Golf and Sightseeing in Scottsdale-Phoenix

The Boulders Resort Golf Course, Scottsdale, Arizona (Image: The Boulders Resort)

A golfer tees off beside “Rosie’s Rock” on the Jay Morrish-designed South Course at The Boulders Resort and Spa. (Image: The Boulders Resort and Spa)

Sure, you’re going to Arizona’s famous Valley of the Sun primarily for the golf. But the charms of Scottsdale-Phoenix are many and varied, including stunning Southwest architecture and some of the best barbeque dishes you’ll ever taste.

(Last updated January 2023.)

Home to more than 200 of Arizona’s 300 courses, the sister cities of PhoenixScottsdale, which together are marketed as the Valley of the Sun, are the co-hosts every February of the famously raucous and wildly popular Waste Management Phoenix Open.

But it’s a mistake for even diehard golfers to ignore this snowbird destination’s other unique attractions—from the sun-scorched drama of the Sonoran Desert at sunset to the area’s rich Southwest architectural heritage and the restaurants and galleries found in Scottsdale’s tony downtown core.

Hotel Valley Ho Scottsdale (Image: Hotel Valley Ho)

Hotel Valley Ho in old Scottsdale remains charmingly time-frozen in the late 1950s. (Image: Hotel Valley Ho)

I started my visit with a check-in at Hotel Valley Ho, a 241-room time-frozen mix of Southwest and hip mid-century design in the heart of old Scottsdale. This charming former haunt of Hollywood celebrities was where Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood held their 1957 wedding reception.

I’d played most of the top courses in Phoenix-Scottsdale on past visits, including the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course (host of the Waste Management Phoenix Open), Grayhawk Golf Club, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, Troon North Golf Club, and Wildfire Golf Club.

So this trip I ventured even deeper into the desert northeast of Phoenix for a first look at Rancho Manana Golf Club, which proved to be a marvellously scenic and challenging hidden gem.

Not the least of Rancho Manana’s attractions is its proximity to Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbeque, a wildly popular restaurant in the nearby town of Cave Creek that serves up pork ribs, beef brisket and barbeque chicken straight from the smoker.

Between rounds of golf I budgeted time to tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West, which the legendary American architect started building at the foot of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale in 1937. Now the main campus of the School of Architecture at Taliesin, Wright’s house includes walls made of local desert rock.

My next home, Mountain Shadows Resort, sits on the site of another landmark property. John Wayne, Bob Hope and Liz Taylor numbered among the guests at the old Marriott Mountain Shadows resort during its ring-a-ding heyday in the 1960s. Opened in 2017, today’s sleekly modern 183-room retreat offers the same jaw-dropping views of the Camelback and Mummy mountains, as well as an excellent 18-hole par three course.

The Boulders Resort pool (Image: The Boulders Resort and Spa)

Poolside at the recently renovated Boulders Resort and Spa. (Image: The Boulders Resort and Spa)

But by far the most memorable golf of my trip was played at Boulders Resort and Spa, an iconic property in the high Sonoran foothills north of Scottsdale. The Boulders has completed a multi-million dollar renovation that included everything from swank upgrades to the 160 guest rooms to an expanded outdoor terrace at the golf clubhouse.

Best of all, the resort’s two acclaimed Jay Morrish-designed courses, North and South, are set amid a Flintstones-like tumble of giant 12-million-year-old rock formations. Especially unforgettable is the South, which plays around “Boulder Pile” and “Rosie’s Rock,” two of the property’s most surreally magnificent formations.

There’s not a prettier spot in all the Valley of the Sun.