Dream Weekend: A golf trip to Scottsdale

February 1, 2017

Plan your next trip with our new Dream Weekend series, combining expert picks from GOLF.com’s Joe Passov and the travel gurus at Travel & Leisure. 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.

Start with a beguiling blend of traditional tree-lined courses and desert, target-style designs. Toss in 320 days of sunshine per year, mountain vistas, top professional tournaments such as the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, golf equipment manufacturers, golf course architects, PGA Tour pros, top instructors and golf schools and it’s pretty clear. Scottsdale is a legitimate golf mecca. Here are my picks for a perfect Scottsdale weekend.

It’s rental car time at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport—requiring an off-campus shuttle ride—but with brand new freeways and a modern western grid system for roads, it’s easy navigating the eastern region of Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun to get you into Scottsdale.  Remember that there are photo-radar cameras lurking, so go easy on the gas pedal. In Scottsdale, you make a left-hand turn at an intersection after the lights have turned red (called a lagging green arrow).

1 p.m.  Crown Princess

Park your bags at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (February weekend rates from $399 per room, per night, based on double occupancy), the most centrally located north Scottsdale golf resort, and home base for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Flexibility is the hotel’s strongest suit. It’s large enough to accommodate shareholder meetings, but features all of the amenities a family could want, in addition to a superb location near the area’s finest shopping. Yet, due to the strength of its golf offerings, from top instruction and practice facilities, to unparalleled TPC service and course grooming to the PGA Tour-level Stadium course (its sibling Champions course is also worthy), the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is ideal for buddies trips as well.
Situated adjacent to the TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course, the Fairmont practically swallows up the TPC’s par-3 fourth hole and the tee at the par-4 fifth, holes so close to the action that golfers could get splashed from the resort’s swimming complex. Toss in the resort’s solid second course, the Champions, its much-honored Willow Stream Spa and a slew of outstanding restaurants and nightspots and you’ll have a Phoenix Open-size celebration during your stay.

2 p.m. Tiger Tracker

The desert’s ultimate must-play is the TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course ($250-$359). It’s not the region’s beauty contest winner, but the famous footsteps you’ll walk in include Tiger Woods, whose 1997 Saturday ace at golf’s rowdiest hole, the par-3 16th, touched off a football-like fiesta and Phil Mickelson, the former Arizona State star who has won three times here. The island-green, par-5 15th and drivable par-4 17th, facing the McDowell Mountains in the backlit afternoon sun, are other standouts.

7:30 p.m. Viva Mexico

We’re going to stay on-site at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess for the first night’s dinner, at La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval, one of the nation’s top-rated Mexican restaurants. Start with a tequila tasting via the resort’s Tequila Goddess, who educates and pours from more than 200 varieties. Guacamole prepared tableside, the Chorizo and Potato Empanadas appetizer, the Carnitas (Pork) Hacienda main course and a flaming coffee dessert pair beautifully with the handsome décor.

10 p.m. Capping the Night

Settle in by a fire pit at the hotel’s indoor/outdoor Plaza Bar for handcrafted cocktails, or else belly up with an icy cerveza to catch the day’s sports highlights on TV.

Travel and Leisure Tip: Explore the Southwest’s rich natural and cultural history at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, from sparkly minerals and prehistoric fossils to a reconstructed Native American village and territorial jail. The collection of massive dinosaur skeletons delights kids, as do the live soft-shelled turtle and Gila monster. And for a sense of Arizona’s monsoon season, visit the indoor three-story mountain that demonstrates the desert’s seasonal flash flooding.


7:30 a.m. Fill ‘Er Up

Breakfast at a gas station? Absolutely, when your destination is Tom’s Thumb Fresh Market in north Scottsdale. As featured on Food Network staple “Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” Tom’s Thumb (in this case, named for a local rock formation) is actually a working gas station and car wash, yet also serves up amazing barbecue, bakery goods and even wines for sale. I was an early skeptic. Now I’m a convert. For the less adventurous, the classics are all here, from eggs to pancakes to hash browns, but if you want to step up your game, try the half-stack of brisket, the Pigs & Grits (pulled pork over creamy grits topped with local cheddar and jalapeno bacon) or the No’ Sco’ (North Scottsdale) Breakfast Burrito, which features a whole grain tortilla stuffed with all kinds of a.m. goodies and a side of chipotle salsa and sour cream.

9 a.m. Public Perfection

The best public-access desert track in Scottsdale is your play of the day: Troon North’s Pinnacle course (dynamic pricing, $165-$302). Tucked into the shadows of Pinnacle Peak and down the block from the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale, this walkable Weiskopf/Morrish creation zigzags through boulders and cacti, at times leapfrogging dry desert washes and at others, skirting mountain slopes. Daunting forced carries and strategic risk/reward options elevates the Pinnacle for strong players. 

1:30 p.m. Dyno-Mite!

If you’re staying on-property for another 18, do lunch at the Troon North clubhouse restaurant, the Dynamite Grill. Overlooking the 18th hole of the Pinnacle course, the Dynamite Grill asks for a tough decision: Peer out at the spectacular desert landscape, or else turn around and watch the golf telecast on a large flatscreen. I position my chair to do both, then dive into a fire roasted artichoke and perhaps the chef’s deviled eggs of the day, followed by a Troon Burger, served on a sesame seed challah roll. 

2:30 p.m. Savory Second Helping

If it’s more championship golf you crave, try Troon North’s Monument, which like the Pinnacle, is ranked in GOLF Magazine’s 2016-’17 Top 100 Courses You Can Play. With nine holes designed by the team of Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish and the other nine a Weiskopf solo effort, there’s sure to be a signature drivable par-4. In fact, there are two of them, both framed by lush desert vegetation and mountain vistas. Unforgettable is the par-5 third, its fairway dominated by a giant boulder positioned dead-center of the landing area. Go left, right, or short of it, but you must deal with it.
If 18 in one day is enough, however, there’s plenty to see and do in and around Scottsdale. For sure-cure retail therapy, Kierland Commons is your best bet nearby, while down Scottsdale Road 20 minutes south is the Scottsdale Fashion Square and Old Town. Hiking or climbing Camelback Mountain is an option for the athletically minded; to experience nature in a different way, don’t miss a Desert Hummer Tour, which gets you up close and personal with the unique, thorny landscape.
For buddies trips, a certain crowd-pleaser is a journey to one of the Tribally-owned casinos. Talking Stick Resort is closest to north Scottsdale. Not only does it offer two excellent Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw designs, but indoors it dishes out fine dining at Orange Sky, plus more than 50 table games, 800 slot machines and daily poker tournaments. And if you just have a certain golf itch to scratch, Talking Stick is practically next door to wildly popular TopGolf, so bring the family or the group and swing away.   

8 p.m.  Here’s The Beef
After all that activity, it’s refueling time at a classic beef emporium. Mastro’s is now a national presence, but it all started in Scottsdale. And while the north Scottsdale original is as outstanding as ever, I want to get you into Old Scottsdale to experience some of the city the way it was, and some of the city the way it is now, crackling with buzz-injected nightspots for the young and young at heart. In the meantime, feast on the offerings at Mastro’s City Hall Steakhouse, which serves up a clubby atmosphere, complete with a happenin’ live piano scene and diet-wrecking menu items. You cannot miss with the sizzling 22-oz. bone-in Ribeye, accompanied by Lobster Mashed Potatoes, or Gorgonzola Mac and Cheese if you’re not a shellfish fan.

10:30 p.m. Old and Wild

Walk off dinner with a stroll down Main Street, Fifth Avenue, or any of Old Town’s character-rich streets. Window shop at art galleries and boutique shops and take in some of the cowboy-themed sculpture that adorns several intersections. And then, embrace the electrical charge of youth by venturing into any of the countless clubs that dominate these parts. For golfers who have experienced their share of birthdays, the safest choices are AZ/88, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row and Old Town Tavern.   

Travel and Leisure Tip: Located at the heart of the Sonoran Desert with sweeping views of the Camelback Mountains, Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa is a combination of casitas (many of which offer wood-burning fireplaces and outdoor terraces) and several private estates, with countless outdoor activities available, as well as a spa with a roster of Asian-inspired treatments.


7:30 a.m. Bird Food

This is a Grayhawk day, and there’s plenty to experience, so a quick but nourishing start is in order at the Morning Joint (a.k.a. “Mojo”), inside the clubhouse at Grayhawk Golf Club. The Mojo Burrito is for serious hunger pangs. Veggie fans warm to the Skinny Frittata. Lighter fare includes pastries and muffins.

8:30 a.m. A Fazio Feast

Grayhawk ($229-$255 February weekend; $395 for 36 holes) was Phil Mickelson’s hangout when he lived in the area during the 1990s—he still sports the Grayhawk logo on his golf bag. Mickelson memorabilia is scattered throughout the grounds, notably at Phil’s Grill, within the clubhouse. Lefty competed in many a money match at Tom Fazio’s 22-year-old Raptor course, the younger Grayhawk course by a year. Fazio carved out Raptor from the flat desert floor, but sculpted the earth to create interesting contours, deep bunkers and elevated greens. Many of the best holes, such as the par-3 8th and the lake-guarded, par-5 18th (a par-4 when the pros played PGA Tour events here) feature stirring McDowell Mountain backdrops. In 2016, Raptor debuted a trio of new holes, 15, 16 and 17 to replace their numerical counterparts in order to accommodate potential residential and resort development. The jury is still out on these three holes, but overall, the course is a favorite among tourists and purists alike.

1 p.m. Final Options

If you have a plane to catch, but have time for lunch, stick around Grayhawk, for two solid choices, Phil’s Grill or Isabella’s Kitchen. The Navajo Corn Chowder, Barn Burger (a rectangular concoction, as at San Francisco’s Olympic Club) and a goldfish bowl-size margarita could prove the ideal capper to your Scottsdale golf adventure. Or, head across the street for Isabella’s, where you’ll discover superb Italian-themed cuisine and patio dining next to the Talon course. If you can squeeze in one more round, make it Grayhawk’s Talon course. Talon, a 1994 David Graham/Gary Panks design, has terrific variety and many memorable holes. For back-tee golfers, the swinging bridge tee box at the 175-yard, par-3 11th rocks. What follows is an all-carry shot over a cactus-filled canyon. The drivable par-4 13th set in a box canyon, is another standout. Thick desert flora frames every Talon fairway and mountain panoramas arrive early and often. Take that one last obligatory photo of a golf ball stuck into a Saguaro cactus, and head to the airport. On the plane ride home, you’ve got one job—to start planning another perfect weekend in Scottsdale.

Travel and Leisure Tip: Go horseback riding at Spur Cross Stables. Imagine what life used to be like traveling through the desert before cars. This Cave Creek ranch, located on the site of an 1870s gold mine, offers spectacular rides through the desert and mountain passes of Tonto National Forest. Guides lead riders past ancient Native American ruins and petroglyphs, through small creeks and hill terrain.