Welcome to the Southwest’s golf capital. Phoenix  and neighboring Scottsdale  lure professionals and amateurs alike, with one of the finest collections of courses in the world. Its championship greens dot the city, and residents practically live on the links—some literally, thanks to dozens of golf course communities. Arizona State University  graduates Phil Mickelson, Billy Mayfair, and Grace Park refined their skills here, and Tom Lehman and Annika Sörenstam were compelled by the constant sunshine and topnotch fairways to move here.
Scottsdale’s luxury desert courses  may be more well-known, but Phoenix offers quality for a good price. Here you’ll find a broad mix of traditional and desert courses, as well as some unique landmarks. Many courses close their lawns for a few weeks in the fall and spring for re-seeding between seasons, so be sure to call ahead and ask when you make a tee time. Like hotel and resort rates, greens fees tumble as the heat rises, with even the best courses charging a fraction of their winter prices in the summer. Call ahead for current fees.
One of the best golf experiences in the state features courses designed by two legends. Wildfire Golf Club (5350 E. Marriott Dr., 480/473-0205, www.wildfiregolf.com ) at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort  showcases two 18-hole desert courses designed by giants Arnold Palmer and Nick Faldo. The scenic Palmer Signature Course has expansive fairways and rolling greens, while the Faldo Championship Course treats golfers to large bent-grass greens, tee boxes, and a bewildering 106 sand bunkers. If you’d prefer to hit a few balls and take in the views of the McDowell Mountains, though, grab a bucket at the 13,000-square-foot practice green, complete with bunkers and pitching areas.
A little bit closer to town, Lookout Mountain Golf Club (11111 N. 7th St., 602/866-6356, www.pointehilton.com ) at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort  is a par-71, 18-hole championship course that wraps around North Mountain Park and the Lookout Mountain Preserve, giving golfers a chance to appreciate the occasional Sonoran Desert rabbit or coyote along with their birdies and eagles. The medium-length course should appeal to most skill levels, though the back nine features a few challenging target holes. The well-regarded golf academy may be a good place to grab a few lessons if you’re new to the game, and its practice area has its own pitching green and separate chipping and putting areas.
Looking for a green with a view? Papago Golf Course (5595 E. Moreland St., 602/275-8428, www.papagogolfcourse.net ) has become one of the most loved slices of turf in the Valley since opening in 1963. Golf course architect William Francis “Billy” Bell, whose roster of 100-plus courses includes Torrey Pines, designed it to highlight the so-close-you-can-touch-it views of the red-hued Papago Buttes, Camelback Mountain , and downtown Phoenix . And the course is now better than ever, having re-opened after a $5.8 million renovation that reshaped and added bunkers, reseeded the lawns, restored its lakes, and trimmed mature trees along the fairways. This city-owned course is one of Phoenix’s best golf values.
Arizona State University  boasts one of the finest collegiate golf programs in the country, so it’s little surprise that their home course in Tempe  should earn 4.5 stars from Golf Digest. The challenging ASU Karsten Golf Club (1125 E. Rio Salado Pkwy., 480/921-8070, www.asukarsten.com ) may force you to use every club in your bag, but with four sets of tees, you don’t have to be PGA-bound to make par—or at least have fun. Designer Pete Dye incorporated his trademark mounding and inspired pot bunkers, as well as lakes, rolling hills, and well-protected greens. The Scottish links-style course books well in advance, so be sure to call early for a tee time.
If you’re tired of seeing cacti lining the fairways, try Raven Golf Club at South Mountain (3636 E. Baseline Rd., 602/243-3636, www.theravensouthmountain.com ). The traditional course features thousands of mature trees, including large African sumacs and 6,000 pine trees. You’ll find water hazards, strategically placed bunkers, and a few challenging target holes. Raven regularly earns nods for its incomparable service and Kent Chase Golf Academy, which offers private instruction and group classes.
The Legacy Golf Resort (6808 S. 32nd St., 888/828-3673, www.shellhospitality.com ) in South Phoenix was named one of the “Top 10 Golf Courses to Play in Phoenix” by Golf Digest. Old structures from the 7,500-acre ranch of Dwight B. Heard—founder of the Heard Museum —now line the 18-hole desert golf course, where you’ll find manicured greens and views of South Mountain and the downtown Phoenix  skyline. Group instruction is available, as are private lessons by LPGA professionals Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, who are regularly named among the best instructors in the country.
A recent makeover transformed South Phoenix’s Phantom Horse Golf Club into the Arizona Grand Golf Course (8000 S. Arizona Grand Pkwy., 602/431-6480, www.arizonagrandresort.com ). The unconventional fairways wrap around South Mountain Park , creating dramatic elevation changes, unusual slopes, and stunning views. The ingenious design features a traditional front nine before switching over to a desert back nine, which can be an exhilarating change during a mid-game slump.
Many say this is where Arizona’s reputation as a mecca for golfers began. San Marcos Golf Resort (1 N. San Marcos Pl., 480/963-3358, www.sanmarcosresort.com ) opened in 1913, and its big draw was the state’s first course with grass greens. Over the years, presidents and celebrities have played its wide, forgiving fairways, and more than a few have found their balls in its numerous bunkers. The Chandler landmark is a good value and should be considered if you’re staying in the East Valley.
By the time you lose your second ball, you’ll ask yourself where so much damn water came from in the middle of the desert. Chandler’s Ocotillo Golf Resort (3751 S. Clubhouse Dr., 480/917-6660, www.ocotillogolf.com ) is one of the state’s most individual courses, as 24 of its 27 holes feature water hazards—from small lakes and cascading waterfalls to a few “island holes.” Still, the challenging course is beautiful, and many say it’s one of the best-manicured in the city. Games can be pricy, especially in the winter.
Trust me, it’s worth the drive. Take Highway 60 well beyond Mesa and Gilbert to Gold Canyon Golf Resort (6100 S. Kings Ranch Rd., 480/982-9449, www.gcgr.com ), a spectacular course tucked into the Superstition Mountains. Sports Illustrated named it one of the country’s most underrated courses, thanks to nosebleed elevation changes, mountain views, and lush, green fairways lined by pristine desert. Its 18-hole Dinosaur Mountain Course snakes through mountain passes, while the Sidewinder wraps around the foothills. You’ll pay a bit for all of this scenery, but why not splurge?