SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Normally I'm taking aim at a flag stick not a target.
Instead of a golf club, I've got a Glock handgun. Instead of a green fairway, I'm buried deep in the desert -- a secluded, boulder-strewn, cactus-laden landscape.
Zev Nadler, the owner of Desert Wolf Tours, barks out a command to fire.
Pop, pop, pop ... two bullets pierce the body, and one grazes the outline of the head.
This isn't some weird military exercise or gang ritual in the middle of the Arizona desert. It's actually a fun excursion that corporate clients use to experience the sheer beauty and ruggedness of the High Sonoran Desert. Companies such as Google, Wells Fargo, P.F. Chang's, Fosters and Bayer have all used the "Fire Arms Experience" run by Desert Wolf Tours as a team-building exercise.
"We have catered to more than 6,000 customers from the four and five-star hotels," adds Nadler, a native of metro Detroit.
Corporate business plays a big part in Scottsdale's tourism industry. The Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau reports that 60 percent of all resort and full-service hotel business results from meetings-related travel. It's not hard to understand why: There's great golf, trendy resorts, major sports venues -- and cool surprises such as the outing with Desert Wolf Tours -- that live and thrive under the Arizona sun. Here's a handful of reasons why you should consider Scottsdale for your next convention or corporate retreat:
The resort life
Scottsdale is hardwired toward keeping people happy. This affluent city ranks third -- after New York City and Las Vegas, respectively -- for having the most AAA Five-Diamond hotels and resorts in the United States.
The Phoenician; the Camelback Inn, a JW Marriott Resort & Spa; Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North; the Boulders Resort & Golden Door Spa (in nearby Carefree) and the Fairmont Princess Resort and Spa have all been so honored in recent years. Scottsdale even boasts more spas per capita than anywhere in the country.
These lavish properties are stocked with excellent restaurants. Italian fare comes naturally for the chefs at Il Terrazzo at The Phoenician. La Hacienda serves fine Mexican at The Fairmont, although it's tough to turn down the nearby Bourbon Steak by celebrity chef Michael Mina. The Saguaro, a rebranded hotel downtown, features Distrito, an artsy, eclectic, Mexican cantina where the food is as tasty as the walls are colorful. The nearby Old Town Whiskey, also by chef Jose Garces, is just as delicious with a casual menu and personality.
Scottsdale's resorts remain committed to hosting large groups and events by investing in constant improvements. The 53,000-square-foot, $20-million Palomino Conference Center is on track to open Oct. 11 at the Princess, bringing the resort's meeting space to 150,000 square feet, the largest in the entire Fairmont chain.
More than 120,000 square feet of meeting and event space indoors and out allows flexibility at The Phoenician. Roughly $40 million was spent to add the Camelback Ballroom in 2010.
Golf in Scottsdale
While I was playing the Phoenician's scenic Canyon nine, a larger corporate group was teeing off on the resort's two other nines, Oasis and Desert. Most of Scottsdale's worthwhile golf clubs feature more than 18 holes for flexibility to host larger events.
And many of these clubs -- Boulders Golf Club & Resort, Troon North, Grayhawk Golf Club, Talking Stick, etc. -- are among the best-run facilities in the country. The golf is that good here.
Jay Yule, who lives in Vancouver, Canada, said his group visits Scottsdale every year and always chooses at least one round at Grayhawk.
"We really like it a bunch," he said. "We do a survey about the trip when we are done. People always pick this one to come back to. It's a good fit for a whole range of players and high handicaps. (The staff) is really good from when you show up to the end (of our stay). It's a good clubhouse."
Scottsdale's sports scene
The perfect corporate party takes place in late January/early February in Scottsdale. It's called the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
The 16th hole on the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale, an amphitheater of sky boxes and corporate suites, creates the ultimate board room to negotiate or sign a big deal. If you can't make an impression and a sale in this venue, you're in the wrong business.
The guests hanging out in the sky boxes have a bird's eye view of the shenanigans happening in the bleachers and when the caddies take off in their races to reach the green. The food and drink overflows. The golf is secondary, but it's still great to see a threesome such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler pass with a couple of birdies and some huge roars.
If you need more excitement at night, the Bird's Nest usually rocks a pretty cool concert or two. Or head to Phoenix to watch the NBA's Phoenix Suns play. Spring training heats up later in February with a full schedule of Cactus League games.
The active outdoors
Hiking is a popular outdoor pursuit -- it's super convenient when staying at The Phoenician in the shadow of Camelback Mountain -- but I'd splurge on an excursion with Desert Wolf Tours instead. My day with Desert Wolf combined the best of its "Fire Arms Experience" and the "Tomcar Tours."
Tomcars, cool little two- and four-seat off-road vehicles, were originally developed for use by the Israeli Defense Forces special operations units. Desert Wolf Tours owns a fleet of these vehicles, but you get to drive them deep into the desert over rocks and even a river. I kept expecting to "find" a shooting range, but we just parked and set up targets in the middle of all those boulders and cacti.
Even if (like me) you've never shot a gun before, the experience feels completely safe and is well run. I actually enjoyed shooting the Glock 17 handgun more than the semi-automatic M16. Mixing golf and guns -- two polar opposites in my book -- in the same weekend? Now that's one memorable corporate retreat.