Boulders Resort & Spa in Carefree: Bucket-list golf and lodging in the Arizona desert

CAREFREE, Ariz. -- The Boulders Resort & Spa is a bucket-list commune with Arizona nature that would make any city slicker from Wall Street look away from his iPhone, stop work thoughts and gaze.

Giant boulder stacks, 12 million years in the making, dominate a tawny landscape that makes mankind as tiny as that ProV1x you are trying to route between desert tan and fairway green.

Ask anyone who is lucky enough to see a roadrunner, bobcat, coyote, javelina or all varieties of birds duck into a hole in one of the Sonoran Desert's giant saguaro, in a ruggedly beautiful landscape. They will tell you the Boulders Resort is a must for any travel golfer and is an award-winner for being women friendly.

Boulders Resort gets a multi-million dollar make over

Like any mid-1980s upscale golf resort, time had come for a makeover for this special place located on 1,300 acres just 25 minutes north of TPC Scottsdale.

Arrival is special. The main lodge reception doors were crafted from four different hand-rubbed woods mimicking a boulder pile. Niches in the lobby walls display American Indian crafts and original regional art. Glass skylights and large fireplaces provide warmth and light to complete the ambiance.

The upgrades to the 160 casitas include new finishes and furnishings that maintain their adobe-style architecture. These spacious 550-square-foot residential-like guest rooms display a fresh palette of earthy desert tones.

Room furnishings and luxury bedding was renewed, enhancing the focal point from day one -- an adobe-styled wood-burning fireplace. American Indian influences are everywhere in color and texture, along with bathroom enhancements of spacious showers with high-end fixtures and pebble walls. Custom-milled vanities and flagstone flooring make your casita homey and modern.

The private patios are scenic, renewed with fresh wood and ready to view nature, saguaros and the boulders that surround each casita. You might even see a desert critter wander by.

Tee off on one of golf's more outstanding stages

Red Lawrence built the first nine holes on this site in 1969 as the Carefree Municipal Golf Course. Phoenix's Jack Snyder completed the 18 holes a few years later.

But today's 36 holes have designer Jay Morrish's stamp on them. He completed Boulders Resort's South Course in 1984 and remodeled the North Course in 1985. He applied another facelift to the North in 1999.

"The North Course (6,811 yards, par 72) was the original," said Tom McCahan, director of club operations. "But most people believe the South Course (6,726 yards, par 71) is the most scenic, and they know it has holes that go right up to the boulder piles. Its dramatic scenery, but I think the members enjoy the North because it has more fairway to work with.

"I really think the back nine of the North from the back tees is the toughest stretch of holes. You have five par-4 holes over 425 yards, and it can get tough. The greens are subtle, so you won't have any really ridiculous putts."

The two courses are continually alternated, allowing one to be kept private while the other is used by resort guests.

Boulders Resort's golf holes are nature at its best

The South Course's beginning sets the tone for a golf day you won't forget. No. 1 is a 447-yard par 4 that requires a target drive that stops short of two stacks of boulders that narrow the fairway at 110 yards out.

You will face a stacked pile of granite balls in sight for the tee shot at no. 2, a 150-yard par 3. Be precise, and don't come up short because a deep bunker guards the front and another is in the rear.

The par-5 fifth leads you right up to the base of the signature "Boulder Pile," and you have a cart drive up to the par-5 sixth, which requires a tee shot from a box cut into the side of the giant boulder outcropping that sits adjacent to the resort's main building. Your tee shot actually flies over the driveway that leads to the reception area.

The back tee is cut right beside "Rosie's Rock" on the par-3, 187-yard seventh. It's one of the resorts most recognizable formations, since it looks like a giant golf ball on a tee. The name comes from Rusty Lyon, who is the visionary behind the resort. He wanted to honor his wife and scratched the name "Rosie" on the rock on his first visit to the site.

Golf instruction innovation is also a highlight at The Boulders with award-winning teacher Donald Crawley continually thinking of new ways to make you a better player. He's on Golf Magazine's "Top 100 Teachers in America" list, among others.

Boulders' main lodge, dining, spa and tennis

The resort's recent update brought new warm reception enhancements, and don't miss The Bar's 25-foot, floor-to-ceiling glass viewing area. Restaurants include the Palo Verde Restaurant in the Main Lodge, the Spotted Donkey Cantina at el Pedregal, and the Grill Restaurant and Bar in the golf clubhouse.

The Terraced Tennis Garden includes eight courts, private lessons and weekly clinics. There are four swimming pools, including an adult pool at the Spa at The Boulders, which is 33,000 square feet with 24 treatment rooms and a full menu of soothing treatments.

One can work out in the modern fitness facility, including weights, cardio equipment, whirlpools and saunas, but real outdoorsmen will salivate over the hiking, rock climbing and horseback riding.

The Boulders is now part of the new Curio -- A Collection by Hilton, a global brand of upscale luxury hotels.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.
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Excellent story.  Just visited there and loved the South Course.

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Boulders Resort & Spa in Carefree: Bucket-list golf and lodging in the Arizona desert