PHOENIX — Tired of chilly weather last winter, Wayne Johnson and Rachel Wright decided it was time to get away.
The mild Arizona weather was “just what we needed,” said Johnson, of Reno, Nev. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Whether it’s a way to escape the cold this coming winter or you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me deals other times of year, Arizona is a haven for golf enthusiasts. The sheer volume of courses makes it worth the trip, with the 200 or so just in Phoenix and its suburbs making a map of the area look like a Dalmatian covered in green spots. The choices run across the spectrum, from local (and often more affordable) municipals to resorts that rank among the best in the world, perfectly-maintained green oases carved out of the desert, challenging all levels of golfers.
The terrain is unlike anything anywhere else, ruggedly beautiful mountains surrounding a gravel-covered Valley of the Sun filled with all shapes of cactus, twisty-trunked trees with green bark and a variety of unique flora that give the desert a distinctly clean smell.
The weather? Autumn, winter and spring, it’s almost perfect, everyone walking around in shorts while the rest of the country is bundling up or digging out of VW Bug-sized snow drifts.
“If you’re coming from out of the state, it’s totally different experience than anywhere in the country,” said Rui Pereira, general manager for Rancho de los Caballeros in Wickenburg. “You’re out in the desert, it’s wide-open spaces that you don’t see on the East Coast and many other places in the country, and the weather is great a good part of the year.”
Temperatures in Phoenix are typically around the 60s even during the coldest months with 80s in late fall and early spring. Occasionally, when the wind chills dip well below zero in the far northern states, Arizona can have a 100-degree difference in temperature. Think about that: 100 degrees warmer.
Certainly, there are times when a cold blast makes its through — the mountains above Phoenix had a couple dustings of snow this past winter — but most of the time it’s short-sleeves and shorts for a round.
“You can be guaranteed that you’re going to get sunshine and 90 percent of the time when you come here in the winter, you’re going to get very good weather,” said Greg Ellis, general manager of Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia in Peoria.
Scottsdale is the epicenter of the Arizona golf scene, with one world-class golf course seemingly next door to another. From Grayhawk and Troon North to the TPC Scottsdale and The Boulders just to the north in Carefree, you really can’t go wrong. But Phoenix — about 10 miles from Scottsdale — is the launching point for many winter visitors, with the massive international airport and many entertainment and dining options in addition to a variety of golf courses of its own. A golfer could literally play a new golf course here every day for a month and not be disappointed. Oh, sure, there are a few clunkers mixed in, but the overall quality is as good throughout as anywhere in the country.
A word about the summer, for those whose budgets may not permit the peak-season winter fees: The weather that time of year is melt-your-steering-wheel hot — over 100 degrees regularly starting about mid-May and into early fall. But that’s why green fees for those top-notch courses are often a quarter of the winter price: $130-150 resort courses down to $50, even $30 a round. The hotels are cheap, too, usually more than half off in the summer, meaning golfers can play and stay a week for what it would have cost for a weekend in the peak months.
Ways to cope with the heat include hitting the links by 6 a.m., even by 7:30, and finishing before the sun really starts beating down. Many courses in the desert offer iced towels — some scented with mango and other flavors — that guests can cool off with, and there’s always water available all over the courses. “The standard expression is that it’s a dry heat, but there’s some truth to that,” said Ron Woods, general manager of the Raven at Verrado in Buckeye. “Your tolerance is greater with a dry heat over humidity, so if you can tolerate the heat and prepare yourself with water, a wet frozen towel, sunscreen and a hat, you can manage. And the pricing is just unbelievable as to what you get.”