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 Mesa

Mesa Country Club

Mesa Country Club – Arizona Golf Course Reviews
In its early days, Mesa Country Club didn’t have a lot of wealthy members. But thanks to the founding group’s vision and perseverance, the club now sports a rich history and stands as one of the most popular private country clubs in the Phoenix-metro area.


And following the renovation which took place during the summer months of 2013, the club that dates back to 1948 is better than ever. The golf course, clubhouse and country club amenities all received attention.

Essentially, careful inspection reveals that 12 of the 18 golf course offerings have been modestly enhanced, although all 18 holes were touched in one way or another – but only “soft hands” would do here.

Mesa Country Club’s golf course was designed by the father-son team of William Park “Billy” Bell and William Francis Bell, still considered “California’s first family” of golf course architecture.

Commissioned by the members in 1947, Bell returned with both a 9-hole and an 18-hole layout. The members chose the 18-hole design and immediately acquired an additional 13 acres of property the layout required,

Mesa Country Club embodies the grand golf course style of the mid-1940’s and remains one of the most envied and prominent classic layouts still available to players in the Phoenix area today.

Dick Turner, one of the club’s former head pros, also did some tweaking to the course in 1974, mainly to add length, but all the enhancements maintain the original Bell family trademarks: tight, tree-lined fairways, classic doglegs, smallish greens by modern standards and intimate, elevated tees.

mesa-country-club-tee-photoThere’s nothing tricked up about Mesa Country Club. From the tee, you can clearly see what’s expected of you as you determine your plan of attack.

But executing that plan can be a challenge due to Bell’s traditional strategic design. The course routinely tests the best as the former host of events like the Arizona Open, Arizona Amateur and Southwest Section of the PGA Championship.

A narrow canal winds through the property, coming into play on five holes, and several lakes and ponds bring water into play on three more. The first seven holes, plus Nos. 14 and 15, lie on the top level of a mesa for which the city is named. The other half are located on acreage that members refer to as the “Lower 40.”

A different site, which is now home to Falcon Field Airport, was considered by the founding members, but they settled on the current location in the heart of Mesa.

Those founders, who included Dwight Patterson (known as the “Father of the Cactus League” for Arizona baseball spring training), struggled to maintain the club’s finances in its early years and, legend holds, did so with an assist from some slot machines, which were popular private entertainment during those years.

Today, they’re very public entertainment in Arizona as several Native American nation casino – hotel – golf resorts are scattered all across the state.

mesa-country-club-fairwayMesa Country Club offers six sets of tees stretching to 6,870 yards, with a rating of 72.5 and slope of 131 from the tips. The Bells created several excellent holes, including a three-hole stretch starting at No. 5, a 520-yard par-5 that plays downhill over the canal to an elevated green.

The sixth is a 419-yard uphill par-4 with a slight dogleg left, the canal resides 220 yards out from the tee and fairway bunkers threaten on the right, with a smallish green that slopes sharply from back to front; tough par here.

Capping the stretch is the seventh, one of the best par 3’s in town. The 198-yarder plays downhill, over the canal lying in wait just in front of the green, to a putting surface surrounded by mature eucalyptus trees and four large bunkers. Miss the green here, and you’ll probably find a double on your card.

Highlights on the back-9 include No. 16, another downhill par 3 of 154 yards with deep bunkers surrounding the green, and the two par 5’s – 13 and 18. At 504 and 495 yards, respectively, they appear as birdie opportunities on the card, but both play much longer to uphill green complexes, where a lot of birdies remain just that – opportunities.

Members here also enjoy swimming, tennis, fitness and fine dining facilities. A variety of memberships, for golfers and non-golfers, are available and the price is right.

Read the Arizona Golf Course Review for every golf course in Arizona before you tee it up. You’ll find it’s “All Things Arizona Golf” from the Arizona Golf Authority.

Northern Arizona Sedona

Sedona Golf Resort

Arizona Golf Courses – Sedona Golf Resort

Located in the surreal red rocks that surround Sedona, a new player may suddenly realize the primary challenge of teeing it up at the golf resort of the same name is Mother nature. Yes, the toughest test in the “Land of Awe’’ is simply staying focused on the golf shot at hand as panoramic vistas, majestic mountain backdrops, and contrasting tones of red and green present boundless distractions.


And the golf’s pretty good, too. What’s weird about Sedona Golf Resort is that despite the 18 awesome holes designed by Gary Panks (well, 17, if you don’t count the 18th), this pristine property has gone bust – twice. That’s right, Sedona Golf Resort filed for BK in 1989, made a righteous comeback for 20 years and counting, and then fell back into bankruptcy in 2010.

Considering the course’s entertaining variety and spectacular views, not to mention some beautiful bent-grass greens, it makes an avid golfer shake his or her head.

Certainly the 210-yard 10th hole will blow your golf socks off, as the par 3 stretches out before your eyes with regal Cathedral Rock rising up in the background. It’s the single best view of Sedona’s red-rock splendor and those unfortunate souls who don’t play golf never see it.

In fact there are numerous red-rock formations of note in almost every direction, all day long. And the 10th is not the only stellar par 3 on the course, as the 17th, a 155-yard mid-iron over water to a semi-island green, is also worthy of signature status.

And the same can be said of Nos. 4, 6, 11, 13, 15 and 16. But NOT 18, which is a downhill par 4, with water on the left, that simply runs out of room. And, by the way, if you slice the ball at the 18th, expect to pay for one of those ubiquitous condo windows that frame the right side, at least that’s what it says on the irritating sign posted on the tee box.

It’s all just a modest reminder that really good stuff in life is not all good, all the time. Sedona Golf Resort is so good, though, it warrants consideration as a one-day turnaround day trip from the Phoenix-Scottsdale metro area. Better yet, wine and dine around town, spend the night and make a loop or two the next day as well, it’s that good.

The Arizona Golf Authority AZGA “Local Hang” for Sedona Golf Resort is no drive at all; the onsite bar and restaurant has perhaps the best view of well-known Bell Rock, with a picture window that literally frames it like a masterpiece. In other words, the perfect spot to enjoy a Oak Creek Amber that just happens to be brewed right down the road.

Visit our Arizona Golf Course Directory List 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.