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Staring at the Sun: TravelGolf.com's Top Ten Desert Courses

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

PHOENIX, AZ - Forced carries over cavernous dry washes, lost balls amid prickly cactus, and plush green fairways contrast against the jagged, purple outline of a barren mountain range.

This is desert golf, and for many golfers, it is the ultimate playing experience. Golf may have its roots in the towering hardwood trees and rolling hills of the eastern seaboard, but the surreal landscapes of the desert Southwest have become a fantasyland for high end, daily fee golf.

In southern Arizona, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale, Mesa and Tucson lay claim to the greatest concentration of desert golf, all accessible from the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix.

To the north, Las Vegas has not so quietly emerged as the southwest's most elegant golf destination, and it has the modern, desert style golf courses to prove it.

To the west, Palm Desert and Palm Springs have long been known as two of the southwest's premier golf destinations, and golf's "Skins" game and Bob Hope have ingrained this arid region into the collective conscious of golfers from Los Angles to New York.

New Mexico, the darkhorse of the group, has a number of outstanding desert golf offerings for those with the wherewithal to seek them out.

So grab your water bottle, your sunscreen, and all your spare golf balls - TravelGolf.com's writers bring you the Top Ten Desert Courses You Can Play.

l. Pinnacle Course at Troon North Golf Club, Scottsdale, AZ. Tom Weiskopf designed this Sonoran desert masterpiece and the layout this is easily one of Arizona's most visually stunning. Forget player friendly - high handicappers have been known to lose over a dozen balls a side on this penal course. Of course, not one of them actually logged a complaint. Plenty of sculpted granite, stomach turning elevation changes, and target golf. For tee times: 480-585-7700. Greens Fees: $75 to $240.

2. Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club, Sandia Park, NM. Ken Dye, no relation to Pete Dye, is not a popular name outside of the Land of Enchantment. But inside the borders of this dramatic land of big skies and craggy mountains, his designs captivate visitors and locals alike. Paa-Ko (at right) is set at 6700 feet of elevation, just outside of Albuquerque. While it's not desert in the traditional sense, most holes play through native pinons, juniper and ponderosa pines. The towering Sandia Mountains form the backdrop. For tee times: 866-898-5987. Greens Fees: $38 to $66.

3. PGA West Stadium Course, La Quinta, CA. Didn't think we'd let a Top Ten get by without a Pete Dye course, did you? You've probably seen this one a few times on television, and marveled at the starkness of its surroundings. If you've played it, you probably marveled at how difficult this arduous desert layout can play. For tee times: 760-564-7170. Greens Fees: $100 to $200.

4. Talon Course at Grayhawk Golf Club, Scottsdale, AZ. Professional golfer Phil Mickelson calls Grayhawk home, and the Talon course is one of Lefty's favorites. David Graham and Gary Panks, two of Arizona's most innovative architects, designed the course, which is the former home of the Anderson Consulting World Championship of Golf. Expect great views of the McDowell mountains, a five-level waterfall, and with a slope rating of 146, a golf course that will eat your lunch. For Tee Times: 480-502-1800. Greens Fees: $50 to $225.

5. Mountain Course at The Lodge at Ventana Canyon, Tucson, AZ. Tom Fazio makes a rare appearance in the Sonoran Desert with this mountainous layout that continually ranks as on of the nation's best. The 107-yard par 3 third hole cost over $1 million to build, and is one of the most famous, and expensive holes in all of golf. For Tee Times: 800-828-5701. Greens Fees $99 to $199.

6. The South Course at the Boulders, Carefree, AZ. A solo effort from Jay Morrish, who often teams with Tom Weiskopf to produce some of the world's most memorable golf courses. You've probably seen pictures of this course's prehistoric looking rock formations, all of which distract players from the task at hand - clearing treacherous arroyos and canyons in hopes of making par. For Tee Times: 800-553-1719. Greens Fees: $110 to $220.

7. Pinon Hills Golf Course, Farmington NM We are probably shaking up the establishment by putting two Ken Dye golf courses in the top seven, and just one Pete Dye, but we've always been taught to question authority! Besides, this exquisite track located smack dab in the middle of nowhere is playable for under $50! Elevated tee boxes, finely groomed grass and surreal vistas all mark this modern K. Dye track, which is sure to go down as one of the best values in golf history. For Tee Times: 505-326-6066. Greens Fees: $25 to $55.

8. The Mountain Course at LaQuinta Resort and Club, LaQuinta, CA Okay, so Pete Dye sneaks in again at No. 8 with this California desert course that features two of the most contrasting nines in golf. Undulating greens, and fairways carved from desert mountains define most of the course, as do the vintage Dye pot bunkers and water hazards. Oh, and Dye mixes in an island green at the par-3 16th hole. For Tee Times: 800-598-3828. Greens Fees: $75 to $235.

9. Reflection Bay Golf Club at Lake Las Vegas Resort, Henderson, NV Jack Nicklaus has produced one of the most visually stunning golf courses in the U.S. with this tricky layout. Look for double carries over water and deep arroyos. The course begins along steep canyon sides, and works its way to a majestic finish along an after-shave blue, palm-lined lake. For Tee Times: 702-740-4653. Greens Fees: $200 to $250.

10. Desert Course at Primm Valley Golf Club, Primm, NV Tom Fazio was not one to be left out of the Las Vegas golf course gold rush of the late 1990's. The Desert Course is a "sin"tillating blend of cactus, palms, elevated tees, native grasses, and generally, outstanding desert style golf. For Tee Times: 800-386-7867. Greens Fees: $80 to $195.

Honorable Mentions

The Raven at Sabino Springs, Tucson, AZ.
Grayhawk Raptor Course, Scottsdale, AZ
TPC Canyons, Las Vegas NV
Golf Canyon, Dinosaur Mountain Course, Apache Junction, AZ
The Gallery Golf Club, Marana, AZ

Travel Golf West can provide you with a golf package to Arizona's finest golf courses. Call 1-888-662-7130 for more information.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


 
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