Bucket List: The 10 best experiences on a golf trip to Scottsdale

Phoenix/Scottsdale is such a sprawling mecca of luxury resorts, golf courses and restaurants that it can be difficult for even the most savvy golf travelers to navigate.

Where should you stay? Where should you play? Where should you eat? Those are questions that need to be asked. Although the answers vary within your budget, there might be times when you're ready to splurge to experience the best the Valley of the Sun has to offer.

The Golf Advisor staff cuts through the clutter. We have narrowed down the 10 bucket-list experiences for golfers looking to visit what we believe is America's No. 1 winter golf destination. Here goes:

10. Taste the Tequila Goddess at the Fairmont

If your golf group is looking for a great meal to cap off the trip, head to La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. When the dead rattlesnake head and tail arrived with six shots of tequila, I knew it meant trouble ... in a good way. The "Snake Bite Flight" - a tequila tasting at the resort's popular Mexican restaurant - will be markedly more enjoyable than the bad "experience" we all had in college. It is presented by the "Tequila Goddess", who walked our table through the different flavors selected from the more than 200 varieties from 36 different labels available at the restaurant.

9. Ride your chariot of choice at Westin Kierland

The Westin Kierland Golf Club tries to stay on the cutting edge of the latest trends in the game. The resort has all the new gadgets and toys most golfers have never ridden before - the GolfBoard, Segway, Golf Bike, TurfRider (a golf motorcycle) and new this year, the Shark Experience, an interactive entertainment center in the carts where you can listen to music from Slacker Radio or plug your own tunes into the high-powered Bluetooth speakers.

Wash away the bogey blues at the Scotch Library, home to 250 different labels, just off the main lobby, or drink up the sunset on the resort's Dreamweaver's Canyon patio while a bagpiper serenades your foursome.

8. Chase down a remote desert golf experience

There are so many great courses to play in Scottsdale that a lot of the time the decision where to play comes down to convenience. But to really experience the best of Scottsdale, sometimes it is best to go off the grid a bit. Driving deep into the desert will reveal some spectacular courses - especially Wickenburg Ranch & Social Club in Wickenburg and Quintero Golf Club in Peoria and the North and South courses at The Boulders Resort in Carefree. Another option might be Apache Stronghold in Globe, a Tom Doak course noted for a great design but hindered by hit or miss conditioning. Check Golf Advisor reviews before you go to make sure it's worth the effort.

7. Drink up Phil’s Grill at Grayhawk

When it comes to facilities, Grayhawk rules the desert. Multiple driving ranges with music pumped in. Multiple restaurants in separate clubhouses. Two strong golf courses in the Talon by Gary Panks/David Graham and recently redesigned Raptor by Tom Fazio. The Golf Shop and Trading Company is stocked with the latest fashion from Travis Mathew and other hot brands. No wonder Grayhawk is such a popular tournament site, hosting three Andersen Consulting World Championships from 1995-98 (a precursor to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship), the 1999 Williams World Challenge (the first Hero World Challenge, three Frys.com Opens from 2007-09 and more. Next up are the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Golf Championships for three years from 2020 to 2022. Being a Mickelson fan, I savor the post-round ritual of cozying up to the bar in Phil's Grill. The Mickelson memorabilia is too cool.

6. Golf and baseball at Spring Training

A round of golf in the morning, followed by a Cactus League game in the afternoon? Sounds like a match made in heaven to me. With 15 teams in action in the region from February through March, there are a never-ending supply of chances to see your favorite team or player. Mike Bailey covers your best bets in this story from 2016.

5. Disappear on a desert excursion

If your golf trip is longer than four days or with a large group, it's imperative to have a day off exploring the Sonoran desert. Obviously, hiking up Camelback Mountain is the cheapest option, but if your group has a wide range of physical abilities, ages and interests, that might not be best one. I can't recommend enough hiring Desert Wolf Tours to entertain the crowd. You'll see the beauty of the desert with knowledgeable guides, while driving a TomCar ATV to a remote shooting range. What a rush it is firing Glocks, AR-15s or even machine guns at unique targets. It's not cheap, but it will be memorable.

4. Experience the best of Troon North

Debuting in 1990, the Monument course at Troon North grandfathered in the golf boom that lifted Scottsdale to its lofty status today. It remains one of the desert's most coveted tee times thanks to a flip-flopping of nines with its sister Pinnacle course in 2007 and a four-month renovation in 2017 to enhance its greens and bunkers. Post-golf, hit dinner and drinks at Proof Canteen, the swag hangout at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale within the Troon North community. Proof's casual vibe and excellent menu of American classics regularly attracts locals not just hotel guests. There's more than 50 microbrews (six on draft) and more than 50 bottles of wine (including four on tap) available, although the milkshakes, malts and floats served from an old-fashioned soda fountain sure do tempt my sweet tooth.

3. 36 holes at We-Ko-Pa

With apologies to all the great 36-hole clubs of Scottsdale — Grayhawk, Troon North, the Boulders, TPC Scottsdale — We-Ko-Pa is the place to play 36 holes in a day. Both the Saguaro course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and the Cholla course by Scott Miller are dynamite with scenery, strategy and shot-making to spare. A 2016 renovation on Cholla added new greens and bunkers and most importantly, tidied up the controversial eighth hole.

If you need somewhere to imbibe after golf, the We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center right across the street has its own spa, nearby Fort McDowell Casino and the excellent Ahnala Restaurant.


2. Playing "inside" the Stadium

I'm normally not one for gimmicks in golf, but playing the Stadium course at TPC Scottsdale with all the grandstands up for the Waste Management Phoenix Open was one of the most fun rounds I've had in a long time.

What a thrill it was to walk inside the "Stadium" on the par-3 16th hole. Even with empty seats, it added a surge of adrenaline to finish the round. The truth is the Tom Weiskopf course is pretty nondescript without all the bleachers. If you're keen to play it, do it with the stands up.

Construction begins October 1st and everything is taken down by April 1st. If you want to hit that sweet spot where much of the infrastructure is complete, book your tee time between Dec. 1 and March 1. For any college football fans out there, you should combine that stadium experience with an even bigger one: a ticket to the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Now that's livin'.

Plan on breakfast, lunch or dinner in the outstanding Toro Restaurant & Rum Bar overlooking the 18th green. It's home to the valley's largest rum collection (more than 150 flavors), and there's live music and brunch on weekends.

1. Attend the Waste Management Phoenix Open

An obvious top choice. This might be the best golf trip in America, outside of perhaps Bandon Dunes, The American Club, Kiawah Island, Pinehurst or Pebble Beach. It would include playing golf around Scottsdale for a few days, attending this golf party for a round or two, followed by teeing it up enough to curb your appetite before heading back to the grim reality from whence you came.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Bucket List: The 10 best experiences on a golf trip to Scottsdale