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Two Great Reasons to Visit Phoenix Now: Golf and Value

Phoenix Mountains

Story and photos by Lynn DeBruin

In college, when nobody had any money, we’d wait until noon to get the best golf deals, and end up dragging our pull carts nine holes for a mere $2. It was a steal, even if we were playing in 110-degree temperatures.

While the $2 nine went out with disco, golfers these days can still get a smoking deal without having to play in searing heat. Blame the downturn in the economy, the glut of courses and saturation of hotel rooms. Altogether, that means deals are to be had just about anywhere in Arizona.

“We’re back to seeing rates where they were 10 years ago,” said Steve Nicodemus, golf group sales manager for Xona Resort in north Scottsdale.

Bud Garmany, who organizes golf trips primarily for groups from the Bay Area, called the deals unbelievable. In March, considered prime season for golf in Arizona, he has groups of 24-32 players paying $1,000 apiece to stay four nights at Xona and play three rounds at top-rated courses like Grayhawk. That includes a daily buffet breakfast, a dinner at Phil Mickelson’s restaurant at Grayhawk, all ground transportation and a Giants spring training game with VIP all-you-can-eat-and-drink tickets.

 Gold Canyon's Dinosaur Mountain, with its panoramic views, high Sonoran desert and abundant wildlife, offers more than just great golf. It has been rated the No.1 public course in Arizona.Gold Canyon’s Dinosaur Mountain, with its panoramic views, high Sonoran desert and abundant wildlife, offers more than just great golf. It has been rated the No.1 public course in Arizona.

Ed Gowan, executive director at Arizona Golf, said it’s possible to spend a week in Arizona for about half of what it cost just two years ago. As for golf in general, he said those rates are down about 25 percent across the board. “There’s an awful lot of opportunities to play some really great golf courses for reasonable prices, mostly between $80 and $125,” he said.

Some higher-end courses still get away with charging over $200 for prime tee times. But unlike in recent years, golfers will find room on the tee sheets when prices are discounted.

For those considering moving to Arizona, the deals on housing are just as eye-opening. Gowan said indications are the prices will bottom out in April or May, meaning buyers can get into a home for about 50 percent of what it sold for just three years ago.

“We’re a boom or bust real estate economy here and in five years it will probably be booming again because there’s so much demand and so many people moving here,” he said. “But that’s a pretty good five-year investment.”

Years ago the epicenter of golf in the Valley of the Sun was further south, where courses such as McCormick Ranch and Orange Tree were located. Now it’s north Scottsdale, with Grayhawk, Troon North and TPC Scottsdale just a few minutes from resorts like Xona. There are about two dozen premier courses within 20 minutes of Xona and a dozen within just a few miles.

“You hear a lot about Myrtle Beach, but there are as many or more golf courses here, and quality courses,” said Tedd Maitland, director of golf and marketing at Xona Resorts. Plus, the Sonoran Desert gives the courses a totally different feel and look.

And, as a group from Nebraska pointed out recently, there’s no snow on the ground right now.

For others, it’s not about saving money but socializing.

“Like everywhere else, we’ve seen a big drop-off in corporate groups, but we’re still getting groups of buddies that make a golf trip every year. And they keep coming back because it’s a great setup,” Maitland said.

What else?

Shopping

If golfing isn’t your idea of fun, Scottsdale has plenty of other activities to pass the time.

Start with power shopping. Scottsdale Fashion Square is now home to a Barneys New York, putting it on par with Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, Las Vegas and Beverly Hills. The $130 million renovation made Fashion Square the largest shopping mall in the Southwest.

In downtown Scottsdale, the ancient Indian canal system has been transformed into the $3.3 billion hub of pedestrian activity and urban vitality, with more than 50 lounges, bars and nightclubs, 90-plus restaurants and more than 30,000 visitors on any given weekend night. The development includes the Scottsdale Waterfront and $41 million SouthBridge district, which features many one-of-a-kind boutiques.

Taste of the Desert

Walker Remington has been giving open-air Jeep tours into the desert for 18 years, but the former mortgage banker recently discovered another gold mine in moonlight tours.

Walker Remington sets out for the desert in his Jeep.Walker Remington sets out for the desert in his Jeep. Photo courtesy Walker Remington

“On some nights it was so bright we had moon shadows,” he said.

And before the moon rises, the star-filled sky offers glimpses of the Milky Way.
Along the way, the colorful Remington does his best to entertain with stories of the old west, and the history, culture and nature of Arizona.

“It’s a great chance to get away from the shopping malls and hustle and bustle of town. You get to the outskirts to see what it used to be like,” Remington said. “A lot of folks are expecting rolling sand dunes and you get them out in the greenest desert in the world and they’re amazed at how beautiful it is and lush, with a variety of life out there.”

Desert sunset.Desert sunset.

On any given trip, one can see thousands of giant saguaros, some pushing 150 and 200 years, teddy bear cholla and barrel cactus. It’s also not unusual to spot rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, desert tortoises and coyotes along the way, with visits to old mine shafts providing a glimpse into the past.

Often, it’s nature that gets top billing.

“I’ve got a spot where there are thousands of saguaros in view and no roads or buildings (in sight),” he said.

Remington does four-hour day tours much of the year but when it’s too hot for that in summer, the full moon tours are one’s best bet. He got the idea for the night tours from a friend who was conducting sunset-moonlit walking tours. When his wife suggested he do similar Jeep tours, he balked.

“Being the intelligent man that I am, I said, ‘That will never work.’ But the amount of response I got was completely humbling. I thought I might get a dozen phone calls and I got close to 90,” he said.

The full moon tours will start again in June. All tours are 3-4 hours, and cost $80 per adult and $70 for children. For more information visit Arizonaterritorialadventures.com or call 480-215-0027.

Soak away the day

Scottsdale has an assortment of luxurious spa retreats, some using indigenous elements such as Arizona river rocks, Sonoran Desert clay and muds, and Arizona-grown honey. A few even incorporate heated golf balls to reinvigorate guests.

The Boulders Resort also has been offering an all-inclusive package that includes daily hikes, meals, a fitness evaluation and lectures on health, wellness and nutrition. For more information visit www.ExperienceScottsdale.com/spas.

the TPC Stadium Course in Scottsdale, once home to the Phoenix Open, was the firstt golf course in Arizona to be designated an Audubon International Cooperative.The TPC Stadium Course in Scottsdale, once home to the Phoenix Open, was the firstt golf course in Arizona to be designated an Audubon International Cooperative.

Golf

There are about 200 golf courses in the greater Phoenix area, which includes Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and surrounding cities. Visit azgolf.org for information and specials.

Celebrity watch

With its world class shopping and glitzy nightclubs, celebs such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z ditched the beaches of San-Tropez to celebrate their honeymoon at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort. Hollywood’s Jessica Alba, Kristin Cavallari and Vanessa Minnillo also have been spotted partying with Nick Lachey and Brody Jenner at Mondrian Scottsdale. Even former VP Al Gore found his way to Scottsdale, celebrating his Nobel Peace Prize at the urban resort.
Because there are so many premier courses here, dozens of PGA Touring pros also are based in the Valley of the Sun.

If You Go

Where2Stay

Boulders Resort
N. Tom Darlington Drive
Carefree, AZ 85377
Reservations: 888.579.2631
www.theboulders.com

Xona Resort Suites
What sets them apart is having 2-, 3-, and 4-bedroom suites that can be either single or double occupancy. Each suite also has a full kitchen, living room and dining area. Their Grip it and Rip it Package offers a free round at TPC Stadium Course for $229. The Cactus League package offers a two-bedroom suite for $249 per night, with a $50 food and beverage credit per day and additional rooms for $129. Visit Xonaresort.com or call 480-585-1234.

Other accommodations and deals can be found at www.scottsdalecvb.com

Lynn DeBruin is a freelance writer/photographer based in Denver and former sportswriter for the Rocky Mountain News. She is an 8 handicap.

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