Golf may have been born in Scotland, but it has been transformed into a way of life in Scottsdale . The natural, rocky terrain and lack of rainfall may seem like an odd match for acre after acre of thirsty greens. Yet Scottsdale’s residents and visitors will tell you that the region’s year-round sunny skies and expansive landscape are far too tempting to let a little thing like water get in the way.
I’m only half joking, as water is a concern, believe it or not, for these courses. By law, only 90 acres of turf can be watered on new greens. This challenge, though, has only pushed the creativity of designers further, with new courses showcasing the stunning contrast between verdant green fairways and golden desert washes.
The city’s nearly 50 courses span the gamut from municipal executive greens to PGA tournament stops. And though you’ll find far more affordable options in Phoenix  and its suburbs, none of them will match Scottsdale ’s premier courses.
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.
National magazines regularly rank the 36-hole Boulders Golf Club (34631 N. Tom Darlington Rd., 480/488-9009, www.theboulders.com ) as one of the best golf resorts in the country. It’s a real desert course, so don’t be surprised to see rabbits, coyotes, or javelina scurrying across the fairway as you tee off. The scenic South Course is a highlight of the property, with its greens nestled along the resort’s signature rock formations. Also, the new Ladies First golf program, which is limited to four women per session, complements three days of instruction with social activities.
Camelback Golf Club (7847 N. Mockingbird Ln., 480/596-7050, www.camelbackinn.com ) tees up 36 holes of championship golf. Try the par-72 Padre Course, which is known for its challenging water holes, including the infamous 18th. The traditional links-style Indian Bend Course winds though a lush grassy wash, with fairways lined by palm and eucalyptus trees. After a hard game, pop into the terrific golf shop to cool off.
Who says you can’t find a decent and affordable golf course in Scottsdale? The executive-style Continental Golf Course (7920 E. Osborn Rd., 480/941-1047, www.continentalgc.com ) is a fun, par-60 course just a few blocks from Old Town . The long tees and narrow greens give the Continental a little character. Play a full 18 holes or hit the executive nine before your kids gets up. Be sure to call the pro shop to ask about any specials.
For a younger crowd, check out Grayhawk Golf Club (8620 E. Thompson Peak Pkwy., 480/502-1800, www.grayhawkgolf.com ) in North Scottsdale. This rockin’ 36-hole desert course blasts tunes from the Rolling Stones and offers live music and drink specials in the evenings as golfers wrap up their games. Don’t be fooled, though; the two 18-hole courses, Talon and the Tom Fazio–designed Raptor, are among the best in the Valley.
Never one to be outdone, Kierland Golf Club (15636 N. Clubgate Dr., 480/922-9283, www.kierlandgolf.com ) brings a lot of high-tech fun to the links, as it was the first course in Arizona to roll out the Segway GT (Golf Transporter), which carries a golfer and bag around the 27-hole course. Oh, and let’s not forget the “air-conditioned carts” for those brutal summer temperatures. But Kierland doesn’t let the toys get in the way of its challenging desert course, with literally hundreds of bunkers and desert washes. If you’d like some help with your game, the LaBauve Golf Academy and Foremax Training System pumps up anyone’s golf game.
McCormick Ranch Golf Club (7505 E. McCormick Pkwy., 480/948-0260, www.mccormickranchgolf.com ) is another reasonably affordable option, conveniently located near downtown Scottsdale  and Paradise Valley. Golf Illustrated named its Palm Course’s ninth hole as one of the top water holes in the country, and its practice facility has one of the Southwest’s largest putting greens. Best of all, parents can bring their children to the Junior Golf Academy to learn golf rules and etiquette, as well as technique and strategy.
It’s hard to believe this 27-hole, luxury golf sanctuary sits in the middle of the Phoenix/Scottsdale metropolitan area. The Phoenician (6000 E. Camelback Rd., 480/423-2449, www.thephoenician.com ) has three USGA championship golf courses that sprawl below the red-hued Camelback Mountain , and the backdrop couldn’t be better. The course is a fantastic splurge and a popular choice for golfers of all skill levels, thanks in part to its slightly shorter fairways.
The par-70 Rancho Mañana Golf Club (5680 E. Rancho Manana Blvd., 480/488-0885, www.ranchomanana.com ) in Cave Creek  will definitely wow you with its dramatic elevation changes and pristine desert surroundings. The rolling course’s green lawns, sculptural cacti, and sweeping mountain views make it the most scenic course in the Valley. You can’t help but enjoy yourself on this challenging course, and its high Sonoran Desert setting outside of the city means slightly cooler temperatures on warmer days.
Who doesn’t want to play like the pros—or at least play the golf course of the pros? The TPC Scottsdale (17020 N. Hayden Rd., 480/585-3600, www.tpc.com/scottsdale ) lives up to its hype as one of the country’s best courses. Tee off at the FBR Open ’s Stadium Course, designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, or head out to the New Championships course. Even if your game’s a little off, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the McDowell Mountains. Plus, you can’t beat the thrill of sinking a putt on the 16th hole “stadium” green. Private instruction and two-, three-, and five-day classes at the Tour Academy are available for any Phil Mickelsons in the making.
Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish teamed up again at Troon North Golf Club (10320 E. Dynamite Blvd., 480/585-7700, www.troonnorthgolf.com ), and its two courses have emerged as the pinnacle of desert golf course design. Rolling greens meander seamlessly through the natural ravines and unspoiled terrain. It will almost convince you that lush, perfectly manicured grounds grow naturally in this arid climate. The state-of-the-art Callaway Performance Center and chic clubhouse attract serious players and North Scottsdale’s most affluent residents.