Central Arizona Phoenix

Foothills Golf Club

The Buzz: With its setting, you might not feel like you’re still in Phoenix but in a more remote location, where the Sonoran Desert prevails and nature, serenity and wildlife are prominently on display. That is part of the allure of The Foothills, a course designed by acclaimed architects Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. Before creating their own design firms, they also collaborated on the TPC Scottsdale, home of the Phoenix Open, and the Forest Highlands Canyon Course in Flagstaff, which has hosted U.S. Golf Association championships. Foothills offers subtle variations of both and appeals to the grip-and-rip contingent as well as the course-management-minded player.

Aerial view of Foothills Golf Club on South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona
Foothills Golf Club – Phoenix

This course is tucked away in the secluded ridges, craggy outcroppings and buttes on the south side of South Mountain in an area known as Ahwatukee. While some consider it a town unto itself, it has been annexed to the city of Phoenix and got its name from Miss Helen Brinton, who once owned much of this land. According to some historic accounts, she took the name from the Crow words awe chuuke, meaning “land on the other side of the hill” or “land in the next valley.”

You will find hills, valleys, mountain backdrops and a whole lot more if you tee it up on this course that stretches to 6,968 yards, has a links feel, fast-paced greens and, typical of Weiskopf designs, several risk-reward holes. Among them is the par-4 sixth, which is the favorite of many Foothills golfers. It plays at just 311 yards from the tips but requires a well-placed left-to-right shot to avoid bunkers and to reach the putting surface from the tee. Other memorable holes are the second, a 513-yard par-5 with a split fairway, and the eighth, another par-5 that winds downhill. It also is a risk-reward hole that can be reached in two shots and the second is tantalizing but to pull it off you need to avoid a large water hazard to the right of and behind the green. More fun is in store at the 14th and 15th holes, a pair of par-4s at 385 and 451 yards that play around the same lake in opposite directions. The fairways offer plenty of room in the landing areas but desert transitions lie in wait of errant shots on the course that has received 3 ½ stars from Golf Digest’s “Places to Play.”

Foothills also has an excellent 19th hole in the Double Eagle Grill, which is well known for its Sunday brunch.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Encanto Municipal Golf Course

Encanto Municipal Golf Course

The Buzz: Its heyday has passed, but not its relevance. Encanto, the first course in the Phoenix stable of eight municipals, is dripping with history as the one that made golf a public activity in the Valley of the Sun, broke the color barrier and hosted such legends as Harry “Light Horse” Cooper and “Titanic” Thompson. Created by William P. “Billy” Bell, whose other designs include Torrey Pines in San Diego, this course opened in 1936 near the heart of downtown Phoenix. It is regarded as the first public course in the state and third oldest overall. Local architect Gary Panks did some redesign in 1978 and the course remains a solid value play with nice views of the downtown skyline and landmarks such as Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak.

It is relatively flat with fairways lined by palm and salt cedar trees and limited hazards with water coming into play on just one hole unless you are incredibly wild off the tee. Greens vary in size and shape and feature several turtlebacks that can be difficult to read. The course gets far more interesting after you “cross the road” (the two nines are divided by 15th Avenue) because the closing stretch is the meat of the course. It starts at the 14th, a par 3 at 209 yards from the back tee with a monstrous bunker guarding the left side. The round finishes with four very good par 4s at 432, 400, 394 and 365 yards. The par-70 layout has three sets of tees at 6,361, 6,052 and 5,737 yards and is rated at 70.1 with a slope of 115 from the tips.

In case you want to take aim at the course record, that would be a 58, set by PGA Tour pro Jonathan Kaye in 1997. Kaye, who was known as the “Encanto Kid,” cut his golf teeth here and birdied the last eight holes of that record-setting round.

This course was built at a time when golf here was considered to be a game for the wealthy at private clubs, and opened its doors to the public, hosting as many as 100,000 rounds per year. It also was the first course in the state to allow Black golfers, and those who teed it up here included Joe Louis, Jesse Owens and the Mills Brothers. In 1946, it became home to the Desert Mashies, a predominantly Black organization that brought minorities to the game. The Mashies have introduced many kids to golf as something of a First Tee forerunner, and the group remains active, providing scholarships to minority kids.

Cooper was among famous pros of the day to play exhibitions here, and Thompson, the legendary hustler, set up shop at Encanto after he allegedly was “welcomed out” of Tucson. Being part of the city golf system, the green fees at Encanto are among the cheapest in the area, and so are the breakfasts and lunches at Mulligans Café, attached to the clubhouse.

A block away, Encanto offers a nine-hole course, also designed by Bell and his son, William F. Bell. It is especially suited to juniors, seniors and beginners, playing at 1,730 yards with three par-4 holes and six par 3s.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Club West Golf Club

The Buzz: If you like memorable finishes to your golf round, this just might be your course. Club West features a four-hole finishing stretch – especially the par-3 17th – with plenty of “Wow” factor. Well-known Arizona architect Ken Cavanaugh and former PGA of America president Brian Whitcomb created the layout with the idea of offering a relaxed warm-up that would become increasingly demanding as the round progressed. That is exactly what Club West delivers on this desert-target style course, with shot values that increase as elevations come into play, fairways tighten, bunkers become testier and strategy becomes more exacting.

Picture of the #12 hole at Club West Golf Club in Arizona
#12 Hole at Club West Golf Club

The signature 17th hole is unique in that the par-3 offers two greens to shoot at – 165 and 220 yards from the tee – and both options can make you twitch. From the tee there is a 100-foot elevation drop and virtually no bailout area. Hit it right and your ball is on the side of a mountain. Take it left, and the ball falls off into desert. Adding to the challenge is a prevailing left-to-right wind and the best approach to the green is with a right-to-left shot. Miss it on either side and you’re facing a downhill chip from rugged terrain to a hard, fast, small green with bunkers on both sides. The ideal play is to start the shot over a mountain with a 20-yard hook into a 15 mph wind. The good news is that before hitting you get to pick your pin … or your poison. While that might sound treacherous, Club West is a course that offers plenty of beauty and serenity on the sunny side of South Mountain.

Holes are distinctive and take advantage of elevation changes offered by the Estrella Mountain range, which provide excellent views from the Lakeside Grille and patio where al fresco service is available. And here’s a little story to impress your playing partners when you reach that diabolical 17th tee: In April of 2007, two Phoenix golf buddies aced the hole on back-go-back swings, a feat that has odds of 150 million-to-1, according to the National Hole In One Association. Making it even more improbable, they were playing in a tournament with a shotgun start and had started on No. 18, which means both swings produced walk-off aces. Memorable finishes, indeed.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Cave Creek Golf Course

Cave Creek Municipal – No. 13 – Par 3

AZGA Arizona Golf Buzz: As much as any golf course in the Valley of the Sun, Cave Creek is a success story. From an environmental standpoint, it would be hard to top. It started in 1983 as a landfill reclamation project and emerged within a year as a championship golf course that has become the most popular among the eight owned by the city of Phoenix, with more than 60,000 rounds per year. Its’ men’s club, with more than 400 members, also is the largest and well worth the annual membership fee of 75 bucks. Arthur “Jack” Snyder, whose design work is well known throughout the state, created this layout which features a creek that winds its way through the property, leading to wide rolling fairways and presenting challenges on a course that generally is player friendly.

There are three sets of tees at 5,552, 6,207 and 6,732 yards and it is rated at 71.8 with a slope of 128 from the tips, which means it’s not exactly a brute. There are just 17 bunkers, but they are large and come into play prominently around the greens. The overall terrain is rolling with fairways bound by trees, and green complexes are slightly elevated, large and undulating. Several large water hazards bring water into play on six holes, all of them on the back nine in an eight-hole stretch.

The front nine provides a tough finish with a pair of straightaway par-4 holes. The eighth, at 437 yards, is the No. 1 handicap hole and the ninth, the No. 3 handicap, plays at 422. Things become much more interesting after you make the turn because of the water features at Nos. 11, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. The 13th and 17th are par-3 holes over water that play at 171 and 208 yards, respectively, but with far different challenges. The 13th is rated the easiest hole on the course and the 17th is the second hardest.

Green fees here are among the lowest in the Valley of the Sun because of its municipal-course status. Phoenix owns five 18-hole properties, which include Papago, Maryvale, Encanto Park, Aguila and Cave Creek courses. There also are three 9-hole layouts. Besides being affordable, the city sells annual discount cards that lower green fees even more at all of its courses. Because of that, tee times can be difficult to snag, so be advised that persistence might be in order.

Central Arizona Phoenix

Arizona Grand Golf Course

The Buzz: Originally it was called The Pointe Golf Club at South Mountain and later was known as Phantom Horse, but by any name, this picturesque layout is one memorable golf experience. Created by Forrest Richardson, a well-known Arizona architect who has a passion for design history, Arizona Grand dazzles golfers with its blend of traditional links, desert influences and strategic routing.


Due to legal challenges over a land swap between the developer and city of Phoenix, it took five years to complete the course that opened to great acclaim in 1989 and sets hard on the edge of South Mountain Park. That is no small matter. In fact, at more than 13,000 acres, it is the largest municipal park in the world and provides a spectacular setting for the course that wends its way through the natural desert preserve with arroyos, craggy, rock-covered hills and dramatic elevation changes. The hike alone is worth the price of admission, but Richardson also offers up some memorable golf holes at Arizona Grand, which plays to par-71 at a manageable 6,336 yards from the back tees. The front nine has a more classic approach and the back nine more of a desert-target feel, and it’s not particularly long but has plenty of strategically placed targets to create challenges.

With captivating surroundings, it is fitting perhaps that the two most memorable holes are nicknamed “Jailhouse Steps” and “Alcatraz.” The former is a 538-yard par-5 with a fairway that narrows in the landing area. The nickname refers to three rows of stacked bunkers that guard an elevated green, which isn’t very deep and starts just 15 yards from the crest of the hill where it rests. The approach shot requires an extra club to reach the green.

Alcatraz gets its name from the island green that concludes the round on the 362-yard, par-4 18th hole. It was created when Arizona Grand Resort underwent a $52 million re-development project in 2009 that also created a massive water park. The hole caps off an excellent finishing stretch that offers birdie opportunities with other par 4s at 353, 325 and 307 yards. Sandwiched among them is the par-3 17th at 202 yards, with a tee box perched high on a bluff that provides some of the most expansive views available of the Valley of the Sun.

The surrounding resort offers plenty more activities, including that water park, which features a 10,000-square-foot wave pool, three water slides up to 83 feet high, a lazy river with rapids, a hot tub large enough for 25 adults, an area called Wild Cat Springs dedicated to young guests, speakers throughout the park and a bar and grill serving a variety of treats and libations.

For dining, you can choose among: The Lobby Grill (with an open wood-fired grill and rotisserie kitchen); Aunt Chilada’s Mexican-style cantina; Rustler’s Rooste (with Mesquite-broiled steaks, chops and chicken and hearty chili) or Phantom Horse Sports Bar, with plenty of TVs and video games to complement the bar menu.

The course and resort have received numerous accolades from the likes of Golf Digest, AAA and the Zagat Survey.

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