Plan your next trip with our new Dream Weekend series. We’re bringing you the best recommendations for golf courses, hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing--so you can focus on your round instead of your itinerary. Now on the tee: Scottsdale, Arizona.
On Super Bowl weekend, the greatest show on turf will not involve Tom Brady. It will play out on the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale at the 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Officially, the WMPO is a PGA Tour event, but it feels a bit like rush week at Arizona State. Rowdy crowds by day. Rock concerts at night. Shots knocked stiff on the course, and poured stiff at the bar. If you’re headed to the tournament, buckle up. And if you’re tooling around Scottsdale, the same applies. This sun-kissed city is serious about its golf, but it’s also insistent on having a good time. Great courses. Great restaurants. The great outdoors. That’s just some of what awaits on a high-desert escape. Here’s a proposed game plan for your weekend getaway.
There are 51 golf courses in Scottsdale, and 220 in the surrounding metro area. Conclusion: you’d need more than a weekend to play them all. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and the somewhere we suggest is Mountain Shadows, an 18-hole par-three course with a rich pedigree. Originally designed by Arthur Jack Snyder (the former head greenskeeper at Oakmont Country Club, he headed west to create courses of his own), Mountain Shadows first opened for play in 1961, and soon became a magnet for Hollywood A-listers, who were drawn to the quietude of the surroundings. The same sense of tranquility remains; true to its name, the course sits in the shadow of Camelback Mountain and offers ample desert views. What’s different today is the design, thanks to a recent renovation by noted architect (and Snyder protege) Forrest Richardson. With an artful assortment of 150-plus yard holes, the refashioned layout strikes the perfect balance: beginners can play it without feeling punished, but so can serious sticks without feeling like the game has been dumbed down. The shot-making demands are more than enough to satisfy your inner-Hogan, or at least to sharpen your iron game. And the wrinkles in the greens ask plenty of questions of your putting. There’s even a bonus hole—listed as 17.5 on your scorecard—for settling bets.
So there’s your warmup.
If, on the other hand, you’re bent on getting started on a full-length course, take your pick. Talking Stick Resort has two distinctive 18-holers by the ballyhooed duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Boulders Resort & Spa, a resplendent property in Scottsdale’s scenic northern reaches, has two terrific courses, too, both designed by Jay Morrrish.
Then there’s the Champions Course at TPC Scottsdale, the inviting sibling of the tournament host Stadium Course. The Champions is open to the public during the WMPO, providing 18-holes of enticing desert golf, the lilting fairways laced with sandy wastes and pocked with snarled-lipped bunkers. As you play the opening and closing holes, you’re close enough to the Stadium Course to hear the gallery roars.
If you finish early enough, you could hustle over to watch the final groups of Friday’s second round (general admission is $40-$50), then stay for dinner at the adjoining Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Culinary options here include La Hacienda, a refined Mexican outpost from celebrity chef Richard Sandoval; Toro, a Latin restaurant and rum bar; and Bourbon Steak from Michael Mina.
By now you should be wiped out, but where to stay? A room at the Princess is a tough get on the Friday of tournament week, but there are plenty of luxe alternatives (the Four Seasons, the Boulders, the Westin-Kierland and the Phoenician among them) where you can bed down in comfort, then awake refreshed and ready to do it all again.
Insider Tip: Though the Scottsdale Princess is usually booked solid early in the week, some of its rooms empty over the weekend, vacated by players who miss the cut. If you’re looking to stay hard beside the tournament action, it’s worth a call to see if anything has opened up.
Up and at ‘em early and off to Troon North, long a local standard bearer for high-end public golf. There are two Tom Weiskopf courses here, the Pinnacle and the Monument, etched across a high-desert landscape of surreal beauty. Marked by dramatic rock outcrops and saguaros posed on ridge-tops like Wild West gunslingers, it’s a Wile E. Coyote backdrop, brought to life. Both courses are All-You-Can-Eat when you stretch them to the tips but they’re also user-friendly when you choose the proper tees. Some of the challenge stems from visual intimidation and deceptive shifts in elevation. Like objects in the mirror, many targets are not the distance that they appear.
Depending on your energy and your ambitions, you could aim to play both Troon North tracks in a single day. Remember, though: this is winter in the desert. Mornings can be cool, and the sun sets at 6 p.m. As a compromise, here’s a proposal: play 18, then head to Topgolf Scottsdale, the high-tech driving range-cum-entertainment complex. If the Waste Management Phoenix Open is a once-year frat party, Topgolf is a year-round bash. The facility in Scottsdale has more than 100 climate controlled hitting bays, a bar, a restaurant, and a rooftop terrace with a fire pit and the electric atmosphere of a Vegas nightclub. It’s not exactly golf, but you could argue it’s the next best thing.
You could also argue instead for a night out in Old Town, an historic neighborhood that visiting golfers tend to overlook. Lively bars abound here, with prime-people watching, as do killer restaurants. It’s hard to go wrong, but harder still to do much better the regional Italian cooking at the Fat Ox, or the inventive dishes at F&B, with a locally sourced, seasonally driven menu that will likely upend your preconceptions about southwestern cuisine.
Insider Tip: A lot of desert golf is cart golf, and cart golf isn’t exercise. If that’s what you’re after, leave the clubs behind on Saturday afternoon and light out for a the Gateway Loop, a scenic path that curls through the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, a 30,000-acre desert preserve latticed with nearly 200 miles of hiking and biking trails. The 4.5-mile Gateway Loop is exactly that: a trail that finishes where it starts, with modest elevation changes and astounding vistas. It’s the very opposite of a good walk spoiled.
With so many courses, there’s always something shaking on the Scottsdale golf scene. The most recent ribbon-cutting occurred at Verde River Golf & Social Club, in Rio Verde, just beyond Scottsdale’s northeastern border. Technically, it’s not a brand new course but an update of a layout that has gone through varied ownerships and iterations. Originally Vista Verde, and later Tegavah, it acquired its latest name and form after tweaks by Tom Lehman. Framed to the east by the Verde River, with the Superstition Mountains looming in the blue beyond, the course has broad, sweeping fairways and swooping greens, many fringed by runoffs and tight-lie collection areas that some reviewers have likened to the challenges at Pinehurst Number 2. It’s a layout up there with the best of Scottsdale’s public access courses, but its location, some 30 minutes from the city’s hubbub, makes it something of a sleeper. Wake early to play it, then over to TPC Scottsdale to see who triumphs in the greatest show on turf. Right around the time the tournament wraps up, Tom Brady will be ready to take the field.
Insider Tip: The tournament, though highly entertaining, is not exactly high-brow culture. For that, try the Musical Instrument Museum. The largest museum of its kind in the world, it showcases the instruments and musical traditions of nearly 200 countries. Wearing a wireless headset, you wander from one nation’s exhibit to another, enjoying performances by local musicians playing native instruments. It’s like going on a global concert tour.