I’m the only one in my family who plays, or even likes, golf. But my wife and two teenaged daughters are still eager to join me on my getaways. They’ve figured out that where there’s good golf, there’s good vacationing.
We’ve developed a nice routine: I get my fix while they sleep in, enjoy the spa or hang out by the pool, then we convene for a family activity in the afternoon and a big meal at night. Everyone’s happy.
Our favourite destination is Scottsdale. The Phoenix suburb, in the Sonoran Desert, has some of the world’s most striking landscapes – and some the world’s best golf resorts.
Stay: With its near-rural setting, surrounding desert trails and lack of city lights to obscure the stars, the hotel offers a chance to be immersed in nature while still enjoying creature comforts. All 210 casitas blend in with the landscape. Rooms start at $399 (U.S.) in high season.
Play: Troon North is a 36-hole facility that is just a short (and free) shuttle ride away.
There is not a ton of difference between its Monument and Pinnacle courses – both are strong desert layouts, tough enough but fair. But I narrowly favour the Monument because it’s a little more forgiving off the tee, has more elevation changes and offers slightly better vistas.
I took a caddy during both of my Troon North rounds. We walked, a rare treat in Arizona resort golf. To me, golf is meant to be played on foot, especially within so much natural beauty.
Green fees range from $175 in the off-season to $262 in high season.
Eat: The resort’s top dining option is the Talavera steak house, which is both casual and upscale. Take a patio seat for a spectacular view of the Valley of the Sun, as the Phoenix and Scottsdale area is known.
Family fun: Pinnacle Peak, which is within walking distance, is an ideal starter hill. Its groomed and winding trails make the climb enjoyable, but still challening. The views of the valley and Sonoran Desert from the top justify the effort.
Stay: The Westin Kierland is in the heart of “new” Scottsdale, just north of the traditional Old West core. Our two-bedroom, ground-floor guest room was surrounded by the resort’s golf course on one side and its sprawling pool complex on the other. Added bonus: Our flat seemed to be constantly surrounded by cute desert cottontails. Cabanas by the hotel’s pool area (waterslides, lazy river, lap pool, hot tubs and an adult-only pool), were a magnet for my family as I played golf. Rooms start at $169, spring/summer.
Play: The look of the 27-hole Kierland Golf Club isn’t as dramatic and distinct as you often get in Arizona desert golf. The green spaces are wide, the desert merely an accent rather than an imposing hazard. The three nines aren’t overdemanding either. But there’s nothing wrong with that: It’s accessible for beginners and a breather for better players after tougher outings at clubs such as Troon North. What made my 18 holes there memorable was a chance to try a Segway. Why take a golf cart when the Kierland offers Segways customized to carry your clubs? (Greens fees range from $99 to $239.)
Eat: The Kierland’s course might be predictable, but its main restaurant, Deseo, is anything but. Chef Douglas Rodriguez, a pioneer of Nuevo Latino cuisine, has an eclectic and challenging menu full of Latin-influenced dishes.
Family fun: It’s almost sacrilege to venture into stores in a city with such natural splendour as Scottsdale, but the Kierland Commons is only a 10-minute walk away. This charming, polished outdoor mall feels more like walking through a village than a collection of shops. Upscale retailers such as Michael Kors and J. Crew are here, and nightlife hums at such pubs as Bar North and such eateries as the Ocean Club.
Stay: Built at the base of Camelback Mountain, the Phoenician is an oasis of sophistication and elegance in an otherwise casual Scottsdale. When we visited, the crowd seemed older and more genteel than at our other Scottsdale stops. The opulent lobby was the only place on our trip where we saw men in suit jackets and women in jewels.
The hotel caters to its well-heeled clientele with spacious and tastefully decorated rooms, and distractions such as a $25-million art collection hung throughout the property – not to mention excellent customer service (we’re still grateful for the empathetic concierge who sprung into action when we misplaced our passports). Rooms start at $459 (U.S.) in high season.
Play: The hotel has a 27-hole course on its property, divided into three distinctive nines: the Desert, Oasis and Canyon. This is quintessential resort golf: not too tough, impeccably conditioned, not too long. The Canyon nine struck me as the most interesting, because of the fairways’ interplay with the mountain and its elevation changes.
Eat: Resort food can be rich and decadent – wonderful in small doses but over a long trip can become too much of a good thing. Not far from the Phoenician we found terrific Italian at a strip-mall joint called Pasta Brioni. We loved its classic food (sometimes a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is all you want) and homey vibe. In Old Town Scottsdale, we waited more than an hour to get into Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, but its yummy traditional-style pizza made the wait worthwhile.
Family fun: Scottsdale has a rich artistic vein, which includes Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture and a vibrant gallery scene in Old Town despite its cowboy look. We visited on a Thursday night, when the art shops leave their doors open late for ArtWalk. Tired legs can take advantage of a free trolley; dessert lovers should try the Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor.
If sports are more your art, the San Francisco Giants have their spring training at Scottsdale Stadium. Old Town swells with black-and-orange-clad fans on game day.
Stay: The Princess is an institution. The Spanish colonial-style hotel is luxuriously appointed and well-located, just off Scottsdale Road in the north end and close to great golf. We stayed in a cozy casita at the far end of the property and I got a special charge from looking out the window and seeing the fifth fairway at neighbouring TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course. (Rooms start at $499 in high season.)
Play: Even for recreational hackers, the TPC stadium course gets increasingly exciting as you head toward its famous finish. You’ll pass though the island-green 15th, master the short 16th (which is completely enclosed by grandstands during the Phoenix Open), surmount the driveable par-four 17th and then, finally, take your chances at the around-the-water 18th. There might be so-called “better” courses in Scottsdale but none as fun. (Greens fees range from $213 to $299, plus forecaddie tip.)
Eat: We all enjoyed La Hacienda’s contemporary, lighter version of Mexican fare. But the hotel restaurant is just as notable for its tequila collection, which includes a staggering 240 varieties.
Family fun: A day trip to the Musical Instrument Museum was memorable. There are 15,000 instruments under its roof and it’s astounding to see all the devices humans have used to make music. Seeing John Lennon’s piano was quite moving.
Jeff Brooke covers golf for The Globe and Mail. The writer stayed as a guest of the resorts and the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. The tourism board did not review or approve this article.