Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 19, 2017
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Swinging in Scottsdale

They may feature desert landscapes but these courses are certified green

Scottsdale is located in the heart of one of the most fragile natural environments in the world, the Sonoran Desert. Yet it also enjoys an international reputation as one of the world’s top golf destinations. You might be tempted to think that those courses are a waste of precious water. Not so. In total, Arizona’s 338 golf courses account for just 4.2 percent of the state’s water consumption.

It’s true that the early desert golf courses in Arizona created a lush green oasis complete with waterfalls, lakes and transplanted palm trees. Instead of harmonizing with nature, designers tried to eradicate it.

Today, new courses display a more enlightened environmental approach. Several are certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, an international association that advocates the preservation of the natural environment and the heritage of the game. They must comply with strict standards for the maintenance of water quality, the conservation of natural resources and the protection of wildlife habitats.

Fifteen-time PGA tour winner, Tom Weiskopf, who has left his imprint on many of Scottsdale’s finest tracts remarks: “Desert golf courses are different. Golfers have to bear with the fact that we respect our water resources. By law, we can only irrigate 90 acres of turf; consequently, most of the new courses are target-oriented. On the plus side, this makes for a unique, dramatic look, with striking contrasts of green against the rugged desert backdrop.”

After a recent tour, I would say that “surprise, innovate and knock the guests’ socks off” could well be the motto for the area's courses. And I’m not alone in my praise. Scottsdale was named 2011’s top North American Golf Destination by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) at a ceremony in Valencia, Spain. The awards are voted for by more than 340 tour operators from 51 countries.

Bagpipes and Boot Camp

At the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa (tel: 800-354-5892; kierlandresort.com) in Scottsdale, Imagine is the name of the sculpture rising from a pond at the ninth green on the Acacia Course. It captures the innovative spirit here. Kierland was the first to outfit golf carts with air conditioners that blow cool air around your neck. It’s the only resort in Scottsdale where you can opt to ride the three desert nines (Acacia, Ironwood and Mesquite) on Segways (scooters) customized to hold your bag.

If you really want to get into the Celtic swing of things, play your round in a rented kilt. In keeping with the Scottish theme, a piper clad in full Highland regalia squeezes the bagpipe every evening at sunset.

Serious about improving your game? Trainer Steve Heller has developed the FORE-MAX Golf Training System (I call it boot camp), a customized program of strengthening, stretching and cardio conditioning that he teaches at the resort’s fitness center. Heller has also worked with the the spa's therapists to formulate a FORE-MAX Golf Massage to get the kinks out. Kierland’s innovative philosophy extends to the kitchen. At the Latin-inspired Deseo restaurant chef Douglas Rodriguez creates dazzling ceviches. Wash them down with your own customized mojito at the Muddle Bar.

Time for a Quickie?

Not to be outdone, the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (tel: 480-515-5700; fourseasons.com/scottsdale) at Troon North has a few tricks of its own. The newly renovated pool complex now has two VIP cabanas available for rent. They are outfitted with flat-screen televisions, mini fridges, iPod docking stations and ceiling fans. Free poolside amenities include chilled fruit kebabs and smoothies and refreshing mint-scented towels.

Should you decide to pry yourself away from such pampering, the Four Seasons has an exclusive arrangement with the two championship courses at nearby Troon North (tel: 480-585-5300; troonnorthgolf.com), the Monument and the Pinnacle, that gives guests preferred tee times and free shuttle service. Golf Magazine calls Troon North “the crown jewel of desert design, a 36-hole complex by which all other such facilities are judged.” I can’t argue.

Designer Tom Weiskopf completed a total renovation of the two courses in 2007. Both are consistently rated in Arizona’s top five.

Stunning vistas of Pinnacle Rock, arroyos, horned lizards and other critters will spice up your round on both tracts. The number three signature hole is called Monument after the immense bolder dominating the fairway. My favourite is the Lone Mountain par-three 16th that plays from elevated tees from which you must fly your Titleist over first a canyon and then a couple of efficient bunkers before hitting the green. The Pinnacle features more of a links-style design and tougher bunkers.

If your better half protests about the amount of time you spend on the fairways, consider the Monument Express. Every day starting at 3:30PM adults pay just $20 and kids (under 15 playing with an adult) play free on a specially created nine-hole executive course measuring 1500 yards in length. Junior also receives a complimentary set of Callaway rental clubs. It’s Troon’s way of making the game more accessible to families.

Rocking out

You might spot Phil Mickelson striking a few balls at Grayhawk Golf Club (tel: 480-502-1800; grayhawkgolf.com) which is a favourite of the 2010 Masters champ. After your warm-up on the practice range where they pipe in rock music, choose between the Talon or Raptor courses. Talon’s par-three 11th starts with a walk over a rope bridge to the back tees, then calls for a carry over a canyon.

Stretching 7135 yards from the back tees, Raptor offers players panoramic views of the rugged McDowell Mountains as it surrounds them with towering saguaros, palo verde, ironwood and mesquite trees that were preserved when creating the course. Designer Tom Fazio utilized water sparingly, but where it does come into play, he created intriguing hazards that add drama and beauty.

Golfers are completely immersed in the Sonoran Desert at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (tel: 866-660-7700; wekopa.com). Tucked seamlessly into the wilds of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, there are no dwellings, roads or even out-of-bounds markers to distract them from the panoramic surroundings.

Sports Illustrated named architect Scott Miller’s Cholla Course among the "Top 10 New Golf Courses in the World" when it opened at We-Ko-Pa in 2001. In 2006, the Saguaro Course was named one of Golf Digest's "Best New Public Courses.”

What I love about Saguaro is that is was built for walking, with greens close to tees. On most US golf courses, taking a cart is mandatory, but the Coore/Crenshaw design team believes in bringing the game back to its roots. They also advise that the boney ground and natural slopes may add an element of “sting” to the course as your ball bounces and rolls along the native terrain.

Greatest Show on Grass

Among its many attributes, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (tel: 866-540-4495; fairmont.com/scottsdale) is located beside the famous TPC Stadium Course, home to the Phoenix Open, also known as the “Greatest Show on Grass.”

It’s not like any other major golf tournament on the planet. Imagine frat house revelry at a football game. On the par-three 16th hole, the bleachers are packed with fans who cheer or boo the golfers depending on whether or not they nail the green.

After the game, a huge tent called the Bird’s Nest becomes party central. As one local observed, “it’s the greatest concentration of cosmetic surgery on earth." There’s nothing staid about this event and in my books; anything that gives golf a sexier image is good for the game. Fairmont’s Golf Concierges will book your tee times, organize lessons at the ESPN Golf School and provide detailed maps and driving times to all the local links or coordinate transportation. “All you have to do is show up and hit it straight,” quips concierge, Jan Braband.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts worldwide have been pioneers in their commitment to being “green.” The Stadium Course was one the first in Arizona to receive certification by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for its commitment to a natural environment and wildlife preservation. You might spot roadrunners, coyotes, rabbits, hawks, herons and even a few rattlesnakes on this impeccably maintained links-style course designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. Nestled in the Sonoran desert against the scenic backdrop of the McDowell Mountains, the Stadium with its cacti gardens, undulating knolls is a visual treat.

Desert Anyone?

Another “green” star goes to the Sanctuary Golf Course (tel: 480-502-8200; sanctuarygolf.com) at West World, another of the few where you can choose to ride or walk. It’s also the first golf course in Arizona and the 17th in the world to attain the coveted Audubon Signature Status.

Architect Randy Heckenkemper designed an eco-sensitive 6624-yard course that takes advantage of the natural topography and vegetation. No native plants were destroyed during construction and no boulders were removed. On-site recharge wells re-purify runoff water and return it to the ground, thus replenishing the area’s natural water source.

So pack your clubs and a clean (green) conscience and head to Arizona’s Valley of the Sun for some of the world’s more spectacular desert golf.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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