When golfers think of the desert, their visions are more Bob Hope and Arnold Palmer than Lawrence of Arabia and Rommel—and we certainly hope the reality is similar. Martinis, palms and cool green grass in oasis-like settings are far preferable to long treks through the hot, dry sand, especially when one is on course. The following sampling of courses is by no means comprehensive, but we feel the courses here all offer great examples of desert play. Rest easy: it’s the Bob Hope and Arnold Palmer kind.
Troon North Golf Club
Like California, Arizona contains part of all four of North America’s major deserts. Accordingly, the state offers some fantastic desert golf opportunities. Among them, the oft-lauded Troon North in Scottsdale is entitled to all of the numerous compliments it’s earned over the years, especially following the 2007 design update from Tom Weiskopf. Its two courses offer enough cacti, scrub brush and granite boulders to satisfy any Western fantasy. Hit around the giant rock “monument” for which Troon’s Monument Course is named (which sits in the middle of the third fairway), stay as precise as possible as you thread the needle along Troon’s Pinnacle Course, and enjoy a drink at the resort’s Dynamite Grill as the desert sun sets.
The Boulders Golf Club
If you came upon it on a trail ride, you’d swear it was the hidden outpost of a gang of renegade golfers. Parts of The Boulders Golf Club resemble the smugglers’ hideouts in the old Western films, and that character makes it all the more exciting to play. Hidden in the Sonoran Desert foothills, the club’s two courses are defined by sometimes immense 12 million-year-old granite boulder formations, which give the whole place a Hollywood soundstage feeling. The views are incredible, both the North and South Courses offer great desert challenges and the on-site spa and dining opportunities make The Boulders a complete experience for golfers who like a little adventure with their luxury—or is it luxury with their adventure…
Home to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has been described as “the best attended and rowdiest stop on the PGA Tour,” the challenging Stadium Course here has plenty of what you want in a wild ride: an island green on 15 and a drivable par-4 17th that both offer crazy water-infused risk/reward gems, along with an overall experience that is as satisfying as it is intense. Even the history here is dynamic: the only ace on a par-4 in PGA Tour history was scored in 2001 by Andrew Magee on No.17, while Tiger’s hole-in-one on 16 in 1997 cemented the hole’s moniker as “the loudest hole in golf.” More memorably, perhaps, there’s a one-ton boulder on 13 that fans helped move for Tiger in 1999—probably the heaviest loose impediment in golf history. Be sure to bring a few friends if you’re planning on getting stuck in its shadow.
It’s hosted the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (now the Humana Challenge) and seen as many celebrities on its fairways as any of the Palm Springs-area clubs and restaurants, but somehow the Classic Club in Palm Desert always manages to feel as friendly and down-to-earth as your favorite local course. A true oasis in the Mojave Desert, there are nearly 30 acres of water features on this Palmer design, plus pine and olive trees. There’s plenty of sand as well, with more than enough bunkers to satisfy beach lovers. Old-school class abounds at this property, from the excellently maintained course to the 63,000-square-foot Tuscan-style clubhouse with its Bellatrix restaurant. With fantastic golf and top-shelf service all around, it’s tough to find a more enjoyable option than the Classic Club.
There are six courses at this epic desert club, and each one of them is an absolute gem. Framed by the Santa Rosa Mountains and site of the Humana Challenge (formerly the Bob Hope), the club has hosted Presidents, celebrities, pros and golf enthusiasts for decades, and it’s no wonder. The 109 holes of golf are kept in top condition year round, the Health & Racquet Club is as good as it gets and the numerous dining and other recreational opportunities make PGA West a must-visit location for anyone who loves the best desert living has to offer. We like the Arnold Palmer Private Course, of course, but no matter where you play here you’ll have a tremendous desert vacation.
We love the sky, we love the mountains, we love the restaurants and the nightlife and the Mid-Century Modern architecture, but most of all we love the golf in Palm Springs. One of the valley’s better examples is Tahquitz Creek Resort, managed by Arnold Palmer Golf Management, which offers two courses along with top service and stunning views. The Legend course is a traditional country club-style course, perfect for an easygoing afternoon, while The Resort course showcases the best the desert links style has to offer. Play both for a full day experience, work out your kinks on the driving range or just stop in to watch the sunset with a cool drink at Traditions Café. Time at Tahquitz Creek is well spent.
Four Mile Ranch Golf Club
This course, set amidst the high desert region of Colorado, is proud to see itself described by Golf.com as “a quirky hodgepodge that resembles nothing you’ve ever seen in golf.” With crazy-beautiful views of brushed-gold mountains and rugged valleys in all directions, this course layout has been called “adventure golf at its finest.” Preferring natural white shale ridges called “hogbacks” to formal bunkers, offering all kinds of dramatic drop-offs and obscured-view holes, and dropping players’ jaws with other design choices, Four Mile Ranch is a refreshing departure from the ordinary. Adding to the course’s attractive peculiarities: Four Mile Ranch claims that eight players shot holes-in-one here in 2011. Absolutely worth a stop.
Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club
Albuquerque sits in the northern upper edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, and the nearby Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club benefits from its high desert status. Lush vegetation frames this hilly course on the east side of the Sandia Mountains and does as much to cool conditions as the altitude. Many of the holes play downhill, making the most of the views, and most of your challenges will be dry (though water appears in a couple of spots). There are 27 holes of golf here, just 20 minutes from Albuquerque and 45 minutes from Santa Fe,
and with plenty of top area lodging (and even available homes on site), Paa-Ko Ridge makes an interesting desert getaway for short trips or seasonal stays.
Lajitas Golf Resort
Formerly Apache territory, the area around Big Bend National Park in Texas is rough country. It’s also beautiful. Tucked into a rustic corner of the region, the Lajitas Golf Resort offers wild fun along with great golf. Shoot guns, go rafting on the Rio Grande or ride horses to get your Old West fix, then change out of your jeans and head to Black Jack’s Crossing. Named for U.S. Army General “Black Jack” Pershing, who fought Pancho Villa, the Lanny Wadkins design serves up cowboy-sized portions of great views along with its game. Emerald fairways cut among bold rock and desert scrub, while a practice facility and pro shop (located in the old Lajitas Trading Post building, ca.1800s) handle warm-up and equipment needs.