A winter travel story aimed at golfers in the Pacific Northwest that doesn't make mention of Scottsdale is like a story about a trip to see Italy's great Renaissance cities that bypasses Florence.
If you've headed south to Scottsdale during the bleak PNW winter before, chances are you've either stayed at, or heard of, Zona Hotel and Suites. And if not Zona Hotel and Suites, how about Xona Resort Suites, or Resort Suites Scottsdale? They're all the same place, it's just that as the hotel has seen numerous changes over the last few years, so has the name.
Zona's accommodations may have been improved, and the public areas especially around the lobby enhanced greatly, but the golf concierge service hasn't changed a bit. Under Steve Nicodemus's lead, it's still as efficient, friendly, detailed and knowledgeable as it ever was, and no matter what the size of your group, and regardless of where you want to play or how you want to get there, Nicodemus and associate David Keller will make all the necessary arrangements for you. And they'll ensure your party has the ideal-sized suite at the hotel too.
One of the first tee times you should have them arrange is at We-Ko-Pa, located within the boundaries of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, 18 miles east of the hotel off the Beeline Highway (State Route 87). Either of the two courses will do. In fact, whether you play them on the same day or stagger your visits, you'll definitely need to play both....twice or more ideally. The Cholla (above), designed by Scott Miller and opened in 2001, possesses several striking holes which you'll want to play over and over again. The views over the Sonoran Desert and Salt River Valley are amazing, but this course certainly doesn't rely on scenery for its memorability factor. You might need a fairly large group to find two people who agree on the best hole, but my personal favorite is the downhill Par 5 8th (pictured above). No hang on, it's the Par 5 2nd...no, Par 3 3rd...Par 4 4th...short 14th...driveable Par 4 15th, rollercoaster Par 5 17th...You get the point, Cholla may be the Scottsdale track you remember most fondly.Or, depending on what sort of challenge you prefer, it might only be the second best course at We-Ko-Pa. The Saguaro, added in 2007 and designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, is an altogether different animal. Walkable and built with considerably less machine-power, Saguaro doesn't pack quite the same level of WOW as Cholla, but its subtleties and the demand it makes for a greater variety of shots and strategy makes it an equally enjoyable test.We-Ko-Pa certainly isn't the only 36-hole facility you may want to set up at for the day. At TPC Scottsdale on North Hayden Rd, you find the Stadium Course which hosts the world's best-attended golf tournament - the Waste Management Phoenix Open - each February, and the Champions Course which benefitted hugely from a Randy Heckenkemper makeover in 2007. Talking Stick possesses two fine Coore/Crenshaw layouts - the North and South - on land owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and the pretigious Troon North on East Dynamite Blvd, about eight miles north of Zona, boasts two sensational courses - Monument, designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish and opened in 1989, and Pinnacle which came along six years later and was the work of Weiskopf alone. Until January 19th, a midweek round on either course will cost $215 ($240 at weekends). From January 20th until April 1st, the rate goes up to $275 midweek ($325 at weekends). Both courses are unquestionably must-plays. But of course, playing them both - even one of them - will require an awful lot of money. Many will balk at the rates, but some will be able to justify the expense knowing they are playing world-class courses maintained to a standard beyond what they are familiar with.There are numerous other great courses in the area, not all of them quite so demanding on the wallet - Longbow, Eagle Mountain, Sunridge Canyon, Dinosaur Mountain at Gold Canyon, ASU Karsten GC, Grayhawk, Kierland, Las Sendas, Legend Trail, McCormick Ranch, Ocotillo, Superstition Springs, Whirlwind, Legacy.
Golfers looking for good golf without the three-digit green fees though, really should head south on N. Scottsdale Rd and into Phoenix for the city-owned Papago Golf Course, undoubtedly one of the West's best municipals. For about $60 you can play the course that hosted the J Golf LPGA International in 2009, won by Karrie Webb. In 2007, Two years previously, Billy Fuller, a former Augusta National superintendent and partner of course designer Bob Cupp, had carried out a $7.2 million renovation of Billy Bell's 1963 original, removing a lot of trees, restoring bunkers and adding a few new tees.
Kokopelli in Gilbert is another good option for those wanting to keep their golf spend under $100 a day.
When to go: It's going to warm and sunny whenever you go, so to get the greatest effect go in January when the weather is likely to be at its worst here. The average January temperature is 68, and you'll see only an inch of precipitation. The temp rises to the high 70s by March.
Green Fees: At We-Ko-Pa, the green fee is $175 until January 12th when it rises to $205. That rate is in place until April. Those rates apply to those booking their tee-time 0-7 days in advance. Book 8-90 days in advance and you'll pay $15-$20 less. In January, a round of the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale will set you back $299, while a round on its excellent sidekick, the Champions, costs $139.50. Between January 23rd and April 5th, take advantage of the 'Challenge' at Gold Canyon; play both the Sidewinder and Dinosaur Mountain Courses for $219 midweek and $299 at the weekend.
Getting There: Two options - connect in Seattle with Alaska/Horizon. Direct to Phoenix six times a day. Fares start at $139 one-way. A better alternative might be flying direct from Bellingham to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway on Allegiant. There are four or five flights a week throughout January and February, and one-way fares start at $62.99.
Getting Around: Zona Hotel & Suites, and the Fairmont Princess, are 25 miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, 38 from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway. TPC Scottsdale is just a couple of miles from Zona, Troon North is 11 miles away, Gold Canyon is 48 miles east, and Papago is 20 miles south.
For the Non-Golfer: Hiking up Camelback Mountain, shopping at Scottsdale Fashion Square, Jeep and Hummer Tours in the Sonoran Desert, Phoeniz Zoo, a visit to the Sugar Bowl - a '50s style soda fountain, Out of Africa safari park, Grand Canyon air tours, Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West...