PHOENIX -- The turn of the calendar in Arizona means three things to college football fans: The Fiesta Bowl, the Insight Bowl and great golf.
Fans who flock to Arizona to see either of the bowl games should remember to pack shorts, short-sleeve shirts, sunscreen (it is Arizona, after all) and their golf clubs. That's because there is no better time to hit the Valley's plethora of world-class golf courses than late December and early January.
Staying in downtown Tempe, close to the stadium and the restaurants, bars and people watching on Mill Avenue? Well, it's just a hop, skip and a jump to the ASU Karsten Golf Course. The Pete Dye design is a Scottish-links course with rolling hills, mounding in the fairways and arguably the most difficult final three holes of any course in the state.
Those who have a rental car have so many quality courses nearby to choose from that it's difficult to know just which ones to play. For starters, try the Raven Golf Club, located about 15 minutes east of Tempe. The Raven is an oasis in the desert, a parkland course featuring pine tree-lined fairways, immaculate conditions and imaginative holes. A promise: You'll use every club in the bag.
For a slice of desert golf, head east to Gold Canyon Golf Resort and play Dinosaur Mountain, ranked by Sports Illustrated as one of the 10 most underrated courses in the country. The par-72 layout features breathtaking views of the Superstition Mountains.
Of course, no football/golf trip to the Valley would be complete without a trek to north Scottsdale and its bevy of world-class layouts. Playing Troon North Golf Club isn't cheap -- a round costs north of $200 -- but the Pinnacle Course and Monument Course are among the best in the state. The two courses We-Ko-Pa Golf Club are also a treat, in particular the Saguaro Course, a Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore design that's a rare desert course built for walking.
Viewers of the FBR Open -- formerly known as the Phoenix Open -- will want to play TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course and, as they stand on the infamous par-3 16th hole, imagine what it would be like to be booed by 20,000 people if they miss the green with their tee shot.
While the corridor of golf in north Scottsdale gets all the love nationally, locals know there are plenty of affordable and quality courses in the West Valley.
The Golf Club of Estrella in Goodyear, located in the far southwest corner of the Valley, is one of the state's unsung beauties. Just be warned: The desert is abundant, the greens are lightning-quick and the bunkers are dastardly. There are 83 sand traps on the course, and most of those are so deep you'll need a step ladder as much as a sand wedge.
One of the gems on the west side is the Wigwam Resort, home to three 18-hole championship courses. The Gold Course is a Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design that stretches out to 7,430 yards from the tips. Shorter hitters might prefer the 6,000-yard, par-70 Patriot Course, with its ponds, dogleg fairways and abundant greenside bunkers. Wigwam's Heritage Course is the perfect balance between the two, a 6,900-yard layout with generous fairways and greens.
Finally, don't be put off by the half-hour drive west to the Raven Golf Club at Verrado. Situated at the base of the White Tank Mountains in Buckeye, Verrado has been ranked the No. 1 public golf course in Phoenix by Sports Illustrated.
Verrado features perhaps the funkiest two-hole stretch in Arizona. The par-4 13th hole is only 310 yards, but the green rises six feet from the front edge. An approach shot that doesn't get over the rise can roll 100 yards back down the hill.
Then, the 14th hole is a 184-yard par 3 that drops about 60 feet from tee to green.
You'll be talking about those long holes long after you return home.
December 12, 2011