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.


Central Arizona Rio Verde

Tegavah Golf Club

Tegavah Golf Club – Arizona Golf Courses
It’s a new name for the same great golf course it’s always been, in a spectacular setting that makes you glad you played here today.


Originally opened for play in 2006 as Vista Verde Golf Club, this Ken Kavanaugh design remains one of the most playable and scenic desert-style golf courses in the Scottsdale – Rio Verde locale.

The name Tegavah is inspired by the Native American Yavapai word for “gathering place” and will be the new moniker for the golf club and the adjacent 850-acre community purchased last fall by Brookfield Residential Properties and JEN Partners. TerraWest Communities, LLC is serving those interests as the new developer.

Course architect Ken Kavanaugh shared recently that he’s not only busy adding a few enhancements to the golf course, but he’s been included in the design phase of the new clubhouse that’s on the drawing boards.

And that’s a good thing for players who enjoy his famously “soft hands” when it comes to blending a golf facility into it’s natural site.

A loop at Tegavah is a delight. Kavanaugh took advantage of the natural, rolling terrain and provided rather expansive fairway landing areas amid the harsh, desert surroundings. Most players will find turf with their tee balls if they choose their tee box wisely from the six options offered.

Green complexes are expanses of subtleness that challenge scratch players and keeps those of us pitching and chipping to them entertained as well.

tegavah-golf-16Tegavah can play from 7,229 to 5,033 yards, as reflected in the rating/slope range of 73.8/143 to 63.3/112.

Our favorite stretch at Tegavah is the three-hole finish.

Sixteen is an enticing, 341-yard birdie opportunity. A natural desert arroyo angles across the fairway in the landing area so your choice is to lay-up short of it or fly it with your tee ball.

The 626-yard par 5 seventeenth is serious, simple golf. Three solid shots fit into a graceful, right-to-left swinging fairway will reward you with another birdie putt.

Par 4 is fine at the closing 411-yard 18th, where you’ll find the right half of the putting surface surrounded by water.

Whatever your scorecard totals, a day at Tegavah provides so many panoramic vistas across the Verde River valley to the Mazatzal Mountains and it’s famous Four Peaks outcropping that you’ll be happy your group chose this “gathering place” for the day.

Before you tee it up, read an Arizona Golf Course Review for every golf course in Arizona from the Arizona Golf Authority. It’s “All Things, Arizona Golf.”