Sun, sand and cacti in Scottsdale
WE realise that is a very strong statement – and that many will disagree – but we have now been to this affluent city just north of Phoenix a couple of times and find it offers absolutely everything a visiting golfer needs.
You have top-class courses, fantastic hotels, brilliant restaurants – and so much to do away from the course. There’s also bustling nightlife, which will suit groups no end.
Before any further gushing, though, it is worth mentioning that getting to Scottsdale is quite a costly affair and it might put some prospective visitors off.
The main problem is that London Heathrow is the only airport that flies direct, and that 10 hours in the air is never a cost-effective business.
On the bright side, it is a direct flight and from the airport in Phoenix you are within half an hour of Scottsdale.
Once you get here, it isn’t impossible to stick to a budget – there are plenty of hotels, courses and restaurants you can go to that won’t cost the earth.
And when you do step foot on Arizona soil, any worries will evaporate as you will be most likely greeted by soaring sunshine and crystal clear skies.
The majority of exotic holiday destinations claim to have over 300 days of sunshine a year, and it is usually hard to believe.
Scottsdale is said to have 330, and it is honestly hard to believe there are so few – we are yet to see a day that doesn’t top 20˚C and have probably seen only a handful of clouds.
In the summer months, the city gets seriously hot. So hot, in fact, that many locals stay indoors and golf courses are forced to reduce their rates in an attempt to attract visitors.
Depending on your outlook – and your ability to handle temperatures exceeding 40˚C – this could be a perfect time to visit.
If you’re like us, though, and burn in the UK heat, the best time of year to go is after Christmas, between the end of December and start of March.
At this time of year, temperatures range between 20 and 30˚C – perfect golfing weather – and the city prepares for its annual hosting of the world’s most popular professional golf event.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open concludes on Superbowl Sunday each year and attracts around 500,000 visitors over the week.
Held at TPC Scottsdale, it is a seriously exciting event with a brilliant atmosphere – especially on the famous par-3 16th which is surrounded by stadium seating.
Indeed, watching the golf from the comfort of a seat with a beer and the atmosphere of a Premier League derby is an experience you will never forget.
The event is almost always in the first week of February, so if you prefer the city to be a little quieter, or want to tackle the famous Stadium Course that hosts the tournament (obviously it is closed the week of the event), pick another week.
You’re spoiled for choice as far as accommodation goes, but two hotels definitely stand out.
The first is the Phoenician (www.thephoenician.com), which sits in splendour below the famous Camelback mountain that dominates the Phoenix landscape.
The resort has over 600 comfortable rooms and all the facilities you would expect, including several top-class restaurants serving stunning cuisine, and a classy spa and fitness centre that, speaking from experience, is well worth a visit.
Canyon is arguably the strongest of the three but on all you need to be on your game as they are littered with water hazards and rocky expanses that line the fairways. Stay at the Phoenician and you are also ideally placed to explore the surrounding area. Within 10 miles of the airport, you have access to downtown Scottsdale with its wealth of shopping, restaurants and nightlife on your doorstep.
Those with a more adventurous taste can also sample once-in-a-lifetime hikes up the nearby Camelback Mountain.
There are two tracks to explore of varying difficulty but the views atop the rock are the same – stunningly breathtaking.
Rock legend Alice Cooper represents the Phoenician and it’s not uncommon to see him on the property.
It’s also not unheard of to see a big star at the Fairmont Princess hotel (www.fairmont.com), a stone’s throw from TPC Scottsdale.
This ultra-luxurious set-up offers some of the highest quality rooms around and is used by many of the players during tournament week.
Indeed, we spotted Joe Ogilvie in one of the superb restaurants and Tiger Woods is said to be a previous guest.
Now for what we all came for – the golf. The courses in this part of the world are best described as perfectly manicured green runways painted in the middle of large expanses of sand and cacti.
Generally speaking, they are not the most imaginative layouts – there are restrictions on how much water can be used and therefore design can suffer – but as far as enjoyment goes, they are brilliant fun.
The fairways are always perfect, the greens are generally large and true, and the tees are as manicured as the greens back home.
You have over 200 layouts to choose from in and around Scottsdale – how good is that?! – but a few definitely stand out.
The first is We-Ko-Pa (www.wekopa.com), built on a Native American reserve in the shadow of the McDowell Mountains.
Named after the famous four-peak mountain that dominates the landscape, it is arguably the most beautiful course in the area. This is, in no small part, thanks to the fact that there are no properties in sight.
There are two courses – the Cholla and Saguaro – and both are equally regarded – you can’t miss.
Another safe bet is Grayhawk (www.grayhawkgolf.com). Also home to two courses, it played host to the FBR Open before it moved to California and comes recommended by Phil Mickelson.
Keeping the theme of two-course complexes, TPC Scottsdale (www.tpc.com) is hard to beat. Its flagship track the Stadium Course is the host of the Phoenix Open and its stablemate – the Champions – has hosted the Champions Tour.
If you choose to stay at the Phoenician, you will find three loops of nine on site, Oasis, Canyon and Desert.
Canyon is arguably the strongest of the three but on all you need to be on your game as they are littered with water hazards and rocky expanses that line the fairways.
Take a balloon ride
LOOKING for a way to spend a couple of hours before the airport transfer home? I was recommended to give Rainbow Ryders a call. They offer hot air balloon rides through the desert. Where you start and finish depends entirely on the wind but one thing guaranteed is an amazing experience. The views of the mountains and desert are truly stunning and the whole experience is seriously memorable.
The Grand Canyon
JUST over 90 minutes north of Phoenix by plane is the Grand Canyon. The experience is unforgettable. As you head north, you see the stunning landscape change from dry Sonoran desert to snowy, pine-clad hills and when you finally fly over and land on the stunning canyon the feeling is unreal – an overwhelming experience.
I flew with Westwind and you can visit their website www.westwindairservice.com to find out details.
That 16th hole
REGARDED as the one of the most famous holes in professional golf, the 16th on the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale is surrounded by stadium seating.The atmosphere is incredible – imagine the first tee at the Ryder Cup and triple it!) – and it’s something everyone must see while in Scottsdale. The 2013 event runs the first week of February so plan your trip around it. Visit www.wastemanagement phoenixopen.com