SEDONA, Ariz. -- You're standing on the 12th tee at Sedona Golf Resort, ready to hit your drive, when two women approach you.
They're not carrying golf clubs. They're not driving a cart. Just as you're wondering what they're doing, one of the women asks if she can borrow your driver.
Being a nice guy, you oblige. The next thing you know, she's standing on the tee box, and the other woman is snapping her picture.
"It's a pretty common occurrence around here," said Sedona Golf Resort Director of Golf Ryan Stemsrud. "We try to curtail it a bit so golfers can have a little bit more of a serene experience, but we do get a lot of people who just want to walk around and take pictures."
It's hard to blame them. Simply put, Sedona Golf Resort is one of the most beautiful golf courses in Arizona. Framed by the city's famed red rocks, the course is as much a treat for the eyes as it is a test of your golf game.
"If you're having a bad day playing, it will cheer you up for sure," said Matt Jones, from Wichita, Kan. "It's so beautiful, it's hard to get mad."
Sedona Golf Resort is one of three golf courses in the area, which is located about a two-hour drive north from Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Built in 1988 and designed by Gary Panks, the par-71, 6,646-yard layout plays much tougher than the scorecard numbers might suggest.
For one thing, it's so easy to get caught up in the spectacular views that the mind wanders from the golf game. Take the 210-yard, par-3 10th hole. It is one of the most photographed holes in the western United States thanks to a spectacular view of the red rocks behind the green. Posters of No. 10 are sold in the clubhouse, and in 1999, the Arizona Republic called it the best par 3 in the state.
Get lost in the scenery, however, and you can post a big score, particularly if you hit it into the greenside bunkers or face a downhill putt on a green that slopes from back to front.
"Yeah, you can lose track of the fact you're here to play golf," Stemsrud said with a laugh.
Also, the golf course has two different personalities. The front nine features three par 5s – including the 623-yard fifth hole – and comes in at 3,585 yards. The back nine has three par 3s and is only 3,061 yards long.
"The front nine from the tips is a long haul," Stemsrud said.
Fortunately, Panks made the fairways wide enough to accommodate both low-handicap players and weekend duffers. Unlike many desert courses in the Valley, you can spray your ball at Sedona Golf Resort and still be in play.
"It is a little more user friendly," Jones said. "I'm not very good, but I can still play and have fun."
No. 10 is Sedona Golf Resort's signature hole, but the best holes on the course are the par-3, 183-yard second hole and the par-4, 439-yard 15th hole.
The second hole features a 55-foot drop in elevation from tee to green and a two-tiered green that can be difficult to putt depending on the pin placement. The fairway on No. 15 is narrow to begin with and includes a wash that runs in front of the green.
"It's probably the toughest hole on the course," Stemsrud said.
Fortunately, by the time you arrive at the 15th tee, you're probably so captivated by the scenery that you've long forgotten the numbers on your scorecard.
Is Sedona Golf Resort the most challenging course you'll play? No. Is it one of the most unforgettable? Absolutely.
Sometimes, a golf course is defined by its scenery, and that's the case here. The red rocks are so majestic they relegate Panks' design to the back seat.
That's not to say Sedona Golf Resort isn't a joy to play. It is. But it's the views around the course that make it special.
Sedona Golf Resort sits in the shadow of the Hilton Sedona Resort & Spa, but travelers have several other lodging options as well, including the Premiere Vacation Club at Bell Rock just a couple of miles away.
There are dozens of restaurants within a 15-minute drive, but check out the Marketplace Cafe, a funky bistro just down the road from Sedona Golf Resort.
June 24, 2010