Winter Swings in Sedona
By Andrew Penner / SaskGolfer Featured Travel Contributor
Featured Image: Sedona Golf Resort ~ Image Credit: Andrew Penner
Fill-in-the-blank question: Banff is to Calgary as ____ is to Phoenix? Ok, so perhaps the title of this story sort of gave it away. For Phoenicians looking for a quick getaway in the mountains – and a few scenic “swings” – Sedona, located approximately 160 kilometers north of the Valley of the Sun, is a no-brainer. But sun-starved Canadians craving a warm, easy-to-get-to desert getaway, especially during the winter months, can also find their happy place in this hip and happening mountain town. (And, yes, golf is just one of Sedona’s many virtues.)
Surrounded by gorgeous red-rock mountains that explode into sweet Sonoran skies, Sedona is breathtaking to behold. At 1,319 meters, the elevation is significantly higher than Phoenix, which sits at just 331 meters above sea level. That means temperatures are quite a bit cooler. For example, in May, when Phoenix is already averaging highs of 35 °Celsius, Sedona hovers around a near-perfect 27°. So – even if you’re looking to just sit by the pool, drink Mojitos, and make tan lines – you’re set.
Similar to Banff, most people who shoot to Sedona – be it for the day, the weekend, or the rest of their lives – are in it for the outdoor recreation. With comfy temps and some of the most exhilarating – not to mention photogenic – backcountry trails in the southwest, hiking is an obvious choice. (But so are mountain biking, jeep tours, rafting, fishing, camping, and the list goes on.)
For golfers, there are three eye-popping courses that are well worth playing. Not surprisingly, all of them take full advantage of the scintillating scenery in the region. (And it’s easy to add on some extra golf in Scottsdale, for example, as you’ll most likely be flying into Sky Harbor International Airport in downtown Phoenix.)
Although difficult to access (only members and guests of the adjacent Enchantment Resort can score a tee time), Seven Canyons is worth planning your trip around. It’s that good. A Tom Weiskopf-designed masterpiece that weaves through pines at the base of amazing red rock formations, there is enough drama here to keep you fully engaged from start to finish. The unspoiled nature of the terrain, the jaw-dropping views, and the outstanding variety of strategic holes will ensure your extra effort to play will yield a rich payday. Speaking of rich, the Enchantment Resort is a world-class oasis that will also “wow” you at every turn. But you’ll pay a premium price. Starting rates in low season are approximately $350 and only go up from there. Green fees for resort guests run between $135 and $185.
However, if you opt for a hotel in town (Enchantment Resort and Seven Canyons are located approximately fifteen minutes outside of Sedona in a fairly remote area), the two other championship courses – The Sedona Golf Resort and the Oak Creek Country Club – also serve up excellent experiences.
The 6,646-yard Sedona Resort Course, which occupies gently sloping desert terrain and offers plenty of panoramic views of the soaring red rock spires, epitomizes what resort golf should be. From the regular tees, the holes are “doable,” the greens spacious, the hazards not “extreme.” In short, it’s a comfortable course for the average player and the visuals are some of the best in the entire Southwest.
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Robert Trent Jones Jr., the Oakcreek Country Club has an older, more classic feel. Its tree-lined, “parkland” holes are peppered with beautifully-contoured bunkers and plenty of water hazards, making this a strong, albeit not overly long, test.
Of course, before you put your soft-spikes on to saunter Sedona’s fairways, visitors should take some time to familiarize themselves with the surrounding area. Located half an hour southwest of Sedona near Cottonwood, the historic, hanging-high-on-the-mountain town of Jerome is definitely worth a side trip. Artisan galleries, dusty saloons, haunted hotels, cool coffee shops, and turn-of-the-century mine ruins line the main drag. It’s called a ghost town, but there’s plenty of life left here, especially if you’re a hippie hidin’ out.
Sedona itself is certainly not short of the quaint and the quirky as well. Peppered throughout town are numerous boutiques, antique stores, and galleries. The internationally-renowned Tlaquepaque Arts & Craft Village is the epi-center of Sedona shopping. It’s a tucked-away haven for, literally, hundreds of artists.
Obviously, the inspiration for art flows freely in these parts thanks, mainly, to Sedona’s striking beauty. Chiseled, red-streaked towers of rock encase the town. Their official tourism site doesn’t mince words. It simply states that Sedona is “The Most Beautiful Place on Earth.” And many photographers would agree. The classic scene at Red Rock Crossing, for example, a symbol of the Southwest, is considered the most photographed spot in Arizona. It has been featured in more than 60 Hollywood films.
Being a photographer, I did my best to capture as many scenes as possible on my recent visit. And Red Rock Crossing certainly didn’t disappoint. Neither did photographing the famous Chapel on the Hill as well as famous red-rock monoliths such as Courthouse, Coffee Pot, and Bell Mountain.
Unquestionably, every trip to Sedona should also include a hiking experience, or two. Although not for the faint of heart, walking across Devil’s Bridge was about the most intense hiking experience I’ve ever had. Tip-toeing across this soaring natural arch (be careful as one false move could spell disaster!) is an adrenaline rush you’ll never forget. Another fabulous hike is Doe Mountain, which takes you high atop a cacti-coated mesa with panoramic views at every turn.
For golfers wanting to get in as many swings as possible, tacking on an extra round – or five! – in Scottsdale, either before or after your stay in Sedona, is highly recommended. With over 200 golf courses to choose from, the options are dizzying. Located in Carefree, The Boulders is a phenomenal golf resort with two outstanding Jay Moorish-designed golf courses that swerve through massive boulders. Conveniently, it’s also located northwest of downtown Scottsdale, the direction you’ll be traveling if you want to head to Sedona. Tip: As you depart for Sedona, drive into Cave Creek, a wild-west town just minutes from The Boulders, and chow down on mouth-watering ribs and brisket at Bryan’s Black Mountain BBQ.
Grayhawk, another two-course facility, is another personal favourite in Scottsdale. This was the site of Mike Weir’s 8th PGA Tour victory in the Frys.com Open in 2007. And, for sheer desert drama, you cannot go wrong with a round at Troon North. Both the Monument Course and the Pinnacle Course are, well, the “pinnacle” of upscale desert golf.
Regardless of how many holes you play, and where, exactly, you play them, a springtime golf junket to Sedona is going to hit the spot. After all, as every Canadian golfer will tell you, it’s way more fun swinging golf clubs than snow shovels.
Andrew Penner is a freelance golf writer and professional photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. His work appears regularly in publications such as SCOREGolf Magazine, Golf Canada, Inside Golf, The Calgary Herald, SWERVE Magazine, Westworld, and others. He and his wife, Dawn, are the proud parents of four boys and they love hitting the links together as a family.