From the moment he arrived in Phoenix from Central Michigan University, a first round pick in the 1988 NBA draft, Dan Majerle knew he would never want to leave. “Great weather, great golf, great city,” Majerle says. “I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.” For a brief time, he had to. After an eight-year stint as stalwart swingman for the Phoenix Suns, Majerle left the Valley of the Sun for tenures with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. But he returned to Phoenix for the 2001-02 season to end his career where it began.
Now 53, the three-time NBA All-Star is a Phoenix-area fixture: the owner of a popular restaurant franchise, Majerle’s Sports Grill; the head men’s basketball coach at newly elevated Division I Grand Canyon University; and an avid golfer with a 1.3 index. With the PGA Tour in town this month for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, GOLF rang up “Thunder Dan” to ask for his favorite places to go and things to do in his adopted home. Here’s his guide to the Phoenix area, on and off the course.
“I’m a member at Arizona Country Club and I play a bunch at Whisper Rock Golf Club. Both of those are private, but if you can find your way onto either they’re about as good as it gets. For public access, I love Grand Canyon University Golf Course, which used to be called Maryvale Golf Course, on the west side of town. They redid it recently, and it’s beautiful. It’s not your standard desert course with rocky hazards and cactus. It’s more traditional, with tree-lined holes and great bunkering. I’m also a big fan of We-Ko-Pa. They have two courses. I haven’t played the newer design [Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s Saguaro course], which everyone says is great. I can tell you that the old one [the Cholla course] is awesome. You’ve got to hit it straight, but it’s a good, fair challenge, and the views are spectacular. Not a home in sight.”
“I’ve got five of my own restaurants in town, so I’m obviously biased. But if I’m going to point you somewhere else, it’s gotta be Maestro’s City Hall. It’s a classic steakhouse and it’s spot on. My go-to items are the seafood tower and the bone-in filet. You will not be disappointed. If you’re going to one of my places, I recommend the grilled chicken sandwich. It’s got bacon, avocado, tomato. But pretty much anything with a bun will do you right.”
Breaking a Sweat
“This is a really outdoorsy area, with a lot of great hikes. I recommend the trail up Camelback Mountain. Now that I’m so busy coaching, I don’t get out there much. But it’s beautiful. The time to do it is at sunrise. You get to the top, and you’re looking out over the city and the entire valley.”
Taking in a Game
“This is a four-sports town. You’ve got the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals, the Suns and the Coyotes. There’s always something going on. Spring-training baseball is big, of course. For college sports, you’ve got Arizona State. And if you want to watch a basketball game, come see us play at Grand Canyon University. The Antelopes. It’s good basketball. And we’ve probably got the best student fan section in the country. I’m not kidding. Google it if you don’t believe me. We get around 4,000 in the student section. They’re called the Havocs and for good reason. It’s amazing, really. Beyond belief. It’s rowdy and loud and fun in all the best ways. It’s what college basketball is all about.”
“Downtown Phoenix has been completely refurbished. They put a lot of money into it and it shows. It’s a great place just to wander around, with lots of great restaurants, shops and people-watching. It’s one of those areas that locals have gotten to know about but people visiting from out of town might overlook.”