CAREFREE, AZ - The moon is in full bloom above The Boulders Resort. It's a mystical setting.
Giant granite formations and mammoth rock balls, 12 million years in the making, cast shadows across the peaceful and sleepy Sonoran Desert. Stately saguaros, hundreds of years old, mark the ghostly landscape like sentinels.
On moonless nights the stars are big and bright. You are deep in the heart of the desert. A coyote howls in the distance. Everything is in tune with nature.
Even though it's only a short, dark desert highway trip from the shimmering night-time lights of sprawling Phoenix, man is insignificant here. The environment rules.
Construction of this world-class golf resort, covering 1,300 acres, failed to drive away the wildlife. Every day golfers are surprised to see a bobcat while hunting for a wayward shot. A "coyote rule" allows you to replay a shot without penalty in case a coyote sprints out and purloins your Titleist.
Rabbits "hog" the fairways at dusk munching on the green grass. And if you walk at night under a tree you will disturb roosting birds of all kinds including dove and Gambel quail.
Red Lawrence built the first nine holes on this site in 1969 as the Carefree Municipal Golf Course. Phoenix's Jack Snyder completed the 18 holes a few years later. Could they have forecast this land's future?
Today's 36 holes have designer Jay Morrish's stamp on them. He completed the South Course in 1983 and remodeled the North in 1985. He applied another facelift to the North in 1999.
Since its opening in 1985, The Boulders has been visited by lovers of the desert and golf in multitudes.
"The North Course (6,811 yards, par 72, slope 137) was the original," said Tom McCahan, Director of Golf. "But most people believe the South Course (6,726 yards, par 71, slope 140) is the most scenic and they know it has holes that go right up to the boulder piles". It's dramatic scenery, but I think the members enjoy the North because has more fairway to work with.
"I really think the back nine of the North from the back tees is the toughest stretch of holes," he continued. "You have five par-4 holes over 425 yards in distance and it can get tough. The greens are subtle so you won't have any really ridiculous putts."
The two courses, strikingly beautiful and characterized by rugged desert terrain, are continually alternated, allowing one to be kept private while the other is used by hotel guests.
The South Course's beginning sets the tone for a golf day you won't forget. No. 1 is a 447-yard par-4 that requires a target drive that stops short of two stacks of boulders that narrow the fairway at 110 yards out. The green rests just short of a massive boulder pile, where no doubt, many photos are snapped.
You will face a stacked pile of granite balls in sight for the tee shot at No. 2, a 150-yard par-3. Be precise and don't come up short because a deep bunker guards the front and another is in the rear.
The par-5, 5th leads you right up to the base of the signature "Boulder Pile" and you have a harrowing cart drive up to the par-5, 6th, which requires a tee shot from a box cut into the side of the giant boulder outcropping that sits adjacent to the Resort's main building. Your drive actually flies over the driveway that leads to the reception area.
The back tee is cut right beside "Rosie's Rock" on the par-3, 187-yard No. 7. It's one of the resorts most recognizable formations, since it looks like a giant golf ball on a tee. The name comes from Rusty Lyon, who is the visionary behind the resort. He wanted to honor his wife and scratched the name "Rosie" on the rock on his first visit to the site.
From here on the scenery just stays the same - awesome.
34631 North Tom Darlington Drive
Carefree, AZ 85377
$220 for resort guests, peak season. $240 for walk-ons. Includes bag tag, yardage book and range. Rates reduced in hot shoulder seasons. Call for details. Cool mist machine on carts.
The Boulders' South is No. 73 on Golf Magazine's 2000 Top 100 You Can Play List. The and North is ranked No. 83. It is a Golf Magazine Gold Medal Resort. Golf Digest lists it as a Top 25 U.S. Resort. Links Magazine named it Top Five Best of the West.
Golf Digest rated the North Course as the 3rd "Best Public Course" in the state for 1996, the 12th "Best in State" Course for 1995-96, and 19th under the same category for 1997-98. In addition, Golf Digest rated the South Course as the 2nd "Best Public Course" in the state for 1996, the 15th "Best in State" course for 1995-96, and 20th under the same category for 1997-98. The club has a private golf membership, but it also allows guests of the resort public play.
No. 5 Resort in the World by Conde Nast Traveler, 1998. No. 2 Best Golf Resort, The Robb Report, 1999. No. 5 U.S. Resort, Zagat Hotel Survey, 1997. Best U.S. Resort Hotel 14 straight years by Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report.
From Sky Harbor Airport, follow the airport signs to the 24th Street exit. Take 24th Street to 51 Squaw Peak Freeway North. Take 51 Squaw Peak Freeway North to Bell Road, exit right and head East for about 5 miles to Scottsdale Road. Turn left on Scottsdale Road and travel North for about 11 miles, through the traffic light at Carefree Highway. The entrance to The Boulders is just 500 feet North of Carefree Highway on the right (East) side of Scottsdale Road.
Each of the 160 individual casitas, including 48 suites, are shaped into the Sonoran Desert foothills. Natural hand-hewn wood logs adorn the ceilings and Mexican tile floors reflect the Southwestern spirit that surrounds. But the best thing is just enjoying the view or going for a walk among the gigantic boulders. You can also pick from various activities, jeep rides, tennis, the Sonoran Spa or go shop at El Pedregal, just a quick hike from the main building. There's a mandatory $22 daily fee on top of your daily rate that takes care of your gratuities.
Designed to help new women golfers learn the game and to ease intimidation newcomers often experience, this program assures all golfers equal acess to tee times and tee locations. Call the golf shop for details. Also available at The Boulders' sister properties - Carmel Valley Ranch, CA, and The Lodge at Ventana Canyon in Tucson.
The Latilla has a great view of a waterfall and the boulders from the main resort building. The Latilla features classic American cuisine. Menu choices also include Golden Door Spa cuisine, created by the resort's chefs and Spa professionals for specialties as healthy as they are appealing. Also, try the Palo Verde Cafe.
Practice Fac.: A-
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A-
Pace of Play: A-
Resort Hotel: A
Overall Rating: A