SEDONA, Ariz. - It doesn't matter if you've seen them once or a thousand times.
The red rock mountains and cliffs of Sedona never cease to amaze. They explode into a kaleidoscope of shades of red and orange every single day during sunrise and sunset. It's almost mystical - dare I say spiritual? - when you're hiking or playing golf among them.
And when you get to experience both leisure pursuits in the same day - like I did during a visit in January - well, that will rank among the best days of 2023 no matter what the rest of the year brings. There are dozens of charming local boutique hotels and resorts, but I chose the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock for its proximity to the Sedona Golf Resort. I'd argue this stay-and-play combo ranks among the top five weekend golf getaways in all of Arizona.
Snowbirds thinking about a winter visit need to be warned that Sedona sits at 4,350 feet above sea level, an elevation that's much more unpredictable weather-wise from November through March than the Valley of the Sun housing Phoenix and Scottdale (at roughly 1,000 feet). It's probably more ideal to visit spring through fall, even though I was able to tee it up for a quick but chilly winter round in the low 50s. The sun came out eventually for a memorable 48 hours in what is truly a magical place.
The Resort Experience at the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock
There's more than just the Hilton's proximity to the golf course to like about the property. The lobby of the hotel, home to 221 rooms and suites, has a shuffleboard table that was always occupied by children anytime I walked by. The heated outdoor pool complex is perfect for families in all seasons. All rooms come stocked with a mini fridge, microwave, wet bar, gas fireplace, balcony and nice desk (where I started writing this story). Hanging out at ShadowRock Tap + Table brings the opportunity for star gazing, roasting S'mores ($15 for a kit), nightly live music and a nice menu. Winter brings the chance to dine in an igloo village. The Sedona Athletic Club next door features tennis, classes and equipment for getting fit and a warrior pit for the hardcore crowd who want to flip tires. The eforea spa can put a body back together after too much exertion. Booking a Pink Jeep Tour is a popular way to explore the desert if the weather cooperates. They're open-air vehicles, so dress appropriately.
My adventure of choice is hiking in the Coconino National Forest, followed by shopping and dinner downtown. Out on the trails, my wife sought to discover one of Sedona's mysterious vortexes. My daughter and I, however, are superstitious types who don't like to mess with the karma of the universe. Hiking around Bell Rock provided enough magical moments for us.
The Golf Experience at Sedona Golf Resort
The red rocks aren't always your friend, especially on the 6,671-yard, par-71 golf course. There's a pile of them up the left side of the fourth fairway. There's also a few rocky pits along the journey, notably guarding the sixth and 15th fairways.
Laid out by Gary Panks in 1988, Sedona Golf Resort does a nice job mixing uphill climbs on several tough holes with downhill vistas on a few others. He worked hard to showcase the most beautiful of the red rock backdrops. The first introduction comes at no. 8, which shares a wild double green with the fifth.
As golfers make the turn, they're greeted with one the state's most famous holes - the 210-yard 10th. A sign reads "The Most Photographed Par 3 in the Southwest", a fact that's certainly debatable. The 15th hole called "Devil's Throat" at Utah's Sand Hollow Resort and the third hole on the Mountain Course at Ventana Canyon in Tucson are just as beautiful. What isn't up for debate is the euphoria golfers feel when they take the view in for the first time. It's the headliner in a strong collection of five par 3s. The dramatic elevation drop on the second, the tree guarding the seventh and the pond lurking on the 17th all deliver completely different looks on three of the other memorable par 3s.
GolfPass reviews, which average 4.2 stars, sometimes criticize the conditioning compared to the high green fees charged. My theory: if you're worried about a few patchy spots in the fairways, you're truly not embracing the ethos of golf in Sedona. Look up. Look around. There's just nowhere else like this.
"Great layout, fantastic scenery," wrote GolfPass reviewer 'Bri47', who played two weeks after I did in January. "Your golf score is irrelevant when you take in the views from just about every hole. Saying that, the course offers a challenge to all levels of golfer, with 5 sets of tee boxes and large greens with tricky slopes. Love it."