The Grand Canyon makes every traveler’s “must see before I die” list, mostly because the outsized landmark puts our puny lives in perspective. This 277-mile-long, 15-mile-wide chasm is visited by about five million hikers, bikers, kayakers, climbers, campers and tourists annually. Unfortunately for golfers, its 1.2 million acres are OB. It is possible, however — between rugged hikes and sightseeing — to tee it up at a handful of quality tracks within a two-hour drive of the park.
Less than two hours south of the Grand Canyon and home to Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, “Flag,” as locals call it, makes an ideal entry point for a golf-and-Grand Canyon road trip. The city sits 7,000 feet above sea level at the base of the San Francisco Peaks. Its restored downtown crackles with authentic Old West atmosphere.
Continental Country Club is the only daily-fee game in town. Although it tips out at 6,029 yards, this 1960 layout serves as a great warm-up, and can play tough and tight for those unaccustomed to tiny Poa annua greens. Until two years ago, Continental called itself Elden Hills Golf Club, in honor of Mount Elden, the 9,300-foot-tall monolith that’s visible from nearly every hole.
Water factors into eight holes, including the eighth, a downhill, into-the-wind 190-yard par 3 cordoned by a lake on two sides, and the 17th, a 322-yard par 4 that requires a 160-yard carry off the tee over a lake — unless you bail out in the 18th fairway. Continental’s back nine threads through ponderosa pines and challenges more than the front, with holes 12, 13 and 14 — par 4, 3 and 5, respectively — among the tougher tests because of their severely canting greens.
Apres-golf, head to the homey Cottage Place Restaurant and tuck into the tournedos Gorgonzola, paired with a selection from the Wine Spectator — award-winning wine list. For less rich fare hit the low-key, convivial Beaver Street Brewery & Whistle Stop Cafe.
A breathtaking 45-minute drive south along U.S. 89A delivers you from pine forests to red rocks. But the landscape isn’t the only thing that changes on this 2,000-foot descent to Sedona. You’re leaving the heart of the Old West for the vortex of the New Age. But decades before the Wiccans arrived, artists such as Max Ernst flocked to Sedona. It’s easy to see why, with the area’s crimson pinnacles and formations named for the objects they resemble: Coffee Pot Rock, Twin Nuns, Salt and Pepper Shaker.
Some of these quirky structures are visible from Sedona’s two public courses, Oakcreek Country Club and Sedona Golf Resort. Both lie on the south side of town, off State Route 179.
Oakcreek, a traditional tree-lined 1967 Robert Trent Jones design, takes its name from the stream that divides Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon. It stretches to 6,824 yards and separates into distinct nines: The front nine lattices through the red rocks; the less scenic back plays away from them. Enormous Mondale pines pinch fairways, creating risk/reward doglegs.
Oakcreek’s most memorable stretch of holes begins with the 185-yard fourth. An elevated tee perches over a valley that runs to a small green flanked by two bunkers and backed by the ruddy, 100-foot-high turrets of Castle Rock. The 375-yard fifth doglegs left with a large bunker protecting the corner from long hitters. A cluster of greenside bunkers waits on the approach, making an up-and-down the likely route to par.
Oakcreek recently had a $2 million clubhouse upgrade. This means more competition for the flashier Sedona Golf Resort about five minutes away.
A 6,646-yard Gary Panks layout that ranked among GOLF MAGAZINE’s Top 10 You Can Play in 1990, Sedona takes full advantage of a setting that served as backdrop for more than 70 Westerns, including Broken Arrow, starring Jimmy Stewart, and Johnny Guitar, with Joan Crawford.
The course runs below sandstone monoliths and twists around vermilion cliffs and spires. Mature oaks, junipers and ocotillos outline the stark desert, dictate strategy and make Sedona a stunning desert-parkland hybrid.
Few par 3s have found their way into more viewfinders than Sedona’s 10th. The hole plays 210 yards to a 7,000-square-foot green set in a bowl. The surface mimics the wild undulations of the surrounding landscape, and in the distance multihued Cathedral Rock rises from a nest of junipers, pinon and mesquite trees.
|Continental Country Club
Greens fees; $37-$69
|Elephant Rocks Golf Course
Greens Fess: $39-$49 (includes cart)
|Lake Powell national golf Course
Greens Fee: $49 (includes cart)
|Oakcreek Country Club
Greens Fee: $99 (includes cart)
|Sedona Golf Resort
Greens Fees: $93-$105 (includes cart)
About two hours northwest of Sedona — doubling back through Flagstaff and heading west on I-40 — you’ll come across the quaint town of Williams, home to Elephant Rocks Golf Course. Grand Canyon Railway workers built the first nine holes in 1922. Sand defined the greens until a 1990 redesign by Gary Panks. Nine years later, he added another nine to make a 6,695-yard, par-72 layout. Taking its name from the elephantine lava rocks that bracket the entrance from the road, the course roller-coasters through the Kaibab National Forest’s piney meadows.
The $49 greens fee is a bargain, if only for the last two holes. Old-growth trees, including a 400-year-old juniper, line the 17th, which rises and falls 565 yards. That monster segues into the 212-yard finisher — a tight, tree-lined chute that plummets 80 feet.
Elephant Rocks is approximately 60 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Williams is the best way to access the park (see “Grand Detour” sidebar).
From Williams, take the 25-mile-long Desert View Drive through the park for $20. On the way to the town of Desert View you’ll see postcard views from Lipan, Yaki and Grandview Points. From Desert View (don’t miss the vista from atop the Watchtower), continue for 30 miles on East Rim Drive to the Cameron Trading Post. There, you’ll hook up with northbound U.S. 89.
Approaching Page, you’ll find the area’s most challenging course: Lake Powell National. Designed by William Phillips in 1996 as a 27-hole facility (nine holes are under renovation), the course sits on a mesa below the Vermillion Cliffs, along water that will flow through the Grand Canyon.
This windy 7,064-yarder opens with a par 5 that drops 50 feet before bending around the mesa base. This hole sets the tone for the “lower mesa” front nine, which features elevated tees and crowned greens.
The course picks up steam on the “upper mesa” back nine, which climbs a few hundred feet from start to finish. The barranca-crossed fairway on the 512-yard 11th affords 360-degree views of the Painted Desert, Glen Canyon and the far side of Lake Powell two miles away. A rocky chasm yawns on the 504-yard 14th, the longest par 4 in Arizona, demanding what appears to be a 250-yard carry (it’s actually about 180) to a wee strip of fairway.
From Lake Powell, you can boat, fish for trout or take a quick trip to see a variety of natural wonders, including Rainbow Bridge, Canyonlands and the Crossing of the Fathers. And no matter how your high-desert game shakes out, you’ll almost certainly be inspired by these environs. Just be sure to take a Rules of Golf approach when visiting any of America’s most cherished landmarks: Don’t mess with your lie. President Theodore Roosevelt said it best in 1908, when he designated the Grand Canyon a national monument: “Leave it as it is; you cannot improve on it; not a bit.”