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High-end New West duel: The Top 10 golf courses in Arizona

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Arizona may be slow on some things (adopting Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, realizing that Phoenix-Scottsdale needed decent highway access), but no one can doubt its commitment to golf. There are more than 200 golf courses in the Phoenix-Scottsdale resort corridor alone. Just a few hours away, Tucson draws tourists as a golf destination in its own right.

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Prescott Lakes Country Club is the big surprise in TravelGolf.com's Top 10.
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Then there are all the satellite destinations cropping up, many touting courses by celebrity golf architects.

Arizona is arguably the new golf capital of the United States, boasting more high-quality courses than any of the longstanding traditional meccas.

"A good golf course in Arizona would be one of the best golf courses in Las Vegas or Myrtle Beach," said frequent Arizona golfer Joe Grimm. "It's that deep in quality."

Which makes the prospect of selecting the Top 10 golf courses in all of Arizona perhaps TravelGolf.com's most insane mission yet.

Nevertheless, here goes, taking into account the reports of golf pros, golf packagers, travel-industry insiders, architects, personal experience and, most important, regular golfers. These are all courses you can get on and play. No barred, gated country clubs allowed. Plenty of debate expected.

No. 1 - Monument at Troon North Golf Club Sure, the $275 high-season green fee is steep, but this is one of those courses a golfer has to experience. If you're going to splurge on one round of golf in Arizona, Troon North Monument should be it. This Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish design combines stark desert obstacles with greens so plush you almost think it has to be some kind of artificial turf.

And getting around the monster boulder in the middle of the fifth fairway remains the most memorable single shot in Arizona golf.

No. 2 - We-Ko-Pa Golf Club This Scott Miller design collects so many favorable press clippings it could make George Clooney jealous. It also carries better word of mouth among average folks than any sleeper movie sensation.

That's what happens when you combine a desert design up in the hills of Fort McDowell with relatively reasonable Scottsdale high season green fee (almost $100 less than at Troon North). Another huge bonus is the fact We-Ko-Pa is on an Indian reservation, meaning it's oh-so-rare house-free is status almost certain to last.

No. 3 - Mountain at Ventana Canyon Tom Fazio is at his showy best at this Tucson course, hitting golfers with an array of forced carries, blind shots and Carl Lewis-fast greens. No hole is like another. If you get bored here, you may want to check to see if you actually have a pulse.

The little par 3 third is the hole everyone talks about first. You're surrounded by mountains on three sides, shooting across a steep drop filled with rocks and desert vegetation, aiming for a green so guarded you'll wonder if the Fort Knox people didn't have a hand in it. But there are plenty of visually stunning holes here, including 18.

No. 4 - Pinnacle at Troon North Golf Club The Troon North course that Tom Weiskopf designed on his own actually brings you up to shoot at Pinnacle Peak on No. 18. It's an often dazzling ride to get there, with some fun, drivable par 4s amongst all the scenery. Some golfers argue that the greens are even trickier here than on its sister Mountain track.

No. 5 - South at Boulders Golf Club & Resort Boulders Head Professional Dean Ballard keeps a framed photo in his office showing huge rock formations amid endless bare desert. It's a shot of the Boulders site before the golf courses were built. When you're out on Boulders South, you still get plenty of that rock wonder.

Around since 1986, Boulders continues to create buzz today. "Every time we [take] some golfers out there, they can't stop talking about it," said Anthony Trapani of Arizona Golf Packages, a hotel and golf trip planning service.

Boulders North is a good play, but Boulders South is the showstopper.

No. 6 - Dinosaur Mountain Course at Gold Canyon Golf Resort A no-name designer (Ken Kavanaugh) and its out-in-the-desert location (40 minutes from downtown Phoenix, where the highways start to wane) combine to keep this scenic delight from getting the respect it deserves. Start your round and it won't be long before you're convinced.

Dinosaur Mountain climbs up and over the peak that provides its name, leaving golfers with dramatic elevated tees, shots down and up to greens and a feeling of I've never seen that before.

The course's measures a modern light 6,653 yards from tips, yet still boasts a 143 slope rating. You'll be climbing.

No. 7 - Talon at Grayhawk Golf Club There are more houses around the course now and some of the wonder's gone, but this David Graham/Gary Panks design still merits its place in the Top 10. The back nine is a great, grand, fun run of golf with water, canyon carries and bunkers galore.

No. 8 - Faldo Course at Wildfire Golf Club Nick Faldo makes the Top 10 with his first try at desert design. It can sometimes feel like you're playing out of sand more often than grass here with all the bunkers thrown your way. If you're looking for an easy resort course, you're searching in the wrong place: Faldo goes for the gusto here, demanding that golfers think on almost every shot.

Only open since 2002, the Wildfire Faldo is maturing into the accolades sure to come.

No. 9 - Omni Tucson National Once overrated - it's never been the top golf course in Arizona - this standard-bearer now probably gets underrated and overlooked in favor of newer, flashier tracks. Nonetheless, Tucson
National
is the Arizona PGA Tour stop you have to play, not the trendier TPC Stadium in Scottsdale.

It's like playing in a Midwest park in the middle of the desert, with greens every bit as friendly to hackers as they are to the pros. Opened back in 1962, this in an Arizona course that's stood the test of time in a state without a long golf history.

"Tucson National's too expensive to play very often, but it's a thrill every time you do get there," said golfer Jason Dickinson, whose Air Force career takes him to golf spots around the globe. "It's just so green and it's a fun design."

No. 10 - Prescott Lakes Golf Club The big surprise on a list of established heavyweights, this Hale Irwin design in the sleepy, temperate town of Prescott earns its spot with a creative, scenic challenge. Prescott Lakes hits you with memorable hole after memorable hole in mile-high altitude.

Prescott Lakes is not overly showy, but it's in great shape and has an enthusiastic, golf-loving staff. And it is much more difficult than it appears. Well, except for No. 14. That 402-yard par 4 with a fairway titled on a hill is just as hard as it looks.

This is a private course, but a good golf packager or just a love for the game can almost always get you on.

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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