.
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2. TPC Scottsdale
Nothing against desert golf, but I’m a big fan of green grass and wide fairways, which both the recently renovated Champions Course and Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale have. More than that, it’s a TPC experience through and through, which means a great clubhouse, golf instruction, extensive practice facilities and PGA Tour-level golf. The Stadium Course, in particular, is a blast to play. The finishing stretch, which includes two terrific risk-reward holes — the par-5 15th over water and the drivable par-4 17th (not to mention the crazy par-3 16th) — makes for not only great drama during the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but your own matches as well.
3. Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club
Any course that gets seven years of grow-in is generally going to be in great condition, which was the case at Wickenburg Ranch, designed by Bill Brownlee and Wendell Pickett. Beyond that, though, the views of Prescott National Forest and Vulture Peak, the variety of holes, elevated tees and natural beauty of this course are among the best in the state. Nothing about this golf course, which has five par 3s and five par 5s, is boring. And that also includes the practice facilities, which rank as good as any I’ve ever seen. It’s well worth the 45-minute drive northwest from Phoenix.
4. We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, McDowell
With two terrific golf courses and no homes on site, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club is certainly a must for anyone looking to play the best courses in the Valley. The original Cholla Course is a Scott Miller design that plays more than 7,200 yards from the tips. It’s a little more difficult than the Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw-designed Saguaro Course, which might be a little more interesting. Both have great scenery, are always in excellent shape and feature a number of elevated tees, bringing in great views of the Sonoran Desert and surrounding mountains.
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5. Grayhawk Golf Club, Scottsdale
Another great example of 1A and 1B, the 36-hole Grayhawk Golf Club has two superb desert layouts. The Raptor Course is the one that used to host a PGA Tour event. Designed by Tom Fazio, the course is both interesting and challenging with a variety of long and short par 4s and some outstanding par 5s, including the risk-reward 18th that plays around a lake. The Raptor actually got some renovation work by Fazio on the last few holes in 2015. Grayhawk’s Talon Course is no slouch, either. Designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, it features the par-3 17th, with its tough little island green, and the drivable par-4 13th as part of a really interesting back nine.
6. The Boulders, Carefree
The Boulders is 36 holes laid out in a setting unlike anything you’re likely to find elsewhere in the world. Giant, 12-million-year-old namesake boulders — some perched in seemingly magical and precarious pirouette poses — dominate the Sonoran Desert landscape. Both Jay Morrish-designed golf courses — the original North Course and South Course — are built into the desert foothills. Boulders’ South Course is the most scenic with its signature “Boulder Pile” and “Rosie’s Rock,” two of the resort’s most recognizable rock formations.
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7. Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, Maricopa
This was a top-10 course before its recent renovation, and it’s that much better now that a couple of greens were modified, bunkers were renovated and the overall routing of the course improved. Designed by Brian Curley of Schmidt-Curley Design, with input from Fred Couples, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is a unique blend of Scottish-like links and parkland, with a few water hazards, lots of deep bunkers to avoid and super-intriguing greens. Owned by the Ak-Chin Indian Tribe, this firm, fast playing course is set over 320 acres.
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8. Quintero Golf Club, Peoria
Rees Jones really hit a home run when he designed Quintero Golf Club just northwest of Phoenix. Many of the holes are isolated in valleys, surrounded by hills, which is somewhat reminiscent of another really good Jones course, Cascata near Las Vegas. Bordering Lake Pleasant, the course features generous fairways, beautiful bunkering and multi-level bentgrass greens against a magnificent backdrop desert landscape, wildlife and mountains.
9. The Wigwam, Litchfield Park
All 54 holes at The Wigwam resort — which include the Gold Course, Patriot Course and Heritage Course — are parkland, not desert golf. But the jewel is the recently redone, 50-year-old Gold Course. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (Patriot is also RTJ) and updated by Tom Lehman, the Gold really is pure gold with a smattering of strategic bunkers, water, doglegs, plenty of pines and eucalyptus trees — and lots of memorable holes.
10. Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, Scottsdale
With 27 holes designed by Scott Miller — the Acacia, Mesquite and Ironwood — there’s nothing about the Westin Kierland that isn’t fun. On one nine, tee shots even funnel toward the middle of generous fairways, so it’s difficult to get in trouble off the tee. But really, all three nines at this wonderful resort are player friendly, in great shape and easy to navigate — literally. By that, I mean that you can take a golf cart, a Segway, a Golfboard or a Golf Bike, so the innovation doesn’t stop with the golf holes.