Southern Arizona Tucson

Tucson National – Catalina Course

The Buzz: Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the Catalina course at Omni Tucson National has hosted more than 30 PGA Tour events and countless amateur championships while providing its guests with one of the best golf resort experiences in Arizona. In fact, it has been named one of Golf Digest’s “75 Best Golf Resorts in North America” and is a Conde’ Nast Silver Award winner, all with good reason.

Tucson National - Catalina Course

The National, as many locals call it, provides a first-class experience all the way around, and that certainly includes its two golf courses – Catalina and its baby sister, the Sonoran Course. Catalina is a traditional, tree-lined layout that originally was designed in 1960 by noted architect Robert Bruce Harris. Now, Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin often are recognized as the designers, and they probably deserve the credit because they overhauled much of what Harris created and added another nine holes, which later became part of the second course. Catalina began hosting a PGA Tour event that was played under about 15 names before being erased from the tour schedule, and its winners included Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Phil Mickelson. Its most famous champion, however, was Johnny Miller, who captured the title three consecutive years from 1974-76, earning him the title “The Desert Fox.”

The Champions PGA TOUR chose the Catalina course to host its Cologuard Classic PGA TOUR Champions event beginning in 2015 to take advantage of all the trademarks of this plush layout. You can expect a stout defense of his title from reigning Cologuard Classic champion Bernhard Langer, World Golf Hall of Famer, when the tournament returns February 21-28, 2021.

Catalina has four sets of tees at 7,262, 6,610, 5,717 and 5,414 yards. The par-73 is rated at 75.4 with a slope of 136 from the tips and tends to play longer than the yardage suggests. Although the terrain is fairly level, plenty of challenges are created by trees lining the fairways, water hazards that come into play on seven holes and more than 80 strategic bunkers, some of which are very deep and penal. Course knowledge is a definite bonus on this layout, especially with its dogleg holes, where bunkers and hidden ponds are positioned to dissuade golfers from cutting corners. Greens are pure, medium in size and feature undulations that put a premium on high, soft approach shots.

Signature holes are the ninth and 18th, a pair of par 4s of similar length. No. 9, at 436 yards, is a sharp dogleg right with a lake lurking around the right side of the elbow. With that, the tee shot requires both length and precision, and an approach to an elevated green well protected by bunkers front and back.

The finishing hole, at 443 yards, annually ranked as one of the five toughest holes on the PGA Tour when it was part of the rotation. The dogleg right has large lakes squeezing both sides of the fairway, creating a somewhat blind tee shot, which leaves a mid- to long-iron to an elevated green protected by large, deep bunkers front, left and back. On the way to one of his two tour victories at National, Mickelson once dazzled fans and fellow pros by intentionally skipping a shot across the lake on the left side because he had to hit his ball under overhanging tree branches. Palmer, on the other hand, once took a seven on this hole, costing him the tournament title.

When your round is finished, there are several places to relax, including the poolside Cabana Bar, Legends Bar & Grill overlooking the 18th green, and Bob’s Steak & Chop House. This resort has a more intimate feel than most of the others that have been built further north in recent years, but offers plenty of five-star amenities, including 167 well-appointed guest rooms, casitas and haciendas, a fitness center, luxurious spa, swimming pools, hot tubs and tennis courts.

Carefree Central Arizona

Desert Forest Golf Club

Desert Forest Golf Club: Phil Mickelson, who starred at Arizona State University and made his home for several years in nearby Scottsdale, called this his “favorite” golf course in Arizona, which is about as good an endorsement as any course in the state could receive. When you add that salute to the fact that several of its members maintain memberships at Augusta National, Baltusrol, Crooked Stick, Medinah, Pine Valley and Shinnecock, well that pretty much sums up the stature of Desert Forest.

Yes, the name is a a bit of a contradiction in terms, but like its location in the ultra-chic town of Carefree, those in the know understand what it represents.


In a word, “pure” probably works the best for Desert Forest Golf Club. No swimming pool, no fitness center, no tennis club, just golf. And golf the way the legendary designers envisioned the game being played. In this case, the designer is Robert “Red” Lawrence, who created an absolute gem that earned him the nickname “The Desert Fox” of design, long before Johnny Miller picked up that moniker as a player.

Lawrence worked on fabled Merion Golf Club in the 1920’s along with historic Westchester Country Club and the minimalist design he opened here in 1962 propelled Desert Forest Golf Club into the ranks of the world’s elite private golf clubs, where it remains to this day.

In the early 1960”s, when Lawrence first laid eyes upon the unblemished desert terrain of the Sonoran Foothills in Carefree, Arizona, he decided to build a revolutionary layout, the first of its now familiar kind: a golf course simply laid upon the striking native-desert topography, hewn by eons of wind, rain and erosion.

Golfweek magazine’s take? “A revolutionary landmark of golf architecture.”

Modern day accolytes, think Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska, followed Lawrence’s gospel and relied on the natural landscape, moving virtually no soil during construction. Tom Weiskopf and Jack Snyder have done a little “tweaking,” and David Zinkand from the Coore & Crenshaw school has managed a modernization, but what Lawrence created remains intact.

Desert Forest Golf Club – Sentry watches 11th Green

As you would expect, “pure golf” on this true desert course means Desert Forest has no water hazards in play, unless you are pathetic enough to dribble one sideways into the pond to the left of the tee on the par-3 third hole.

What might surprise you is you’ll find no O.B. stakes, and not a single fairway bunker on the course; zip, zero, nada, none. You’ll learn quite quickly that Lawrence utilized the natural contours to defend the fairways so well, fairway bunkers are unnecessary here.

Instead, Desert Forest presents the pure natural canvas that is its hallmark, and allows its native desert topography to dictate playing angles and shot placement. It’s just you and your clubs against the big three: the course, the elements and your patience.

Zinkand’s recent $3 million modernization recaptured the original profiles and contours of the green complexes and Lawrence’s signature oval-shaped bunkers were updated to a natural rugged-edge profile. More than a million square feet of rough and fairway surfaces were converted to 328 Bermuda turf as well.

Desert Forest offers multiple sets of tees, ranging from 4,763 to 7,201 yards, and the par-72 layout is rated at 74.1 with a slope of 145 from the tips. There are several classic holes, but the par-5’s are particularly outstanding at 551, 553, 594 and 523 yards. As for a signature hole, we’ll take the par-5 seventh, which plays at 551 from the back tee, is the No. 1 handicap and as strategically conceived as any hole in Arizona.


It offers two distinct paths to the green. Left off the tee is easier and safer, but makes it a 3-shotter with a third measuring about 150 yards to the green. The bolder path, and the one Mickelson definitely would take, is down the right side, leaving an approach of 225-250 yards to the green. Key elements of this risk-reward choice are a waste-like scrub area running on a diagonal axis which divides the fairway from the tee, and the right-side’s more dramatic second shot which must carry an arroyo about 20 yards wide crossing the path to the green.

Desert Forest’s 250 members prefer and enjoy the simple elegance of the understatement, as evidenced by the first three entries on the club’s Master Plan Principles:

The golf course is our first priority.
Hire all the necessary experts and follow their advice.
Provide adequate funding to do it right.


Perhaps that’s why Desert Forest, the first desert golf course, is still the best desert golf course. For non-members who appreciate brilliant course design and are fortunate enough to receive the opportunity, tee it up and savor the experience. Everyone else can enjoy a hole-by-hole helicopter fly-over of the course at

Enjoy our review of every golf course in Arizona at Arizona Golf Course Reviews. It’s just a part of “All Things, Arizona Golf” at the Arizona Golf Authority.

Central Arizona Chandler

San Marcos Golf Resort

San Marcos Golf Course – Arizona Golf Courses
Arizona’s first golf course just got better – $3.9 million dollars better. So if you want a feel for the early days of golf in Arizona, have a loop at the historic Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort, located in Chandler, one of several communities just southeast of downtown Phoenix. Not only was it the first course in the state with grassed greens, but the first property in Arizona to offer a full complement of resort amenities.


In fact, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The San Marcos Resort was built in 1912, the year Arizona was granted statehood by the U.S. Congress, by Dr. Alexander Chandler in the suburb he founded, that still bears his name today. The putting greens at San Marcos were grassed one year later.

While old is good when associated with the National Register of Historic Places, it isn’t necessarily considered a plus when it comes to golf. That’s why the owner of the resort, Interwest Capital, who purchased the property in January 2013 spent $3.9 million to upgrade the golf course and clubhouse for the next century.

san-marcos-golf-course-photographThe San Marcos golf course re-opened in November 2014 with a classic blending the old and new. The “old” elements include mature salt-cedar and tamarisk trees lining the fairways of this 6,640 yard layout as well as lakes and a canal that come into play throughout the 18-hole tract.

The “new” incorporates lush green fairways and fluffy sand bunkers providing plenty of birdie opportunities for golfers who don’t try to overpower the course. Also new is the 19th hole, now called Grill 60, which happens to be the course record for low score shot by John Quarty several decades ago. The Pro Shop also falls into the “new” category as it has been completely renovated and features an array of contemporary apparel and equipment.

The course provides the perfect setting for a relaxing round of golf. Unlike many of the desert courses in Arizona, the fairways are wide with generous landing areas. The greens are well-bunkered and undulating putting surfaces vary in size and shape.

The finish is fun with a pair of par-5s that are reachable in two shots. The 18th is a risk-reward challenge, however, with the canal cutting across the fairway just short of the green and large bunkers guarding both sides. If you decide to go for the green in 2, take enough club to cover the front of the green; how you stop it then, is up to you.

The AZGA “Local Hang” for San Marcos is awfully convenient. Grab a seat on the cocktail patio of Grill 60 and settle in to watch the groups behind you finish. Although you probably won’t see another 60 carded, the grill’s staff will have you a couple under par before you’re through.


Central Arizona Gilbert

Western Skies Golf Club

Western Skies Golf Club – Arizona Golf Course Reviews
Players at Western Skies have always enjoyed a player-friendly course in a pleasant community atmosphere at a very reasonable rate, which is just what designer Brian Whitcomb was asked to provide in this 1992 design.

In 2012 though, new owners CBIGG and management group, Borders Golf Group of Lafayette, CA, signaled a new direction for the club and are making good on that promise.

On your next visit to Western Skies expect to find enhanced turf conditions throughout the course, including an additional 20-acres of grassed playing surfaces, as well as a new “fairway practice bunker,” putting green and turf-area targets for the practice facility, all of which are the result of the 2014 installation of a new, state-of-the-art irrigation system for the club’s property.

Western Skies’ convenient practice facility, lighted in 2010, now effectively “checkmates” any excuse for not doing your weekly, hitting-balls homework before it can be delivered.

The layout offers three sets of tees playing at 6,744, 6,236 and 5,639 yards, and offers an entertaining mix of challenging par 4’s, enticing par 5’s and “pay attention here” par 3’s. The par-72 layout is rated at 70.3 from the back tees with a slope of 125; 70.6 and 115 from the forward set.

The most memorable holes on the front-nine are the fourth, a 201-yard, “pay attention” par 3 over a piece of the pond that also hugs a bunker on the right side of the green, and the two, outward-half finishers – strong 4-pars both at 441 and 435 yards.

The back nine layout steps up the challenge a bit and plays about 300 yards longer than the front. Highlights include the 12th, a long-iron/hybrid par 3 of 220 yards to a fairly narrow, deep green, the par-5 16th at 545 yards to an entertaining S-shaped green, and the artful 18th finisher, a risk-reward 353-yard par 4.

Accuracy trumps brawn here where water can threaten a long tee ball, and green-side water threatens everybody’s second on the right side, where a bunker separates the putting surface from the lake.

western-skies-golf-mulligans-bar-grillWhen the last putt drops, head in to Mulligans Bar and Grill. The full service fare draws players and non-players alike, and the vast array of flat screen sports broadcasts and neighborhood friendly vibe keeps everybody happy.

So do Western Skies’ Thursday Skins games, Tuesday night Scrambles and  special price point offers for their Players Club and Game Improvement Pass.

At its essence, the Western Skies Players Club delivers, at a reasonable price, what every avid, loyal player cherishes: The club’s guarantee of the lowest green fee in return for the player’s loyalty. All the other benefits of the program are icing on the cake.

Western Skies Golf Club likes to say it’s the place “Where Locals Bring Their Friends.” If you are looking for a fun, affordable, full-service golf facility to play for a day, or adopt as your home club, grab a friend and go sample Western Skies.

Either way, no matter what you card, you’ll end up one-under for the day.

Visit our Arizona Golf Course Reviews and read the AZGA Player’s Review for every golf course in Arizona at

It’s “All Things Arizona Golf” from the Arizona Golf Authority.

Central Arizona Scottsdale

Kierland Golf Club – Acacia / Ironwood / Mesquite Courses


Kierland Golf Club – Arizona Golf Course Reviews
Picture your foursome decked out in colorful tartan garb, complete with kilts and sporrans, playing golf and sipping on Johnnie Walker Blue premium scotch with a bagpiper serenading you behind the picturesque, water-guarded 18th green. It might feel like you’re back in the highlands, but in fact you are in the Scottsdale resort corridor at Kierland Golf Club, which offers a “Scottish Golf Experience” complete with all the trimmings.

Yes, they have a kilt that will fit you, but you’ll need to bring your own Gaelic accent. Along with some memorable golf holes, this complex at Westin Kierland Resort and Spa has been as innovative as any in Arizona in providing players an enjoyable day of golf.

kierland-golf-club-bike-photographKierland forged the path to Scottsdale golf “your way” by offering you a choice of three distinct modes of transportation if you don’t plan to loop it on foot: air-conditioned golf carts, Segways, and most recently, bicycles with integral golf bags.

Wait, there’s more: giant cooling fans and misting systems on its covered driving range to beat the summer heat, expert golf instruction from Mike and Sandy LaBauve, FORE-MAX golf nutrition and fitness programs, golf spa massages, and to top it all off, a bagpiper playing at sundown to mark the end of a glorious day of golf.

Kierland Golf Club offers rota-combinations over three nine-hole courses, named Acacia, Ironwood and Mesquite after the trees that are prominent on the property.

Notice that none are named Cactus. Those prickly natives aren’t featured here, which some golfers consider a welcome respite from the rugged desert-target layouts scattered throughout Scottsdale.

kierland-golf-club-1-photographThis is a more traditional golf experience and a key component of the lush, upscale Kierland Commons Community vibe. Designed by Scott Miller, formerly the right-hand design man for Jack Nicklaus Designs, the 27-hole golf complex opened in 1996, almost four years before the neighborhood took shape and the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa hotel was erected.

Miller artfully employed “core golf” design techniques to wrap the golf course into the resort community and did so in a way that insulates players from the hub-bub of activity in this north Scottsdale locale.

The three 9-hole layouts are played in any 18-hole combination and no matter which tracks you play, you’ll feel ensconsed in a parkland setting and enjoy sweeping vistas of Camelback Mountain, Mummy Mountain, Piestewa Peak, the McDowell Mountain range.

But don’t get too enamored with the view because plenty of challenges lie directly underfoot with lakes, dry washes and 300 bunkers scattered about, on the way to elevated greens that are well protected. Each course has four sets of tees and each combination plays at about 7,000 yards from the back tees and 5,000 yards from the front.

Acacia is generally regarded as the flagship nine as it finishes at the foot of the hotel, although Ironwood also has its avid local fan base with a solid, demanding layout. Mesquite was the first to unfold and represents straightforward golf until you reach the finishing hole, which is apropos for Kierland because Miller saved his best for last at the ninth hole on each layout.

kierland-segway-photographOn Mesquite, that means a 427-yard downhill par-4 with an approach shot over a small lake to a green fronted by a menagerie of six bunkers.

The finish on Ironwood is a 495-yard downhill par-5 with water extending the full length along the right side of the fairway, and two bunkers in the primary landing area. That water hazard guards the right side of the green as well and two large bunkers guard the left, creating a risk-reward scenario.

Acacia has several memorable holes, including the best par 3s at this complex, but again the ninth is the highlight of the round. This par-5, at 531 yards, features an 80-foot drop from the tee with water protecting the left side of the fairway and a series of 10 bunkers threaten from about 200 yards in. The three hole finishing stretch on Acacia, which also includes a heavily-bunkered 374-yard par-4 and a downhill, 219-yard par-3, is one of the more memorable finishes in Scottsdale.

The “AZGA Local Hang” for Kierland is easy. After the round, the clubhouse and the hotel offer plenty of places to relax, refresh and libate – you can’t go wrong with any venue you choose. If you feel the need to wander off, take time to visit Kierland Commons, on foot, directly east of the hotel.

With its trendy restaurants, shops, boutiques, centerpiece fountain and brick streets, you’ll find it to be reminiscent of a downtown village square, amped up to today’s volume.

But before you go, do yourself a favor and turn in the kilt.

Read our player’s review of every golf course in Arizona, click Arizona Golf Course Reviews. It’s just one part of “All Things Arizona Golf” offered at the Arizona Golf Authority.