Best Golf Courses in Arizona

Arizona may have been the last of the contiguous states to have been admitted to the Union (in 1912), but geographically it is the sixth largest in the United States of America, and it has the fifteenth largest population – a little over seven million.

It is part of the Four Corners region within Southwestern USA, bordering the states of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and California, as well as resting upon Mexico’s northern border. Southern Arizona is famed for its desert climate whilst the north is more temperate. Its capital and most populous city is Phoenix, with around 1.6 million inhabitants, but Tuscon is also a significant and growing presence with some half a million people.

The origins of the name itself are unclear. One theory has it that derives from the Spanish “Arizonac”, meaning “small spring”, although a competing claim is made from the Basque “Haritz Ona”, which means “the good oak”. There is some circumstantial evidence to support both options.

It is known as The Grand Canyon State – the reason for which will be obvious – and also as The Copper State. Around a quarter of it is comprised of Indian reservations which are home to no less than 27 recognized Native American tribes. It hosts the larger part of the Navajo Nation, which it shares with Utah and with New Mexico.

A Brief History of Arizona

Historically, in fact for many thousands of years, Arizona was home to several notable Native American civilizations. The first recorded European settlers arrived from Spain in the sixteenth century, In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries missionaries worked to convert the natives to Christianity.

In 1821, when Mexico achieved its independence, Arizona became part of the Mexican territory of New California. It wasn’t until 1850, some years following the Mexican-American War, that the region came to be administered by the United States, later becoming the Arizona Territory, and full statehood was only finally achieved in 1912. The first capital, Prescott, was established in 1864 after a gold rush to central Arizona. In due course the honor was ceded first to Tuscon and then, eventually, to Phoenix.

During the Great Depression many industries suffered greatly, not least in the field of copper and cotton. The relative importance of these industries to the local economy gradually came to be eclipsed by tourism. A good number of visitors were attracted by the state’s Western roots.

In World War Two the state of Arizona was used to house a good many prisoners of war from both Germany and Japan. The latter were subsequently transferred further inland as a result of fears of a full -scale Japanese invasion of the United States from the west.

Arizona for Sport and Recreation

Arizona is represented at the highest level in all four of the major US team sporting disciplines – the NFL (football), NBA (basketball), NHL (hockey) and MLB (baseball). In 2001 MLB side the Arizona Diamondbacks triumphed over strong favorites the New York Yankees to win the World Series.

The Arizona Cardinals, founded in 1898, are the state’s primary football side. In hockey the state flag is flown by the Arizona Coyotes, while the NBA basketball team is the Phoenix Suns and the Women’s NBA side the hugely successful Phoenix Mercury. Soccer is also played, at a lower league level.

Golf first took off in Arizona at the turn of the twentieth century, when what was to become the Phoenix Country Club opened as a modest nine-hole course in Third Street towards the center of the city. In those days the game was played on oily sand greens rather than grass and approach shots were hit from dirt fairways. The inspiration had come from earlier projects further out west around California.

Grass greens were introduced to Phoenix Country Club in 1927 at its present location upon the intersection of Thomas Road and Seventh Street. The venue hosted the Phoenix Open from 1932 right through to 1986, when it was moved to TPC Scottsdale. Today it is the best attended golf tournament on the PGA Tour.

10 Top Arizona Golf Courses

TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale

Now the home of the Phoenix Open, where famously spirited crowds can be heard cheering on players at the 16th hole. Designed by Tom Weiskopf and his golfing partner Jay Morrish, the atmosphere at this legendary hole is enhanced by the presence there of permanent grandstands which can accommodate some 20,000 people. The course was created with the tour event finale firmly in mind, and is consistently rated as one of the top public access courses in the state.

Wickenburg Ranch Golf Club, Wickenburg

Affectionately known as Big Wick, this public access course was designed by Bill Brownlee and opened up in 2015. Golf Digest magazine has rated Wickenburg Ranch amongst its Top 10 new courses in North America. Its awe-inspiring mountain views make for an unforgettable golfing experience whilst its watchword “Small Town Charm, Big City Experience” rather says it all.

Troon North Golf Club, Scottsdale

Comprising two courses – Pinnacle and The Monument – Troon North, surrounded by Pinnacle Peak, much reflects the influence of Royal Troon in Scotland where the game of golf began. Designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, both golf courses feature some imaginative hazards in the simple guise of boulders.

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, Maricopa

Sited on 320 acres of the Ak-Chin Indian Reservation, this was a private club before the community managed to gain ownership of the land. Designed by Fred Couples and Bryan Curley, it regularly serves as a qualifying site for the US Open. The design features interesting elements of link golf, not least bunkers which dominate and undulating fairways.

We-KO-Pa Golf Club, Fort McDowell

Another of the public access offerings; because We-Ko-Pa is built on Yavapai Nation land it is protected against exploitation and commercial development, and rests quite unobtrusively within the natural landscape.

Cholla golf course, surrounded by mountains, receives only praise from players whilst the Saguaro course is geared more towards the player who isn’t afraid to expend a little energy when negotiating the course.

Both are the creation of famed architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

Whisper Rock Golf Course, Scottsdale

Phil Mickelson designed the Lower course as such because he wanted to produce something that was quite unlike the typical Scottsdale desert layout. The result was a quite classic course.

Trees are a predominant feature, with long, narrow greens splendidly edged by chipping hollows.

The “ha ha wall”, standing three feet off the ground, is a memorable aspect of the third hole. The Upper course was designed by Tom Fazio.

The Golf Club at Dove Mountain, Marana

An interesting collection of three nine-hole golf courses – Wild Burro, Tortolita and the Saguaro course – all of which were designed by the great Jack Nicklaus. Users can chose which 18-hole combinations they would prefer to play, whether on the same or any other course. The venue played host to the WGC Accenture Match Play between 2009 and 2014.

Desert Highlands, Scottsdale

One of the state’s most notable private golf courses, Jack Nicklaus and Bob Cupp created this most famed of desert courses, with its generous fairways just perfect for target golf. An unmissable backdrop is provided by Pinnacle Peak, which overlooks.

Desert Mountain, Scottsdale

Another of the famed private courses along the desert ridge, Chiricahua is another Jack Nicklaus creation. Featuring some eccentric holes, the 14th has a bunker in the middle of the green. Eight of the holes play uphill and nine play downhill, with the remaining one operating sideways!

Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club, Tucson

Two courses by Tom Fazio, both striking but completely different. The Mountain course is probably the prettier of the two, which are both overlooked by the scenic Santa Catalina mountains.

Golf in the Glorious Arizona Desert

Much of the Grand Canyon State is desert, and all of it is pleasantly balmy, so few places could be better for a golf vacation. Scenic desert landscapes and lush fairways provide the ultimate golfing experience for the visitor.

In addition the state can boast at least 300 high quality golf clubs, some of them providing first class accommodation in addition. Many a club has its own affiliated hotel and other outdoor activities are to be found alongside it.

Without doubt the primary focus of golfing activity in Arizona is around Scottsdale although there is good sport to be found everywhere, from Phoenix to Tucson. In fact the Phoenix Open claims the record for the largest attendance in the history of the PGA Tour.

Encouragingly, a good mix of private and public access courses are available, to cater for every taste – and every budget. Although many of the clubs can be quite exclusive, and unforgiving on the wallet, there are others to which pretty much everyone can gain access to and play a round or two in the sun. Prices vary, the only consistent feature is the glorious weather and a superb playing experience.

Phil Andrews
Phil Andrews

Phil Andrews is an English-language article writer and author of the 1970s nostalgia fiction novel The Best Year Of Our Lives. His special interests are current affairs, economics and sport - in particular soccer, boxing and golf.

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