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Red rocks, art, scenic courses: Sedona's a cool Arizona golf spot

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

As a golf vacation destination, Sedona may be no Phoenix-Scottsdale, but it has enough good golf courses to keep things interesting. Plus, Sedona's resorts and thriving art scene and stunning natural terrain makes for a well-rounded golf trip.

Sedona, Arizona
The best way to see Sedona's red rocks? A pink jeep.
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SEDONA, Ariz. - When you first hear about Snoopy Rock, the only logical response is skepticism. After all, a prehistoric rock formation that supposedly looks like a cartoon character does not exactly invoke thoughts of scientific truth.

Sure, it looks like Snoopy - oh yeah, and there's a dead alien under observation in New Mexico.

Only you're staring off the second-floor balcony of a Mexican place with killer sangria and darn if that striking red rock looming overhead doesn't look a lot like Snoopy laying on top of his doghouse.

Welcome to Sedona, a land of red rocks in all types of shapes, upscale resorts, funky art galleries, pink jeeps, wine bars and natural golf. About two hours and often another cool climate away from the Phoenix-Scottsdale resort corridor, Sedona brings a dash of eclectic eccentricity to the Arizona vacation scene.

Sedona is not a great golf destination. It does not have enough courses - or any truly great ones (though Seven Canyons is close) - to be a regular golf-only trip. But if you're looking for a spot to play some golf while you enjoy real desert recreation and an offbeat vibe, this could be the city.

Want to know how totally different Sedona is? It has Nick Nolte, the Oscar-nominated actor who's better known for his wild escapades on alcohol and other substances, in a Chamber of Commerce ad.

When Nolte talks about Sedona being a "spiritual place" in the commercial, you believe he believes that. Those red rocks have seen more than their fair share of characters getting closer to nature with some pharmaceutical aid.

You probably don't want to know what Snoopy Rock looks like on pot. Or maybe you do.

"Hey man, in Sedona it's live and let live," regular visitor John Keegan said, grinning. "This is the real West, where people make pretty things and leave each other alone."

There is no doubt about the pretty things. Sedona is full of art galleries that are near museums, many full of offbeat metal sculptures. On this visit, a woman in our group seriously debated spending $3,000 on a handmade American Indian quilt.

Yes, shopping is big in Sedona. But at least it's not cookie cutter mall shopping. You'll find something distinct here.

It hopefully won't be one of those T-shirts made out of real Sedona dirt (no joke) in the souvenir shops.

"Please don't tell me you spent $20 on a dirt T-shirt," a woman was overhead lecturing her husband.

Looking at the guy, sort of sniveling underneath a hat only a blind fisherman could appreciate, it's hard not to think, "there's a man who really needs to take up golf."

Sedona's red rocks & golf

Chances are you'll be able to walk out of your hotel, take a right and find yourself in the striking red rocks that turned Sedona into a tourist attraction in the first place. You can do a quick turn off the main shopping drag in town and be right in the red rocks.

That's how much Sedona is in nature. Many cities claim to bring you close to the great outdoors. Sedona puts it right outside your front door, often literally. This town doesn't look out on the red rocks. It's engulfed by them.

This sense of nature seeps into almost everything. You can be walking across the street from your hotel to the grocery store and be struck by how crisp and clean the air is and how bright the stars look in the night sky. In fact, it's probably most likely to hit you in mundane moments like that.

One of the best ways to experience the red rocks is a Pink Jeep Tour. This is exactly what it sounds like: You ride through the desert in open-top, unmistakably Barbie doll girl pink jeeps. Your tour guide/driver will have the pink jeep climbing almost straight up some of the huge rocks.

It's not as exciting as it sounds. The drivers will never be mistaken for Jeff Gordon. Miss Daisy's driver is a much stronger possibility. Chances are there will be a few senior citizens in your jeep (Sedona's full of retirees). But whatever the pink jeep tours lack in defy defying moments, they make up for with scenic views.

You might prefer the looks of Sedona Golf Resort, though. The red rocks tower over the green fairways in the near distance, and desert brush creeps in on several holes. Another bonus: You might think your drives have been injected with a sudden dose of John Daly power.

That's because you're playing at around 4,000 feet and the elevation helps give some extra distance. Sedona Golf Resort lets you take advantage of that with a number of raised tees - the better to watch your shots soar against those red rocks.

For a more parkland-style layout, Robert Trent Jones Sr. and junior. attempted to bring the Midwest to the red rocks at OakCreek Country Club. There are three lakes and plenty of tall fluffy trees on this 6,824-yard course.

Still, if you're bringing the sticks to Sedona you want to find a golf packager or resort that can get you on Seven Canyons, a Tom Weiskopf design on the edge of the Coconino National Forest that can cause double gulps on several tees.

Seven Canyons is a private club. But not that private. Most good concierges can get you on the tee sheet.

I came across two guys who'd been invited on Seven Canyons by a couple they met at a wine tasting in town. Sedona's a pretty welcoming place. The drinks tend to flow freely - hey, almost everybody here is on vacation or retired - and the cooler temperatures seem to relax folks.

Sedona is often 15-20 degrees cooler than Scottsdale, and in the Arizona summer, there is a huge difference between 108 and 92.

"You can breathe here," visitor Maggie Harrison said, sipping a drink on one of the town's open-air patios. "You know what I mean?"

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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Dates: January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2014
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