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Duffer's delight

Sweep of Arizona golf courses proves state is a treasure trove

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Lookout Mountain presented great views and a playable challenge.

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Lookout Mountain presented great views and a playable challenge.

Ten days, 10 games, 10 different tracks!

After sampling a mixture of Arizona courses, I came to appreciate why the state has become such a popular golf destination for golfers.

Finding Manitobans on an Arizona golf course from November to March is as easy as spotting snowdrifts in Winnipeg.

And since the United States housing bust a few years ago, Manitobans have purchased properties in a near-herding mentality. There are areas of Scottsdale, Mesa, and Tempe that are viewed as Canadian subdivisions because of the preponderance of snowbird purchases.

The availability of quality golf options is one of the prime motivating factors that keep drawing Manitobans to the state.

Travelling with a fellow Winnipeg golf enthusiast, our journey would begin in Tucson on the evening of U.S. Thanksgiving Day.

Arriving at our Loews Resort property at 10 p.m., after the drive from Phoenix, and not having eaten since lunch, we quickly discovered finding an open restaurant during this important day of celebration was going to be a challenge.

After many tries, with even McDonald's outlets shut down, we finally had to resort to choosing from what was available at the nearest service station.

After aimlessly wandering the aisles, there it was, packaged under a brand called Hungry Man. Indeed, that was me!

And it was Thanksgiving Day after all. So I celebrated the occasion with a frozen turkey dinner, which included dressing, mashed potatoes plus all the trimmings our American friends might have enjoyed earlier in the evening.

After almost 14 hours of hunger, I concluded no home-cooked meal could have rivalled this one at the time.

But our bigger hunger was for golf, and with over 200 courses in the Phoenix-to-Tucson region we could only hope to capture a taste of these menu options. But the variety we went with did allow us to capture a sense of the quality and dynamic of Arizona golf.

For those planning a visit to the area here is my overview of the 10 selections that I experienced during this Arizona visit.

1. The We-Ko-Pa Golf Club

There are two 18-hole courses on this native-owned land situated just east of Scottsdale.

While most modern golf courses are surrounded by housing developments that often seem to infringe on the fairways, no such obstructions will be found at We-Ko-Pa.

Owned and operated by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, this course yields some of the most dramatic views of the Sonaran Desert and the surrounding mountains. We golfed on the Cholla Course, designed by Scott Miller. It is a relatively narrow course with hillside undulations that bring their own challenges.

While the views are spectacular it should be known this is a year-round cart-path-only club. As a result, play will be slower, and depending upon your accuracy there can be a fair bit of hillside walking involved.

2. The Golf Club at Dove Mountain

Sand traps, desert, and mountain views are what the best PGA players will face when they compete in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship from Feb. 17-23.

At 7,833 yards, and loaded with sand traps along the way, the best of professionals will struggle to score well on this Jack Nicklaus-designed desert walk.

Luckily there are five tee boxes to choose from, so even the casual golfer can enjoy the experience of this exquisitely structured course.

Situated only a few minutes off the I-10, near the community of Marana, it is easy to get to from either Tucson or Phoenix.

3. Lookout Mountain

Situated in the heart of Phoenix itself, this is a most enjoyable course to golf.

With its variety of elevations, this is a track offering many scenic opportunities, in a well-maintained lush flow through the Tapatio cliffs.

Highly rated by a number of golf magazines it has consistently received Golf Digest's four-star award over the past nine years.

Run by the worldwide Troon Golf organization, you will be well-greeted and treated throughout your time here, enhancing the golf experience.

Sitting in the Different Pointe of View restaurant at the end of a game will create an indelible imprint of why the course was christened Lookout Mountain.

4. Troon North

This is a Scottsdale golf experience that should not be missed.

There are two courses from which to choose, designed and then redesigned by British Open champion Tom Weiskopf. Both really are wonders to behold.

We golfed on the Monument track, aptly named for its huge granite stone structures that stand as statues in the middle of fairways.

5. The Ventana Canyon Mountain Course

The clubhouse of the Ventana Canyon golf club is situated immediately adjacent to the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, which was our accommodation during the Tucson portion of our stay.

There were more changes in elevation on this course than any we golfed during the entire 10-day period. The signature third hole of this course is a par-3 elevated tee box that traverses over 100 yards of cactus and canyon before it drops into a tight, undulating green many yards below.

Only the fittest would ever attempt to walk this course and still hope to achieve a reasonable score.

 

6. The Canyon Course

Because of its convenient proximity, we golfed both of the Ventana courses.

It proved to be an excellent decision, with the Canyon Course offering an entirely different experience than the Mountain Course.

This course might be renamed the nature course for its abundance of wildlife we spotted along the way.

A bobcat that shadowed us along a hole was particularly exciting. The ebb and flow of the canyon stretches its way alongside the desert homes that ring most of the course.

7. Kierland Golf Club

Attached to the Westin Kierland Hotel, the package offerings at this club are unique.

Here you can forgo golf-cart transportation in favour of a specially designed Segway golf transporter. As another part of the optional extras, guests can take advantage of the innovative Fore-Max golf training fitness program.

My muscles were plenty sore after our session. With the CD I brought home, I trust I will improve my flexibility and strengthen those muscles that are most dedicated to the golf swing.

While this is, in many ways, a typical resort golf course design, it, too was one of the more enjoyable games we had.

8. Las Sendas

Mention the name Robert Trent Jones Jr. and you will find golfers asking for directions to the course he designed.

Owned by Canadians, Las Sendas is not only a tribute to the designer, but it is as scenic and challenging as any you will find.

Situated on the east side of Mesa, it has been designed to appeal to those who demand luxury and quality of play at the same time.

The only thing we found frustrating was the lack of yardage markers, with carts that did not include GPSs.

When I questioned management about this, their response was today's golfers are always bringing their own digital devices, so that investment was not deemed necessary.

9. Ambiente at Camelback

As many courses as there already are in Arizona, more are still being built, with Ambiente the latest example.

It is the second course at JW Marriot's Camelback Inn, and is a notation of what may be coming in new conservation designs.

In Spanish, ambiente means environment, and the decision to hire the Hurdzan Fry Environmental group for the design was a deliberate one.

As a result, the course is ringed by native grasses on most holes, and the desert areas are preserved and well-protected. When we were there, a pair of coyotes wandered by us, less than 100 yards away.

The fairways are quite narrow so golfers should know wayward shots almost certainly mean the ball will not be found in the deep grasses.

10. Superstitious Springs Golf Course

This may be the only course we played that strayed so completely from the pure desert golf concept. In many ways it felt like we were golfing on a Manitoba track, but here with palm, pine and eucalyptus trees rather than the leafy green surroundings we see at home.

The course was relatively flat, and was far and away the least expensive option we encountered.

It was fun to play and made for a most enjoyable day.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2014 A1

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