An introduction to Arizona

In this post we visit one of the most southwestern states in the U.S., Arizona. It is bordered by California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and to the south, the country of Mexico. And fair to say, golf courses in Arizona are renowned nationwide.

Arizona is largely known for its desert climate. All the more in the south, with the vast Sonoran Desert stretching up from Mexico. Of course most people will recognise Arizona for the imposing Grand Canyon National Park. The mighty cliff faces reveal millions and millions of years worth of geological history.

To the north of the State, the landscape changes dramatically. It becomes more wooded with pine, spruce and Douglas fir forests stretching from east to west. 

Phoenix and Tuscon, are both in the southern part of Arizona. They are two of the largest cities within Arizona and both are hugely popular tourist destinations.

See also: What are the best golf courses in Tucson?

Phoenix has a litany of golf courses and spa resorts. But on top of that there is a vibrant city centre, downtown shopping and some superb national preserves to visit. One such place is the Desert Botanical Garden, displaying native plants and cacti. 

Most of the golf courses within this list are located in the city of Scottsdale, within Phoenix’s northeastern suburbs. This is simply a mecca for golf, with both quantity and quality. But for now, let’s just focus on the best golf courses in Arizona.

See also: What are the best golf courses in Scottsdale?

The best golf courses in Arizona

Quintero Golf Club

Quintero golf club, Arizona

Ranked as the ‘Best Public Golf Course’ 2017 by both Golf Digest and Golf Weekly, Quintero Golf Club is Arizona golfing at its greatest. 

Just over an hour’s drive from both Phoenix and Scottsdale downtowns, Quintero golf club is up in Lake Pleasant Regional Park. This is up past the Morristown New River Highway and as far away from civilization as possible.

Having been carved through pristine Arizona desert terrain, the course is considered as the purest golfing experience in the southwest. Playing at Quintero you really are secluded from the noise and stress of modern life. 

Rees Jones, the ‘Open Doctor’ ,was the brains behind the layout. Unlike many other courses in the region, Quintero has slightly narrower driving corridors. The multi-level bent grass greens are quite exceptional if a little difficult to read. 

Desert Mountain Golf Club (Chiricahua)

Desert Mountain Golf Club, Scottsdale, Arizona
Photo credit Monica Anne Pedano

The Chiricahua course is one of seven golf courses at the exceptional Desert Mountain Golf Club. Five of these were designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus was so proud of his work at Desert Mountain, he has gone on record to claim it is one of the highlights of his career.

The Chiricahua course was the most recent addition to the collection, being routed in the foothills of the Desert Mountains. At its highest point, the course reaches some 3,300 feet. Numerous elevation changes characterise the layout and finding a flat lie is near impossible. 

What the elevation does offer are stunning 100 mile views down to Phoenix and Scottsdale, but this is no easy walk and certainly no easy play. At times the course is so up and down, there are blind approach shots leading to relatively unforgiving greens. Precision play is critical. 

Estancia Golf Club

Estancia Golf Club - Scottsdale, Arizona
Photo credit Michael Paul Photoworks

Estancia golf club is the centrepiece of a private golfing community. It is set on an elevated northern plateau under the watchful eye of the famous landmark Pinnacle Peak. This is a large granite rock offering stunning panoramic views of Scottsdale and the surrounding landscape. 

The Estancia golf course occupies part of a 640 acre private estate surrounded by elegantly landscaped gardens. The course was designed by Tom Fazio and opened for play in 1995 to critical acclaim. 

Awards and accolades have fallen for the course and to many it is within the Top 100 golf courses in the United States. Regardless of whether you agree or not, it is without doubt one of the best golf courses in Arizona. 

From the back tees the course stretches to over 7,300 yards and hitting the fairway is critical. Dense undergrowth will happily swallow up any loose shots whilst strategically placed fairways bunkers reign in the big dog. Patience is a virtue on this course.

Forest Highlands Golf Club (Canyon)

Just a short drive south of Flagstaff, a city in northern Arizona and bedded into the Kachina Wetlands Preserve, is the first class golf club of Forest Highlands. Set within a mountain setting and dense pine woodlands, this is a special place with a vibrant membership.

The club puts a heavy focus on the community side, golf is just part of the overall picture. But to overlook the two golf courses here would quite frankly be a travesty. This is because the Meadow Course is one of the best golf courses in Arizona.  

The Canyon Course was the first to open in 1988 and was designed by the architectural duo of Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf. As the name implies, the course meanders through tall and elegant pine woodlands.

It regularly gets ranked as best in State. This is no mean feat when you consider some of the outstanding golf courses in Scottsdale and the region as a whole.

Scottsdale National Golf Club (Mine Shaft)

One of two golf courses at Scottsdale National, the Mine Shaft is a crackerjack of a course. It is regularly ranked as one of the best golf courses in Scottsdale. 

When Bob Parsons, owner of PXG golf clubs manufacturer and Go domain registrar, purchased the club back in 2013, the first thing he did was radically improve the already existing 18-hole course the Mine Shaft.

Under the watchful eyes of golf course architects Tim Jackson, David Khan and their associate Scott Hoffman, new contoured bunkers were built, holes were levelled, greens were completely reconstructed as were new tee boxes. This was a radical golf course redesign but it worked.

Fast forward to today and this is a first-class example of desert golf. Unfortunately, unless you befriend a local celebrity or professional athlete, you’re unlikely to get the chance to play here.

Forest Highlands Golf Club (Meadow)

There are so many golf courses on this list, which have at least one other course at the same club which could easily have made this list. Places like Scottsdale National and The Other Course, the Geronimo and Renegade courses at Desert Mountain, and the Lower Course at Whisper Rock being just a handful.

Yet the Meadow Course at Forest Highlands simply has to be added to the best in State list. With stunning views over to the San Francisco Peaks, the course meanders through expensive meadows and lakes.

It was designed by Tom Weiskopf, one of the duo behind the Canyon Course also onsite, and opened for play in the late 1990s. From the championship tees the course stretches to over 7,200 yards and is surrounded by stately pines. Scenic wetlands, large areas of wildflowers and magnificent views are just some of the reasons this course is so highly rated.

Desert Highlands Golf Club

Desert Highlands Golf Club, Scottsdale, Arizona
Photo credit CJ Gershon

In the high desert plateau skirting the granite Scottsdale landmark of Pinnacle Peak, is the outstanding private member’s golf course of Desert Highlands. 

On one side of the golf course you have the esteemed Estancia Golf Club. Just up the road Scottsdale National. And a stone’s throw the other way, Troon Country Club. This is high company but Desert Highlands more than holds its own and is one of the top golf courses in Arizona.

A Jack Nicklaus signature course, it’s ranked as one of the top desert courses in the country by Golf Digest. In 1983 and 1984 it was the venue for two Skins Games. This is where the likes of Tom Watson, Gary Player and the legendary Arnold Palmer all graced the fairways here.

Being on the elevated slopes surrounding Pinnacle Peak means there are stunning panoramic views out across to Scottsdale and Phoenix. When building the course they were selective about where they placed turf to ensure its desert character wasn’t over-powered. 

This is a fantastic course and well deserving of being in this list. It is also an example to all aspiring desert courses about getting the balance right.

Stone Canyon Golf Club

Half an hour’s drive north of Tucson up in the Honey Bee Canyon Park and within the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains is the immense Stone Canyon golf club.

The course was designed by the prolific Jay Morrish, who has a huge reputation with the U.S. but is little known outside the country. Yet Morrish has been the brains behind many of the best golf courses in Arizona and Stone Canyon golf club is without doubt another.

With State law restricting the use of turf to 90 acres of grass, this only goes to enhance the desert style features and character. There are many carries from the elevated tee boxes, dense desert undergrowth reaching into the verdant fairways and greens craftily flanked by cacti and ancient boulders.

There is a nice blend of holes on the higher ground where the fairways have a bit more movement, whilst on the lower ground you can be assured of at least a few flat lies.  Green complexes are smart, with some being pure target golf and others offering a number of different routes of attack. 

This is just superb and arguably one of Jay Morrish’s finest accomplishments in his sterling career. 

Whisper Rock Golf Club (Upper)

Upper or Lower, Upper or Lower….darn it, let’s go with Upper. I mean let’s be honest, both the Upper and the Lower courses at Whisper Rock Golf Club are top drawer and either could have made this list. But this one just tops it for me. 

This course, the second layout to be opened at Whisper Rock, was designed to be the centrepiece of the golf club, a course to test the best of the best. So who did they call, the man himself Tom Fazio. A man whose C.V. includes many golf courses in the Top 100 golf courses in the United States, Tom Fazio was a safe choice.

And boy did he deliver but without alienating the course for the amateur golfers. From the backs, the course is long and there are some meaty carries. But move forward a tee box or two, and things get more realistic. 

There are large expansive fairways offering relatively generous landing zones, whilst the stunning greens, although are big, need to be hit. Any approach shot too far off target and you’ll be fishing amongst Sonoran cactus and spiky undergrowth.  

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (Saguaro)

We-Ko-Pa Golf Course, Saguaro, Scottsdale, Arizona
Photo credit Lonna Tucker

One of two outstanding golf courses at the We-Ko-Pa golf club, the Saguaro course is one of the country’s best examples of desert golf and one which is open to members of the public. 

The location adds to the whole experience of playing here, with literally nothing surrounding the course except for wild untouched Sonoran desert landscape. There are views across to the Fountain Hills and the imposing Tonto National Forest. 

The course was designed by the architectural duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and when creating the course the philosophy was to preserve as much of the original landscape, vegetation and natural sloping of the site as possible. 

This approach created a divine desert layout with some picture perfect holes. The fairways are wide but rarely will you have a flat lie. The lightning greens are large and accommodating primarily because up and downs are rare here. 

The Rim Golf Club

The Rim golf club, Arizona

Set within one of the premier gated golf communities in the United States, The Rim golf club is pure world-class. It is another belter from the design duo of Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. 

The location is relatively isolated, being a good hour’s drive northeast of Scottsdale and Phoenix past the small town of Payson and in the heart of the spectacular Mogollon Rim County. 

The site really is sensational with stunning views across the mountainous vistas. It is also the location of the largest stand of Ponderosa Pines in the nation, within which the Rim course delicately weaves its way through. Scenic this course certainly is. To add to the stunning views, there are natural boulders, pristine lakes and elegant undulations in the terrain. 

Challenging also, with numerous blind shots and unclear driving lines. I’m not a massive fan of making a golfer guess from the tee where a good shot can be penalised, and this is probably one of the few gripes here. Aside from that, this is a wonderful course on a beautiful piece of land. Definitely worth the detour out of Scottsdale.

Desert Forest Golf Club

Desert Forest Golf Club, Scottsdale, Arizona

One of the oldest golf courses in the Scottsdale area, Desert Forest was originally laid out back in 1962. The project was overseen by architect Rob Lawrence, a man who made his name designing desert courses. Fair to say, Desert Forest is without doubt one of his finest works. It’s good to see it get the attention it deserves.

The course is located in the shadow of the Carefree Mountains. But despite being around 2,000 feet high, the land and subsequent routing is relatively flat. As the club’s website testifies, this is pure golf, a preservation of rich golfing history and tradition. 

What does this mean? Firstly, the layout is minimalist. When routing the course very little excavation was done. Holes were designed to work with the natural elevations and landscape. Secondly, this is not a country club, but a golf club. Pure and simple. It is all about the love of the game and playing a great golf course.

Sounds good doesn’t it. But getting on here will be a challenge as this is a member’s only course. Not only that, but there are only a couple hundred members in total. 

What is the best golf course in Arizona?

The best golf course in Arizona is Estancia golf club which is located in Scottsdale. This private golf club was designed by Tom Fazio and opened for play in 1996.

How many golf courses are there in Arizona?

In the state of Arizona, there are over 300 golf courses which range from private to municipal. Although there are many different styles of golf course on offer, a large percentage are desert-style target layouts. This is in large part due to the climate and landscape in Arizona.

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