Trip Dispatch: Inside the gates at two premier golf communities in northern Arizona

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- The misconception is that Arizona is all desert golf.

Forget the cacti of the Valley of the Sun. The fairways of northern Arizona look nothing like those surrounding Scottsdale/Phoenix and even Tucson.

That is part of the allure of two premier golf communities owned by the Symmetry Companies -- Talking Rock in Prescott and Pine Canyon in Flagstaff.

Scrub juniper bushes and small pinon pines resembling a high prairie line the fairways of Talking Rock, all sculpted from a former cattle ranch in the shadow of the Granite Mountains. The towering Ponderosa pines of the Coconino National Forest frame a beautiful stage at Pine Canyon. Both are Jay Morrish designs. Both are operated by Troon Golf, the Arizona-based management company.

Symmetry -- a residential and lifestyle company committed to offering premium, resort-influenced amenities and first-class hospitality -- was launched this summer as a division of the True Life Companies. It is also the perfect word to describe how the golf courses fit within their gated, exclusive communities. The luxurious modern homes never interrupt the scenery or the courses themselves.

Talking Rock and Pine Canyon are two of the state's premier golf communities. Yet, they're quite different. Looking for a permanent vacation? One might be the answer. Here's a sneak peek inside the gates:

Talking Rock in Prescott, Arizona

Talking Rock -- named for the petroglyphs found on property -- has maintained its ranch roots while developing into a 3,600-acre playground for homeowners, who skew toward being retirees. The hub of the community master-planned for 1,500 home sites is the Ranch Compound, a series of buildings that house the locker rooms, the pro shop, a fine restaurant, the fitness barn, Coop's coffee house and a general store. Members can rent bikes here free of charge, swim in the seasonal outdoor pool or play some tennis or pickleball.

Talking Rock's golf course is age appropriate for its members. It is endlessly playable and even walkable, a rarity among desert designs in hotter climates. More than 80 bunkers require solid shot-making. However, there are still ways to bounce the ball into many greens to avoid trouble.

Each nine ends with a striking par 5, parallel to one another separated by a pond stocked with fish. The back nine cranks up the fun thanks to more elevation changes. The elevated tee at the 15th hole falls to a drivable par 4 playing a tempting 309 yards from the blue and gold tees. The thin air of high altitude and downhill lay of the land compels even the shortest of hitters to give it a go.

Golf can essentially be played year-round in Prescott, a historic town in northern Arizona that once was the state capital. Snow might make a brief appearance in winter at 5,000 feet of elevation, although it never stays for an extended period of time. This milder climate leads to summers that aren't as hot and winters that are tolerable.

Prescott is one dynamic Old West town. Its main street -- appropriately named Whiskey Row -- is lined with saloons, where live music entertains an eclectic mix of college kids, cowboys and tourists after dark.

After a night on the town, I returned to Talking Rock to a three-bedroom house so spacious that it felt like a mansion since I was alone.

Talking Rock offers real estate options for different tastes and budgets, from $400,000 on up. All the detached ranch cabins, pre-designed ranch homes and custom-estate homes come with eight-foot doorways, vaulted ceilings and upgrades as standard. Symmetry is investing heavily to lay the groundwork for the newest neighborhood, Cooper Hawk Ridge, featuring 41 custom home sites with both ranch and golf course views, some near that beautiful 15th tee.

More than 12 miles of trails are perfect for long walks at sunrise or sunset when Arizona skies explode pink and orange. The community is just as friendly to its pooches as its people. Multiple dog parks and pet-friendly events keep tails wagging and faces smiling.

Pine Canyon in Flagstaff, Arizona

Nothing against Talking Rock, it's just that the 620-acre Pine Canyon steps it up a couple notches. I honestly haven't yet come across a community with such a premier mix of homes, a majestic course and such impressive clubhouse amenities. Many of the home buyers are from the Phoenix area, who come to escape the heat of summer in a second home.

Sadly, my round of golf at Pine Canyon was washed out by rain after three holes. It was easy to see how epic a round it would have been. The land is ideal for golf, sweeping up and down foothills near the San Francisco Peaks. Flagstaff is mountainous at 7,000 feet in elevation, and that means snow will terrorize the course every winter.

The 35,000-square-foot clubhouse sits above an island green, the beautiful finish of the 19th hole, a bye hole to settle all bets. The men's locker room, built separate from the main clubhouse, felt like a party during the rain delay. Every table near the interior bar was packed. Nobody seemed too disappointed not to be playing. They had football on the TV, drinks in hand and each other to bother.

Everyone else gathered at the restaurant in the main building, home to multiple fire places to enjoy, a bar, several areas for private parties and a 1,700-bottle, climate-controlled wine room. Downstairs are the workout facilities and spa, where a therapist diagnosed my back problem within three minutes of a rejuvenating massage. The children of summer gravitate toward the pool just across the parking lot or the Trout Creek Park.

Paying for such a lifestyle of luxury doesn't come cheap. Lots in Pine Canyon can cost anywhere from $94,000 to nearly $1 million. One of the premier custom homes aims to fetch north of $4.5 million. There's lots of construction going on, too. Who says the U.S. economy is in the doldrums?

One of those projects are the Club Cabins, 12 luxurious retreats that should be ready by spring. They are available for members who have guests in town or residents who want to be on-site while their dream home is being built. The neighborhoods in Pine Canyon are a mix of detached mountain cabins, paired homes, townhome trios and custom estate homes and home sites.

Where would I rather live? How about the best of both worlds, a primary home in Talking Rock with a summer home in Pine Canyon. A golfer can dream, can't he?

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations 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 @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Trip Dispatch: Inside the gates at two premier golf communities in northern Arizona