A resort pro once told me about a group that showed up at his golf shop one day and proclaimed, "We think we'd like to try golf today." In other words, it would be their first round of golf – ever.
The pro said he smiled and gently suggested that they try the range first and perhaps take a lesson or two. His particular golf course, with its twists and turns, rough and forced carries and small, difficult greens was no place for a beginner or high handicapper, much less a group who had never played golf. He knew they would back up the course for hours, so he didn't take their money for green fees, at least not that day.
That might seem harsh, but the truth is that many courses, even resort courses, aren't player-friendly for beginners or high handicappers and certainly not first-timers. Truth is first rounds of golf should probably never be at regulation courses for the sake of those behind them, but some courses are friendlier to beginners and lesser players than others.
With that said, here's a look at the Phoenix-Scottsdale, Ariz., market. From resorts to par 3s, here are 10 courses suited for beginners, high handicappers and seniors and players who just don't hit the ball that far or with much carry.
At the Westin Kierland, you can take a Golf Bike instead of a golf cart.
Westin Kierland Resort and Spa
I've always found the 27-hole Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale one of the most player-friendly and fun golf resorts in the country, much less the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. First of all, the Scott Miller-designed courses, though no pushover, are designed to keep the ball in play, and that makes golf fun. On nine holes in particular, the Arcadia Nine, the holes are crafted into a bowl shape, which funnels balls into the fairways, so you have to be pretty wild off the tee not to keep the ball in play. But even bigger than that is the fact that the resort offers a wide variety of ways to make the game fun. From a fantastic learning center and practice facilities to the different ways you can get around the course – air-conditioned carts, Golf Bike, Segway or Golf Boards – the Westin-Kierland keeps golf fun.
Verde River Golf & Social Club
While Verde River Golf & Social Club is a desert golf course with some native areas to carry to the fairways, the carries are very short from the forward tees and there's plenty of grass in the fairways and around the greens. And thanks to a recent renovation by Tom Lehman (originally designed by Ken Kavanaugh), the desert areas have been cleaned out, lesser players can run the balls up to the greens and course conditions are terrific. Playing as little as 5,200 yards, the "standard" and forward tees were moved to provide better angles and access to areas where fairways widen.
Just opened last fall, this nine-hole short game park at the Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club about 45 minutes northwest of Phoenix is just what the doctor ordered for developing golf games. You can play it all day for $25 (you don't have to play the championship course there if you don't want to) and it's super flexible and player-friendly. Basically, you can tee it up wherever you want, so it can play as long or as short or as difficult or easy as you please. In fact, they even encourage non-tradition scoring, like playing golf H-O-R-S-E. The last four-holes are lighted, by the way, so you can finish after dark.
Just west of Phoenix in Litchfield Park, you'll find one of the most player-friendly resorts anywhere, 54-hole Wigwam. Unlike most courses in the Valley, all three at Wigwam are wall-to-wall grass, even the championship-caliber Gold Course, a Robert Trent Jones design that was renovated by Tom Lehman. The most recent to be renovated, though, is the Patriot Course (the Heritage Course is also player friendly), and like the Gold Course, there are fewer bunkers now. Also the ones that remain have a more player-friendly flat-top design, and some have been moved to be a little more out of play to make the entire course more player-friendly. Plus, it's only 6,000 yards from the back tees.
The recently renovated Patriot Course has short par 5s, which make it easier for the beginner golfer.
Both 18-hole courses at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale are fairly open off the tee, feature grass throughout, few forced carries and are designed by two of the best in the business – Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (who never do a bad course). What I like about these two parkland-style golf courses is that they really, truly are playable by all levels. The Golf Channel Am Tour National Championships were conducted there a few years ago and it worked well for every flight. Play it them from the back, and they are both championship tests with the North being a par-70 and over 7,100 yards, and the South a par 71 at 6,833 yards. But play it from the forward tees at around 5,400-5,500 yards (yes, I'd like to see that a little shorter), and they're both fairly manageable by the higher handicap player.
Located across from Talking Stick Resort and Golf Club, Top Golf Scottsdale (there's also a location in Gilbert, Ariz.) isn't a golf course, of course, but rather a golf entertainment venue. It's also perfect for beginners and less experienced golfers who just want to have fun without looking for balls or holding up groups behind them. Because at Top Golf, players are hitting chip-embedded golf balls out to electronic targets (it's scored more like bowling than golf) from the comfort one of more than 100 climate-controlled bays. Plus, there's terrific food and drink, pool and other games and plenty of big screens to watch live sports.
Adobe Course at Arizona Biltmore
There are two courses at the Arizona Biltmore. The Links Course, built in 1978, has better views and more doglegs, but the old William P. Bell-designed parkland Adobe Course (1928) is definitely the more player friendly of the two and extremely walkable. Both, in part, are because it's flat, but it's also very generous off the tee, you can putt from off its small greens, and it isn't long, even from the back tees, as a 6,430-yard par 71.
The new Short Course at Mountain Shadows comes with a new boutique hotel as well.
Short Course at Mountain Shadows
Like Li'l Wick, the new Short Course at Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley near Camelback Mountain is a par 3, which almost automatically makes it more friendly for the less skilled and short-knockers. Mountain Shadows, however, isn't easy. The greens can be tricky and so can the pin placements, but it is very player-friendly. For those short knockers and juniors, just play the forward to tees. There are some forced carries, but from the forward tees, they are very short. Best of all, there are 18 holes, ranging from 60 yards to 200 yards (from the back tees), so it's a complete golf experience; it just doesn't take that long.
As a former PGA Tour site, 36-hole Grayhawk in Scottsdale has a reputation for being difficult. But the truth is that the Raptor Course, not the Talon Course was the host of the Frys.com Open on the PGA Tour. The Talon, which is designed by Gary Panks and David Graham (Raptor is designed by Tom Fazio), is definitely the more player-friendly of the two, and from the forward tees at 5,143 yards, not difficult to get around. While the Talon Course has staged its share of professional events, too, the fairways there are larger than they appear, and the bunkering isn't as difficult. As one of the most beautiful courses in the area, it's a delight for players of all levels.
Opened in 1963, this Phoenix muni laid out along impressive rock outcroppings has been modernized, making it longer for the better player at over 7,300 yards, but also more painless to get around from the forward tees at 5,300 yards. With grass from tee to green, this parkland layout is easier to navigate than typical desert courses, and while the greens aren't as accessible as they could be, there are some run-up options and they will hold shots. The best thing about Papago for juniors and beginners is that it's hard to lose golf balls.