Downtown Scottsdale, Arizona is known for its spas and luxury hotels and restaurants, but north of the city around Cave Creek, you'll encounter cowboy dive bars and wide open spaces, but still plenty of great golf courses like Boulders Golf Club and Troon North.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The Valley of the Sun - especially Scottsdale - presents quite a juxtaposition: Cowboys and the wild, Wild West mixed with luxury living and recreation.
Designer shops, trendy bars and luxury hotels fill Old Town and downtown Scottsdale, but you can head north on Scottsdale Boulevard and find a Wild-West feel in Cave Creek. The main street consists of little more than a few small shops and bars near Frontier Town, a main attraction that pays tribute to the area's history.
Even outside Scottsdale and into the Sonoran Desert, where the bright hotel lights fade into beautiful mountain and boulder formations that fill the horizon, you'll still find the culture contrast.
"Cowboys ride their horses to the bar," said Michael Bahnerth, assistant professional at the Boulders Resort near Cave Creek. "And they're sitting next to millionaires who drove a Bentley there."
The bars along winding Cave Creek Road are mostly honky-tonk dives with plenty of local color. One popular, local spot is Tuesday's at Silver Spur Saloon, home to Mel's Auction, where locals bring in odd items for Mel to raffle. The house is packed, and everyone eats fried chicken, usually leaving with something weird for their collections.
Elsewhere on Cave Creek Road, Buffalo Chip offers full-on honky tonk with live bull riding on Wednesday and Friday nights. Next door is the biggest and most popular bar to visit, Harrold's Corral, another dive whose clientele is a melting pot of bikers, cowboys and golfers.
But there's nothing grungy about the golf in this neck of the desert. In fact, many of Scottsdale's finest golf clubs sit north of Highway 101 around Cave Creek, all within about a 15-minute drive.
It's amazing to think that one of most popular properties of the past 20 years would undergo an extensive overhaul of its golf courses, but that's exactly what Troon North did. Just east of North Scottsdale Road on Dynamite Boulevard, the Pinnacle course and Monument course, designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, rank perennially among the best golf courses in Arizona.
The renovation project, overseen by Weiskopf and completed in 2007, included some redesign and rerouting, so some holes once on the Pinnacle shifted to the Monument and vice versa.
The result? Two more walker-friendly courses with no long drives from green to tee and more consistent aesthetics.
The golf courses still includes top-shelf practice facilities, a clubhouse, restaurant and everything else you'd expect from Troon's flagship facility.
In contrast to Troon North and Grayhawk Golf Club - venues designed to host top professional events - Boulders' two courses offer an unmatched golf experience for the rest of us. Both golf courses top out at less than 6,900 yards and feature one of the area's top golf schools and practice facilities.
That said, the Morrish-designed, semi-private, resort golf courses remain among the area's best, thanks to unbeatable service and conditioning.
The South course and North course present similar challenges. But the South is more scenic, playing closer to the striking boulder formations of Cave Creek. The picturesque fifth hole plays straight toward a formation with a green at its base, and No. 7 is known for Rosie's Rock, a mysterious balancing stone.
Both the North and South feature smooth bentgrass greens. And the altitude, a few hundred feet above Scottsdale, allows them to be kept in top shape, even heading into the summer months.
Grayhawk Golf Club, a bit south of Troon and Boulders, has hosted the Frys.com Open since 2007 during the PGA Tour's Fall Series.
When the tour fellas leave, both courses serve up a championship test in their own way. Grayhawk Golf Club's Raptor, designed by Tom Fazio, showcases big, steep, dramatic bunkering, brawny par 3s and 4s, and mighty, tough-to-read green complexes. Before teeing off, ask a local for advice on the break of putts. It can help.
Opened a year before the Raptor in 1994, the Talon course at Grayhawk presents a formidable test in its own right. It hosted the Andersen Consulting World Match Play Championships, predecessor of the Accenture event. Designed by Gary Panks and player associate David Graham, the golf course requires strategy and distance to score well, though its areas around the greens can be more generous than the Raptor on many holes.
Off-course amenities are tour ready every day at Grayhawk, from an enormous practice facility and numerous putting greens to two restaurants that host a good amount of non-golfers for the lunch rush, Phil's Grill and the larger, more upscale Quill Creek Cafe.
If you're want more affordable golf courses to round out your golf trip in Cave Creek, consider these two nearby courses: Rancho Manana Golf Club and Dove Valley Ranch. Rancho Manana features plenty of elevation changes and scenery to keep things interesting, even though it plays just 6,004 yards from the tips. Dove Valley Ranch is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design from 1998, built as an escape from "target golf." It stretches to more than 7,000 yards.
Set below 12-million-year-old boulders, the Boulders Resort, a Waldorf Astoria property, sprawls over 1,300 natural-desert acres. It features numerous lodging options, from casitas to larger villas and haciendas, and outdoor activities that range from golf to tennis to rock-climbing classes. It's also home to the 33,000-square-foot Golden Door Spa, one of the best brands in the desert, with more than 50 years of treatment expertise.
If you're not up to heading into Cave Creek's Frontier Town, check out the resort's El Pedregal complex. It features its own shopping and dining options, including the Spotted Donkey Cantina, a casual but stylish southwestern restaurant with happy-hour specials and an upbeat atmosphere.
February 9, 2010