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Head southwest, young man, when the West gets white

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's all fun and games in the Northwest, Midwest and Rockies right now. Based on a cross section of readings from Seattle to Denver to Minneapolis, daytime temperatures are still hovering around the mid to high 60's, making golf in shirtsleeves and a pair of chinos a very realistic notion.

Stadium Course at PGA West - 7th
Pete Dye set the standard for Palm Springs desert golf with the PGA West Stadium Course.
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Stadium Course at PGA West - 7thLas Vegas Paiute Golf Resort - Snow Mountain - 10thPinnacle Course at Troon North - 14th
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Tick, tock, tick, tock.

The balmy dog days of early autumn will soon come to end across the western U.S. The next home game for the Broncos could be in 40-degree weather. University of Washington fans will dawn their rain parkas over the next couple weeks as the Huskies begin their conference schedule.

But in three sizzling Southwestern golf hotbeds, you can bet the sun will be shining with authority. Between them, Scottsdale, Arizona, Las Vegas, Nevada and Palm Springs/Palm Desert California, are home to over 300 world-class layouts, all waiting for you with lush green fairways and warm desert temperatures.

Palm Springs/Palm Desert

You don't have to look up into the clear night sky of Palm Springs to see the stars. Since the game first reared its upper class head in the Coachella Valley in the roaring 20's, this desert oasis has been a golf playground for the who's who of Hollywood.

Frank Sinatra favored "The Springs" as he called it, and Bob Hope made it his winter home. President Gerald Ford was a regular fixture on area fairways, and Ginger Rogers was never one to pass up a winter getaway to this stark, stunning desert playground.

Each year, thousands of golfers make the trek to Palm Springs and Palm Desert, a rite of passage that lies somewhere between a golf trip to Scotland and Myrtle Beach, but can cost as much both trips combined. But for golfers relegated to sinking 20-foot putts on Astroturf in their garages during the winter, the trip can be worth every penny.

The weather in the Coachella Valley is picture perfect for five months of the year. Highs in the 70's are the norm from late November to mid March, and the sun shines day after day providing golfers with a platform for 36 holes a day and deep golf tan to match.

Just as importantly, golf courses are plentiful and second to none in quality and conditioning. More than 100 golf courses stretch across the Valley, and most of them are of the Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones II variety.

Where to Play

PGA West Stadium Course: Pete Dye set the standard for Palm Springs desert golf with this opulent, dastardly, deceptively beautiful layout. The West Stadium Course oozes Palm Springs, from its casino style clubhouse, its target style golf, and its closely cropped fairways. Unlike some of the friendlier resort courses, Dye's creation plays to a knee-knocking 75.9 course rating and 150 slope. The course hosted the Skins Game back in the late 1980's, but weekend golfers shouldn't expect to win anything other than humble pie.

La Quinta Resort Mountain Course:

Dye's predecessor to the Stadium Course, La Quinta's Mountain Course opened its doors in 1980, and desert golf hasn't been the same since. The front nine lulls players into thinking that they have a chance to sneak up and post a solid score on one the game's most penal course designers. The back nine propels players out of civilization and into the wilderness of the desert and serves as a reminder that no average golfer will be going low on this track.

The Shadow Ridge Faldo Course: The new age of course design is being ushered in by one of the game's most meticulous players. Nick Faldo has begun to dabble in golf course architecture, and we'd all be better players for it if he decides to stick with his new hobby. Shadow Ridge takes its inspiration from the Sand Belt courses of Australia, and the layout is one of the most visually stunning productions in the region. The course is chalked full of native grasses, closely cropped collection areas, flared up pot bunkers, and plenty of jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching holes.

Gary Player Signature Course at Westin Mission Hills Resort: This Gary Player designed course is known for its wide fairways, negotiable water hazards and large greens that cater to the recreational golfer. Yet, from the back tees, its 7,000-plus yard length and fast greens keep the low handicappers happy as well. The wind is a major factor at Mission Hills, and the desert thermals can make some holes play two or three clubs longer.

Scottsdale/Phoenix

With a big city feel, professional and college sports, performing arts, and more outdoor activities than you can shake a hiking stick at, Scottsdale/Phoenix might be the most functional golf destination in the world. A number of PGA Tour players call Scottsdale home, lending legitimacy to its claim as the top golf destination in the world.

In Scottsdale/Phoenix, you can tee it up on a well-conditioned municipal course, or you can pay over $200 at one of the Valley's posh resort courses. And there are plenty of courses in between the two extremes that are worth the journey.

November through March, only Palm Springs and Palm Desert have better golfing weather than the Valley of the Sun. Be weary of January, which can bring a few winter storms. Access is typically affordable and efficient with Sky Harbor International Airport and a well-planned freeway system that can whisk you from one side of the Valley Floor to the other in minutes.

Where to Play

Troon Golf North Golf Club: Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish formed one of the greatest dynamic design duo's in the modern era of golf course architecture. Troon North's Monument Course opened in 1990, and was heralded by a number of publications as the most lavish, high-priced, daily-fee golf course this side of the Pecos. Sitting alongside the Monument Course is the Pinnacle Course -- produced a few years later by a single, yet capable Weiskopf.

Grayhawk Golf Club: The Talon Course at Grayhawk was designed by Gary Panks and David Graham, and never met an earthmover it didn't like. Ribbons of bulkhead run along fairways and greens that are lined with arroyos and small canyons. Tom Fazio's designed the Raptor Course, which plays to a redoubtable 136 slope from the tips, where it weighs in at 7,135 yards.

The Boulders: This Golf Magazine Gold Medal resort hardly needs an introduction when speaking of price-be-dammed golf facilities. The resort's two courses are two of the most photographed layouts in the southwest. The facility takes its name from the prehistoric rocks that grace the property. The South Course was primarily designed by Morrish, and features the better Boulder views. The North Course is slightly more traditional and tight, and actually features some of the more memorable holes.

Las Vegas

Once upon a time in Sin City, it was easy to point out the valley's best golf courses. Sprinkled among Clark County's midlevel muni's were a few upscale offerings, most of them pricey and private, the rest of them resort style and exclusive.

Fast-forward to today and Las Vegas has become one of the country's premier golfing destinations. A list of courses built over the past 10 years in and around this desolate landscape reads like a "Who's Who" of big name golf course designers.

If you are on a shoestring budget, there are still a few courses where you can knock it around for under $100 at the right time of year (like during the summer, when you can barely separate your hand from the club grip because of the 100 degree temperatures.)

But don't expect to play the big boys unless you are ready to shell out the big bucks.

"The Vegas market right now is about $150 in the fall season," says one local PGA Professional. "You are really not going to find anything less that is a course you'd want to come all the way out here and play."

Reflection Bay, Jack Nicklaus' first stab at Vegas style golf, opened in 1998 in the middle of what some Las Vegas golf officials call the city's golf gold rush. From 1995 to 2001, a slew of upscale resort and daily fee courses opened in and around Las Vegas, including the TPC Canyons, Rio Secco, Las Vegas Paiute, Primm Valley and the Revere at Anthem.

Where to Play

Las Vegas Paiute Resort: Legendary golf course architect Pete Dye was one of the first course designers to put his stamp on the Las Vegas golf gold rush with his Snow Mountain Course at Las Vegas Paiute Resort. Las Vegas Paiute Resort, is located 20 miles north of downtown Las Vegas. Wide, nonparallel fairways feature Pete Dye's trademark railroad tie and pot bunkers and are accented with water hazards and natural terrain. Sun Mountain is the sister course to Snow Mountain, Pete Dye's only other design in Nevada. Dye's Wolf Course opened late last year to rave reviews.

Revere at Anthem Golf Club: The Revere golf course was designed by PGA player Billy Casper and architect Greg Nash. Revere Golf Club at Anthem is located at Del Webb's Sun City Anthem Community, 15 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. The course is routed through a desert canyon, and at 7,143-yards from the tips, the par-72 course features natural elevation changes and stunning views of the Las Vegas skyline. Don't miss Revere's second golf course, the Concord.

Rio Secco Golf Club: Rio Secco Golf Club is home to none other than the Butch Harmon School of golf, former swing guru for Tiger Woods. The layout is an 18-hole championship golf course designed primarily for guests of the Rio All-Suite Casino Resort and is just a pitching wedge away from the award-winning property. The course makes its way across 240 acres of some of the most breathtaking scenery in the west, and is seated over 800 feet above the Las Vegas valley. The course was designed by Rees Jones, best known for his redesigns of U.S. Open golf courses.

Primm Valley Resort: Far be it from Tom Fazio not to get involved the Vegas golf gold rush. Fazio used the early 1990's to establish himself as the most sought after golf course architect in the business, and the nephew of former Tour player and course designer George Fazio keeps churning out one memorable layout after another. The Desert Course at Primm Valley Resort is the second of two Fazio-designed layouts to be built at the facility. Native desert areas combine with emerald-green fairways to create one of Vegas' top golf courses. In addition to the Lakes Course, the Desert Course was recently named to Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses You Can Play. 800-386-7867

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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