Ask Travelin' Joe: Arizona, Palm Springs, Boca Raton

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at askjoe@golf.com. Dear Joe, I will be visiting Sun City West (Ariz.) and am looking for some courses to play within 30 miles and at a walking rate of under $40/round. With Sun City West being a retirement community, will they frown on a young 31-year-old walking in to play as a single? Travis Olsen Portland, Ore. They'll frown on you, young whippersnapper, if you attempt to purchase property at your age. You still have to be 55 to do that. The good news is that golf options abound. Start with Sun City South ($35; 623-876-3015, sunaz.com). After playing it three weeks ago, I can say unhesitatingly that Sun City South is the best value in the Phoenix metro area. Architect Tripp Davis and his associate Gary Brawley transformed a mature, though tired 48-year-old layout into a strategic gem that's pure fun. Skillfully placed bunkers have created superb risk/reward opportunities, notably on the 2nd and 12th, a pair of beguiling short par 4s; the trio of par 3s asks for nothing less than crisply struck irons and the green complexes on the back nine would be right at home on a northeastern Golden Age classic. All this for $35? That's enough for anyone to feel young again.
Another option is an old favorite, Hillcrest Golf Club ($30-$49; 623-584-1500, hillcrestgolfclub.com), a 1978 Jeff Hardin/Greg Nash design that played host to the Champions Tour in its early days. It's more Florida golf than Arizona, with wall-to-wall grass, lakes, sprawling bunkers and towering palms -- and even some elevation change, but from start to finish the fun factor and the value are first-rate. Hey, Joe, I'm headed out to Palm Springs, Calif. I am a bit overwhelmed by the number of places to play. I am only there for two days, so I will probably get three rounds in. Any suggestions? Robert Rutter Chicago, Ill. One of golf's great buffets is the Palm Springs area, and if you're willing to pay the freight, there are indeed dozens of premium choices. Since you want to squeeze in 36 in one day, I would do La Quinta Resort's Mountain and Dunes courses ($59-$189; 760-346-7060, laquintaresort.com). It helps that they're side-by-side, thus acing the convenience test, but they're also outstanding Pete Dye tests that dish out all the sharp-edge, railroad-tie banked hazards by the double bogey-ful. Notably though, the aptly named Mountain touches rocky slopes on both nines, with a stunning stretch at 14 through 16. Palm Springs is so much about the mountains and there's no public-access course with better in-your-face interactions.
As a third option, it's hard to pass up the rigors of PGA West's TPC Stadium course, but if you don't feel like getting beat up that bad, try Desert Willow's Firecliff course ($70-$185; 760-346-7060, desertwillow.com), a fabulous Hurdzan-Fry design that features gigantic, attractive sprawls of sand and strategically deployed water hazards. The $150 mid-day rate in high season is acceptable for what the course delivers. Dear Joe, Do you prefer Boca Raton Municipal executive or Red Reef executive? Phil Long Island I've got to admit, Travelin' Joe is stumped on this one. I played my fair share of executive courses years ago, but I haven't sampled these two pint-sized Florida spreads. From a cursory glance at the scorecards, it looks like Boca Raton Muni's executive job is the better test, but Red Reef features more eye candy. Both share a web site (ci.boca-raton.fl.us) and a price tag ($16.25 for outsiders to walk nine holes, $25.75 to ride), but other than that, I'm clueless. Readers who want to weigh in the comments section below, please be my guest.

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