A winter golf outing to the Sonoran Desert is one of the most popular bucket-list trips any golfer can take. Lush, green fairways contrasting with desert landscapes and mighty saguaros are a one-of-a-kind sensation, particularly for those golfers coming from places like Chicagoland or New York City.
Phoenix-Scottsdale, with about 200 golf courses, is also a very popular place for golfers to live.
In the summer months, residents endure 120-degree temps to score great deals playing wide open fairways on signature golf courses, then retreat back to the munis when the snowbirds come in the winter and green fees soar. Just look at which golfers are reviewing courses in which month. The amount of reviews from out-of-state golfers is far higher in the winter compared to late-summer:
In prime time, generally considered January-April, even the better lower-end courses creep towards $100 for 18 holes, while a collection of the top resort and semi-private courses in North Scottsdale can earn north of $200 and even over $300 per round.
So this is a market where having a little leeway on the calendar is as important as any destination in the U.S. We took a sample of a dozen of the best courses -- all courses worthy of a tourist golf experience -- and evaluated their value, conditions and overall scores to see if there was a true "peak" season for value-seekers.
The verdict on Phoenix-Scottsdale value
The seasonal data confirms what many of us already know about golf in Phoenix-Scottsdale: January through March is a slam-dunk time for conditions and overall experience, but you're not going to rave to friends about finding many great deals.
December, meanwhile, has a lot going for it (I wrote about the allure of a December trip in a recent trip dispatch). Courses have dried out enough after over-seeding and subsequent heavy watering that conditions are favorable and carts can go back into the fairways. The reason for the lower green fees are, quite simply, golfers are fulfilling family holiday obligations this month more than they are booking buddies trips.
But the truly best month, according to your reviews, is May, when prices have dropped and the weather is getting warm enough to send snowbirds home, but is still generally pretty comfortable. Conditions-wise, the Bermuda grass starts to fight with winter rye in the fairways, which leads to a slight drop in conditions, but remains more than acceptable. June is when conditions scores really drop off.
August and September scores are pretty good, but we can attribute that to the fact that locals are booking the majority of the tee times and are a little more realistic about burnt fairways.
October, meanwhile, is a bad time for a golf trip thanks to course closures due to overseeding and transitional conditions almost everywhere else. Comparatively, Las Vegas golf course ratings aren't as bad in October, largely because its higher elevation means many courses can get away with year-long rye grass, while other courses have given up on over-seeding in the fall thanks in part to greater water restrictions.
Top Phoenix-Scottsdale golf courses for value
Generally speaking, the further you are willing to venture away from TPC Scottsdale, the proverbial epicenter of premium desert golf, the better chance you have at finding a bargain tee time in the Valley of the Sun. Quintero Golf Club and Ak-Chin Southern Dunes are perennially considered top-10 area courses, but are generally closer to $100 than $200 primetime. The West Valley is well known for value, specifically the Verrado Golf Club and Copper Canyon, two unique layouts with green fees that tend to punch below their weight. In the East Valley, Gold Canyon's Sidewinder Course and Dinosaur Mountain Course also fare very well in terms of their value rating on Golf Advisor.
But if you've got a camel-like ability to endure a desert summer, you'll enjoy open fairways and cheap tee times at any course you choose.