MARICOPA, Ariz. -- In a golf rich mecca like Phoenix-Scottsdale, where there are 200 or so golf courses to choose from, one can feel silly driving past scores of golf course entrances on the way to a tee time on the edges of town.
But some courses are absolutely worth putting a few miles on the rental car. Put together a nice little playlist for the ride and you'll be there in no time.
Better yet, gas prices haven't been this low in years, while demand for golf -- thanks to visitors coming to the area for Super Bowl XLIX, the Pro Bowl and the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open (Tiger Woods announced he will play in the event) -- will be at a premium.
So if there was ever a year worth venturing out of the epicenter of Phoenix-Scottsdale for golf, this is it. And if you do, you'll be rewarded handsomely if you play one of these courses.
Golf in north Scottsdale at Boulders Resort
If you thought Troon North Golf Club was "out there," keep heading north past Dynamite Road along North Scottsdale Road another four miles and you'll encounter the Boulders Resort, home to 36 holes and a secluded luxury resort. You certainly won't miss the entrance, just keep your eyes peeled for the giant boulder piles that slowly grow larger on the horizon.
The North Course and South Course have a large membership, but offer limited outside play. For the best scenery, the South has up-close views of boulder piles of all sizes, none bigger than behind the fifth green, as well as a mysterious balancing boulder, Rosie's Rock, near the seventh tee.
If you're a northerner who's never played desert golf, the boulders, as well as lush desert flora and striking amount of Saguaros, are a must-see on your first visit to the Sonoran Desert.
Golf northwest of Phoenix in the Hieroglyphic Mountains at Quintero
The solitary setting at Quintero Golf Club, winding through the surprisingly lush Hieroglyphic Mountains, has become a favorite since the once-private facility opened its doors to the public. While a lot of area courses have mountain backdrops, at Quintero you're playing fairways that jut right up against them. In some cases, including three of the four par 3s, you even tee off atop them. The elevation creeps up to 2,600 feet (compared to Phoenix-Scottsdale, which is around 1,100-1,300).
Designed by Rees Jones, there are some elevated greens and holes that trudge uphill to balance out the downhillers and keep your score honest. While there's still a temporary clubhouse and the residential community is still in its infancy, this is bar none one of the most scenic plays in the area, and the green fees are a fraction of what you'll find in the heart of Scottsdale. Those are big reasons why it's a top area pick, according to GolfAdvisor raters.
Quintero's location in relation to the sporting event mecca of Glendale -- which hosts college football national championship games and Super Bowls (as well as the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and NHL's Arizona Coyotes) -- is actually quite convenient. Spacious and quiet stay-and-play villas offer a respite from the Valley hubbub.
Golf in the south valley in Maricopa at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Unlike Quintero or Boulders, the flat land at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club was hardly inspiring. It makes what the design team of Schmidt-Curley accomplished here that much more remarkable.
The land was molded into a rippling layout that resembles the style of Australian Sandbelt courses. Firm and fast -- with rolling dunes, lots of sand and plenty of strategic options -- low-handicappers will adore Southern Dunes more than almost any other area course.
Better yet, the Ak-Chin Native American community invested in the course in 2014, closing it all summer, and it's reopened better than ever with some new course infrastructure and light redesigns. Also unique is the new #MiniDunes concept, which converts the driving range into a pitch 'n putt in the afternoon every day.
If you'd rather spend the afternoon on #MiniDunes and put a few pops back while doing so, skip the drive back to Scottsdale and stay the night at the Harrah's Ak-Chin, a mid-sized and modern casino hotel about five minutes away and offers stay-and-play packages with Ak-Chin Southern Dunes.
Golf in the East Valley at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club
Head east of Phoenix into Fountain Hills on Highway 87, keep going and you'll eventually arrive at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, a popular pick by publications as the top public golf course in Arizona. Set on Yavapai Nation Native American property, We-Ko-Pa features 36 holes of the purest desert golf experience in the Valley of the Sun.
Two very different designs, the Cholla Course and Saguaro Course offer entirely takes on the land here. The Saguaro, a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design, is shorter and less molded than the Scott Miller-designed Cholla, which is longer and more challenging. You've driven this far, though, so play them both with a p.m. replay before heading back west toward civilization.
More golf courses in Phoenix-Scottsdale that are off-the-beaten path
I've yet to play these courses, but they have solid reviews on GolfAdvisor:
Poston Butte Golf Club, in the extreme southwest corner of the Valley, was a top-20 Arizona value course, according to GolfAdvisor raters in 2014, and is part of the Del Webb retirement community in Florence. It opened in 2007 and was designed by Gary Panks.
Legend Trail Golf Club, located in north Scottsdale near Boulders Resort, is another Rees Jones design but is far different from Quintero. Largely flat with large fairways and few forced carries, it's a mellower round that leaves a lot of golfers happy. "This is my third round at Legend Trail in the last 6 weeks," wrote Claytonlz in his November review. "And I am pretty convinced that this is the best value you can find North of [Highway] 101 in Scottsdale these days."
Lastly, for those who like to see new courses, there is one opening in Phoenix-Scottsdale in 2015. Wickenburg Ranch, about a 75-mile drive northwest of Sky Harbor Airport, debuts Feb. 7. The club is wooing golfers who make the trek with affordable peak season green fees ($75-95) and even some Travis Mathieu logo gear that practically pays for the round itself.