Cure For The Winter Blues

Phoenix/Scottsdale Area Ranks High for Winter Golf Vacations Whenever a freezing cold wind blows and rain or snow falls, do you immediately think of vacationing in some sunny climate where golf is a year round sport?  Even though I live in Southern California where our winters are mild, there are times when I have these thoughts and immediately Arizona sunshine and golf come to mind. No matter where you live in the US, a Phoenix/Scottsdale golf vacation is just hours away.  With over 80 golf courses in the immediate area, and an abundance of outstanding hotels and restaurants to fit any budget, the Phoenix/Scottsdale area is a delightful locale for a fun winter vacation.  Even though it is the fourth largest city in the US, Phoenix and the surrounding cities of Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, along with the close-by Fort McDowell Yavapai Indian Nation, offer a relaxed atmosphere where warm sunny days and bright blue skies are the norm during the winter months. On my last winter trip to "The Valley of the Sun", I had the opportunity to play four truly wonderful desert courses, the Arizona State University Karsten course; Eagle Mountain Golf Club in Fountain Hills; Grayhawk, the former home of the Champion Tour's Fry's.com Open; and TPC Scottsdale, where nearly 500,000 spectators gather yearly for the PGA Waste Management Phoenix Open called "The Greatest Party on Grass". These four courses were all within a few miles of the Xona Resort Suites in North Scottsdale, headquarters for the Xona Resort Suites Annual Media Golf Classic which I was attending along with nearly 100 golf writers from the US, Canada and Europe.  Located on 14 spacious acres, the "Xona" with one, two and four bedroom suites, four sparkling pools, and a truly professional and helpful staff, offered a welcome retreat for our group of golf writers and for the other leisure and business travelers staying at the resort. The first course we played was the Arizona State University Karsten Golf Course, a true links-style course designed by famed golf architect Pete Dye.  ASU Karsten was named in honor of PING golf equipment founder Karsten Solheim, the largest single cash contributor to the project.  Since its opening in 1989 it has been the home course for the ASU men's and women's golf teams which have produced 47 Collegiate Golf All-Americans (21 men and 26 ladies) and nine NCAA team titles (2 men and 7 ladies).  Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Wendy Ward, Grace Park and Anna Nordqvist all played their collegiate golf there. Whether you play from the Forward Tees at 4,765 yards, the Regular Tees at 5,671 yards, the Championship Tees at 6,288 yards or the Professional Tees at 7,002 yards, you'll find the course challenging yet fun to play.  My favorite hole was the course's signature hole, the Par 3 sixteenth.  A whopping 248-yards from the tips, it is bounded on the right by a lake from tee to green.  Although I played it from only 175 yards, the hole quickly became a favorite when I hit my left-handed slice out over the water, landed it on the green, and two putted for par. With four sets of tees, ASU Karsten provides variety for golfers of all skill levels.  Good golf course management and precise shots are essential as a number of greens are partially hidden and/or well guarded by bunkers and water.  Speaking of water, the kidney shaped green on the 398-yard Par 4 eighteenth is also well protected by water.  Even with a good drive from the Regular Tees, a very accurate second or third shot is imperative if you are to get near the pin on what is known as one of the toughest finishing holes in Arizona. The second day we played Eagle Mountain Golf Club which winds through some of the natural box canyons, rolling hills and lush desert valleys of the Sonoran Desert.  Golf course architect Scott Miller designed Eagle Mountain so that it has spectacular views of challenging holes that play through and around mesquite, palo verde and saguaro cacti.  At 6,771 yards, this Par 71 beauty has some of the greatest elevation changes in Arizona golf.  It also has undulating fairways and well-bunkered greens which make you continually think about proper club selection. My favorite view was from the 18th tee which rests some 400 feet above the fairway.   As I prepared to tee off, I gazed out across the valley at scenic Red Mountain and was once again reminded of another reason why I love the game of golf. Named by the Arizona Republic as the Best New Public Golf Course when it opened in 1996, and touted by Golf World Magazine as one of the Top 50 Public Courses in the Country, Eagle Mountain Golf Club should make your list of "Must Play" courses when you visit Phoenix and its surrounding areas. Our third day we ventured to Grayhawk Golf Club, which offers championship golf on two of the highest rated daily-fee golf courses in the US.  Its two courses, Talon and Raptor, designed by former US Open and PGA Champion David Graham and golf course architect Gary Panks, are widely considered two of the finest golf courses in the Valley of the Sun.  We played the Talon course which we thoroughly enjoyed.  With water on three holes and many greens that are both large and multi-tiered, as well as fairways that are wider and more receptive than they appear, we found the course a pleasure to play.  Four sets of tees ranging from 5143 to 6973 yards offer good tests for both low and high handicappers. Each of Talon's holes are named.  Since the holes on my home course have only numbers, I was quite intrigued with the names of each of the holes.  It was easy to understand the importance of the name of the first hole, Farrview, as it is dedicated to the late Heather Farr, a local LPGA standout and Grayhawk Ambassador.  Farr, who died of breast cancer at the early age of 28, is memorialized with a statue showing her holding her picture-perfect follow through. Other hole names I particularly enjoyed, and could easily understand how they were named  were Three Sisters, the Par 5 third hole with three deep bunkers short and right of the green; # 13, a drivable Par 4 only 303 yards from the tips named Heaven or Hell because of its risk/reward opportunities; and # 17 the 126-yard Par 3 appropriately named Devil's Drink because an errant tee shot that misses the island green most likely ends up "in the drink". In addition to its great courses, Grayhawk is also known for its impressive pro shop, The Golf Shop and Trading Company, which has been named as one of the top 100 pro shops in the US for the past six years; for Phil's Grill, named after Grayhawk's PGA Touring Ambassador Phil Mickelson; and for the Grayhawk Learning Center originally developed by Peter Kostis and Gary McCord which offers highly personalized golf instruction. TPC Scottsdale, home to the PGA Tour's Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has been described as "the largest spectator golf event in the world", was the fourth course we played.  When we arrived at the course it looked very inviting.  It was in immaculate condition, its fairways appeared wide and receptive, and the blue sky overhead was cloudless.  I was ready.  When I learned that Mark Calcavecchia had once commented, "I trust everything about the course.  I trust my reads on the greens.  I trust my yardages.  Best ever conditions", I became very excited about playing.  Realizing these quotes were spoken during a PGA Tour event, I thought I might be disappointed.  This was definitely not the case as the course is kept to PGA Tour standards year round. Playing where more than 40 touring pros regularly practice and play was an exhilarating experience.  As anticipated, the Stadium course's famed 16th, only 162-yards from the tips, turned out to be one of my favorite holes.  I pictured myself being loudly cheered by the more than 25,000 fans who pack the stands surrounding the green during Phoenix Open.  Since there were no fans when I hit my tee shot into one of the greenside bunkers, I was not booed which is also the custom during the tournament. My other favorite hole at TPC Scottsdale was the short 332-yard Par 4 seventeenth which has bunkers, desert and water that must be avoided.  I found out it is also one of Touring Pro Andrew Magee's favorite holes as he scored a double-eagle hole-in-one there during the 2001 FBR Phoenix Open.  His hole-in-one was all the more interesting in that Magee, who was not a long driver, didn't think he could reach the green on which Steve Pate, Gary Nicklaus and Tom Byrum were putting.  He teed off and his drive bounced in front of and then onto the green.  It rolled past Nicklaus and Pate and caromed off Byrum's putter into the cup.  This surprising, amazing and unusual hole-in-one also happened to be the first hole-in-one on a Par 4 in PGA Tour history. When it's cold, rainy or snowing in your hometown, remember the Phoenix/Scottsdale area rates high for winter golf vacations.  The more than 80 courses in the area await you. Information on ASU Karsten, Eagle Mountain, Grayhawk and TPC Scottsdale as well as other Arizona courses can be found at www.arizonagolfcourses.com.  Xona Resort Suites information can be found on their website, www.xonaresort.com.
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