I played golf for the first time 37 years ago. It was at Maryvale Golf Course in west Phoenix (now known as Grand Canyon University Golf Course), and I remember little about the round except for the fact I couldn't wait to play again.
Over the years I've had the good fortune of playing some of the finest courses in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. I've played with friends, family members even the occasional celebrity -- Julius Erving in one memorable round. I've played in 115-degree heat, driving rain and winds of 40 mph. So, yes, I'd consider myself a knowledgeable voice when it comes to golf in the Valley.
Here are my top 10 courses in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. And before anyone gets angry and starts whipping out e-mails to my editor, these are in alphabetical order:
Gold Canyon Golf Resort
Gold Canyon features two courses at the foot of the Superstition Mountains. The 6,533-yard Sidewinder Course is the appetizer with its narrow fairways and lightning-fast, turtle-backed greens. But it's Dinosaur Mountain that will truly get your attention. It's one of the Valley's most spectacular courses, both visually and in terms of how it plays. It features six par 3s and dramatic elevation changes from tee to green.
Quintero Golf Club
Quintero Golf Club, located about 17 miles outside of Wickenburg, was built as a private club but went public to improve its bottom line. Quintero has severe elevation changes on every hole and, indisputably, the best collection of par 3s in the Valley. Just beware: It's not a course for the high handicapper. The Rees Jones course is meant to challenge the best, and it does just that.
Raven Golf Club - Phoenix
The Raven Golf Club - Phoenix is most notable for what it isn't: A desert course. The design team of Gary Panks and former PGA Tour Pro David Graham took cotton and alfalfa fields and turned them into Midwest feel with pine trees lining every hole. The Raven is located in the middle of Phoenix, but to get on the course is to feel like you're somewhere in the parklands.
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Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club
It's a bit of a haul to Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, which is located in Maricopa, about 45 minutes south of downtown Phoenix. But the drive is worth it. Ak-Chin Southern Dunes is an Australian links layout that features 129 sand traps and high grasses bordering nearly every fairway. It also can play long: From the tips the course has a 76.2 rating, a 141 slope and five par 4s of at least 463 yards.
Sunridge Canyon Golf Club
Sunridge Canyon Golf Club, a 6,823-yard par 71 designed by Keith Foster in 1995, is a shot-maker's delight. Golfers can't just grip it and rip it from the tees. Washes intersect nine fairways, forcing players to think about their club selection. Sunridge features perhaps the best closing stretch of holes in the Valley -- 15 through 18 can turn a good-looking scorecard into an ugly one.
TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course
From solely a visual perspective, TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course wouldn't make this list. But as the site of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, it's a must-play for golfers who can walk the same holes and play the same shots -- well, sort of -- that Tiger and Phil hit. No hole in the Valley is more intimidating than the infamous par-3 16th. You can picture the bleachers and almost hear the fans boo as you prepare to hit your shot.
Troon North Golf Club
Troon North is the crown jewel of golf clubs in the Valley. It features two courses, the Pinnacle and Monument. The Monument Course, designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Moorish, is an ode to British Open golf with its bump-and-run shots and hole names: No. 9 is affectionately called Hell's Bunker. Troon North's Pinnacle Course is known for its greens; they're elevated, tiered significantly, sloped from back to front, and protected by long, deep bunkers.
Verrado Golf Club
The White Tank Mountains on the far west side of the Valley are a good hour's drive from Scottsdale. Verrado Golf Club will take your breath away once you get there, though. The 7,258-yard course features huge elevation changes and builds to a spectacular finish. Golfers will love the contrast between no. 13, a short par 4 in which the green rises about six feet from the front edge, and no. 14, a 184-yard par 3 that drops 60 feet from tee to green.
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club
We-Ko-Pa may be the most peaceful first-class experience in the Valley. There are no houses on the course or traffic to distract golfers. Plus, the Cholla Course and Saguaro Course are spectacular. The Saguaro, in particular, is a throwback. It was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to be a walking course. There's not another top-10 layout in the Valley like it.
Wigwam is a welcome respite from desert golf. It features three courses, two of which were designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. The Gold Course, Patriot Course and Heritage Course all feature straightforward layouts -- there are few blind shots or forced carries -- gentle doglegs and tree-lined fairways. At Wigwam, it's golf the way it used to be.