Phoenix. It’s the Mecca of golf on the west coast and that’s one of the reasons I’m so thankful to call it home. Every time I fly back into Sky Harbor airport, I’m taken aback by the sprawling lush, green fairways that adorn the entire valley.
It’s hard to fathom that I’ve lived here for so long and haven’t even come close to playing all the courses in the area. I have played more than my share, however. And at this point, I feel pretty confident in my assessment of the best ones you can play next time you come for spring training or a break from the cold winters up north.
So, let’s get down to business and I’ll try not to get too excited.
Raven Golf Club
When you think about desert golf, images of tees, fairways, and greens surrounded by cacti and scrub are probably the first images that come to mind.
That’s anything but the case at Raven Golf Club. More than 6,000 pine trees line the fairways of this course etched into the rugged mountain slope that overlooks the valley below.
Even though the course tips out at over 7,000 yards, five sets of tees make it both challenging and fun for golfers of all skill levels.
The club’s practice facilities and instructional opportunities are out of the world too.
Earlier this summer, I couldn’t hit my driver into the Pacific Ocean if I had to. That’s when I decided to book a lesson package with acclaimed instructor, Martin Chuck, founder of the Tour Striker Golf Academy. Yeah, remember the guy that invented the Tour Striker training aid? That’s him. Long story short, one lesson was all it took for me to start beating my dad out of beer money again. Highly recommended.
The Raven’s close proximity to Sky Harbor airport also makes it a great venue for a round when you arrive or before you depart town.
Papago Golf Club
Best. Muni. Period. Papago is a really good track and the best value anywhere in the city.
Set at the base of the Papago Buttes inside of Papago Park, the course opened its doors in 1963 and was met with critical acclaim. Today it’s the chosen home of both the ASU Men’s and Women’s golf teams (it’s not like they’re short on choices).
Even though the facilities have been upgraded in recent years, the place still retains that everyone welcome, blue collar vibe that so many of today’s munis lack. There’s no pretention here and I think that’s what I like most.
The golf course itself is straight forward and always in pristine condition.
If I’m not working on our site or at Little League practice, chances are I’ll be at Papago with the boys.
Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Situated on the Ak-Chin Indian Reservation, this track is set far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the city that you’re assured an enjoyable, relaxing, quiet round.
The facility underwent a wall-to-wall renovation in 2014 that found both the course and practice facility upgraded and geared more toward the casual or beginning golfer.
Not that this track can’t be a test for the good player, though. After all, it’s played host to Division I collegiate tournaments, U.S. Open qualifiers, and numerous sectional professional events.
If you’re looking to get out of the city for a truly fun round of golf on a world-class facility, look no further than Ak-Chin Southern Dunes.
McCormick Ranch Golf Club
Located in the heart of Scottsdale, McCormick Ranch’s Pine and Palm courses are a bit of a throwback to Old Phoenix golf course design.
Both of these munis feature layouts with holes that run parallel to each other with large palm trees in between. You might think this sounds boring but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s plenty of risk and reward and if you’re not on your game coming into the green, it could be a long day.
For as much play as both these courses get, I’m always amazed at how well they’re kept. The greens are notoriously pure and take it from me, you don’t want to be above the hole.
Las Sendas Golf Club
Las Sendas Golf Club is one of the best kept secrets in the whole Phoenix area. Designed all the way back in 1955 by Robert Trent Jones Jr., this is desert golf at it’s finest.
Even more, it’s one stern test. Out of the golf courses I play on a regular basis, I can say I’ve only played to my handicap a handful of times here. Maybe that’s what I love about it so much.
Aside from the course, the amenities are second to none. The award-winning restaurant has seen many a golfer drown their post round sorrows in one of the many signature cocktails. The food is scrumptious too.
Even if you don’t plan on playing golf, the restaurant is the perfect spot to gather with the guys to watch sports as there are no less than 12 televisions. In fact, my buddies and I hold our fantasy football draft here every year. Trust me, we’re good for business.
Ahwatukee Country Club
If you’re short on time and have to catch flight out of Sky Harbor Airport, Ahwatukee Country Club is a great option. Located just minutes away, this track was designed by legendary designer, John Bulla.
The layout is classic. Narrow, tree-lined fairways and small greens demand precision throughout the bag.
Be sure to make time for a bite to eat before or after your round. The restaurant boasts some of the best golf course food in the entire valley.
Even though this golf course has been around for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s out of date or style.
Lookout Mountain Golf Club
Having received a four-star rating from Golf Digest nine times, it’s no wonder Lookout Mountain is a local’s favorite.
Built into the rugged landscape of the Sonoran Desert with the Phoenix North Mountains as a backdrop, this is desert golf at it’s finest.
If you catch this course in the afternoon, be ready for some difficult shots in the wind that can swirl from every direction.
Always in pristine condition and a good test for golfers of all levels, don’t overlook Lookout Mountain.
The Legacy Golf Club
Dating all the way back to 1985, The Legacy Golf Club has been a stalwart in Phoenix for a long time.
Generous fairways and large greens make this golf course user friendly for most players.
Should you venture too far offline however, your ball is probably a goner and there are plenty of prickly cacti to keep you from looking too hard.
The greens are some of the truest in the area so if you get it started online, it’s probably going in.
If you want to work on your game, the practice facility is first rate.
Cave Creek Golf Course
It’s not hard to see why Cave Creek is consistently voted the most popular municipal golf course in Phoenix.
Built in 1983, Cave Creek is centrally located in North Phoenix making access easy.
The course itself features beautiful mountain views, gently rolling fairways, and a winding creek that makes shot placement essential.
This is public golf pure and simple. The pro shop has all the essentials, yet lacks the pretention of private clubs.
The drinks are stiff and the food cheap at the Cantina Restaurant. It’s probably a safe bet to stick to one cocktail after your round.
Foothills Golf Club
A true links-style course, Foothills Golf Club will test you from the first tee to the 18th green. Built into the surrounding rocky terrain, this course places a premium on accuracy off the tee.
Even though the course is demanding, five sets of tees give players plenty of options to choose from.
The practice facilities give you ample room and plenty of targets to work on every shot in your bag.
For a unique experience at a great value, be sure to add Foothills Golf Club to your list.
There’s no shortage of golf in the Valley of the Sun. I keep discovering new gems every year but the list above features some of my perennial favorites. What I love about golf in Phoenix aside from the array of options, is the variety in course design and experience. Whether you want to experience desert golf, or prefer more traditional parkland layouts, there’s no shortage of top-notch choices in Phoenix.
Until next time, I’ll be deciding between work and the weekly skins game at Papago.