Travelin' Joe's Advice
"So you've forked over big bucks to play some October golf in Scottsdale winter and BAM! — your dream vacation courses have brown fairways. Don't despair. The grass isn't dead out here in the desert — it's just dormant. It looks different but is actually just as good a playing surface. Its thinness allows for extra roll and a bristly texture props the ball up.
"Still, most top Scottsdale courses go green, at least in part. Some courses overseed just tees and greens, others include fairways but not roughs, and a few leave the bunkers fringed. Be wary though after autumn's overseed: To foster growth of the newly planted ryegrass, it must be heavily watered, which means little roll and no cart traffic through the end of the year. Call the course or check its website to find out the overseeding schedule."
Scottsdale Insider Info
Play 36: You'll be riding virtually every course out here, not walking, and two-course properties are both plentiful and worth a whole day. We're talking about Troon North, Grayhawk, We-Ko-Pa, The Boulders and TPC Scottsdale. And call ahead about special 36-hole deals, too.
Choice Cuts: Every golf trip should include one good steak. While Scottsdale has evolved into a fairly eclectic food town, there are still plenty of options for classic filet fans. Try Bourbon Steak at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Dominick’s Steakhouse at Scottsdale Quarter, the Capital Grille or Flemings Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.
Sleeper Course: Quintero (quinterogolf.com) in Peoria has been around since 2001, but the Rees Jones design is now public. It's a 35-minute drive from the north Scottsdale area, with pure and fast greens plus the most dramatic collection of par 3s in the area. It's also a bit tight off the tee, so bring extra balls.
Hidden Hotel: Zona Hotel & Suites Scottsdale (zonascottsdale.com) is tucked right behind the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess and has been a favorite of buddy trips for over a decade. New ownership has spruced up the 431-room property quite a bit, and four-bedroom suites come complete with a kitchen. Rates are more affordable than most of the big-brand resorts and golf specialists on staff can set up your trip and tee times.
Summer Play: Yes it's a dry heat, but 115 degrees is still 115 degrees. Green fees (and hotel rates) go in the other direction however, sometimes as much as 75 percent off peak-season rates. Many courses also offer staggered tee time pricing in the summer (it gets cheaper as the day goes on). Spend the money you save on sunscreen and water.
Best Airport Round: Raven Golf Club Phoenix (ravenphx.com) is just a 10-minute drive from Sky Harbor International Airport. Pine trees and wall-to-wall grass lend a Carolina feel, but views of nearby South Mountain and some desert accents let you know you're in Arizona.
Most Improved: In 2011 Phil Mickelson and his manager Steve Loy transformed what was previously known as Sanctuary at WestWorld into Scottsdale's McDowell Mountain Ranch (mcdowellmountaingc.com) from a short, tight track with layups galore to a 7,000-yarder with room and views.
From the Concierge: "When to play? The best answer is January — but before the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. Most courses set their highest rates towards the end of the month and many offer deals before then because of the lull in tourism before the tournament and other big events in town. My second choice would be in the beginning of April. Not only are the rates coming off their season high but this is also the beginning of the spring transition when the Bermuda grass begins to grow. This lets superintendents mow the grass lower than any other time of the year. The third choice would be in the middle of the blazing summer. As long as agronomy standards are kept up, the courses are in great shape and the prices can be as much as 75 percent off the full in season rate."
– Ted Enright, Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
Top 100 Teacher Tips: "Playing in the desert requires 'white on green,' aka a white ball on green grass. You must drive in the fairway or reload, so the premium is on driving. If the hole looks tight, sacrifice a few yards and drive with your 3-wood. The extra few degrees of loft will help you gain accuracy. If and when you do stray into the desert, there's usually hardpan brush scattered with cactus spines. Never reach into a bush to retrieve your ball. Drag it out with a club and make sure it is clear of spines, often opaque, before you grab it with your mitt."
-Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Don Crawley is based at The Boulders Golf Academy. For lessons call 480-595-3433
GolfTec: If you have downloaded the My Pro To Go app (myprotogo.com) and want an in-person swing consultation, or just need a tune-up before starting your first round here, head to GolfTec's Scottsdale location in Golfsmith on North Pima Road.
"TPC Scottsdale and desert highlands are two great places to play." — Chad Marty
"Dinosaur Mountain has a great layout for the money." — Robb Scofield
"Boulders or Troon! I don't like We-Ko-Pa's greens, but the set up is awesome." — Steve McNarly