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Arizona Golf: Mother Nature's Perfect Canvas
By Mike Duff

Arizona appears to be made for golf. With 320 days of sunshine a year and climate that boasts of low humidity, what better combination can you have for a golf celebration? Arizona is where the air is dry and the landscape surrounds you with lush deserts, rugged mountains and scarred canyons. When you first see a desert course all you want to do is bend down and touch the grass. Where else can you find lush, green fairways and putting surfaces set against the backdrop of flaming reds, purples, browns, greens and yellows of the desert? You almost feel the fairways become an oasis between you and a land of ancient Saguaro ( pronounced "suh-WAH-roh" ) cactus, Gila monsters, the prickley pear, ocotillo bush, the coyote and the roadrunner.

Arizona's two main cities, Phoenix and Tucson, are the chief magnets for Michiganders' golf vacations. Each area offers a mind-boggling array of golf resorts and fine courses. Both offer golf packages with a full range of prices to suit almost everyone's budget. Phoenix, known as the Valley of the Sun, doesn't lead to any beaches, but it does offer over 125 courses to choose from. Our group savored the Arizona Biltmore and the Wildfire GC.

The Arizona Biltmore, called the Grand Dame of Arizona resorts, was built in 1929. The Biltmore's design was inspired by consulting architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Tradition, style and class are the adjectives most used to describe the richly carpeted William Bell-designed Adobe course.

The Adobe course is looked upon as an anomaly in the desert because of its 150 acres of turf ( not desert), 30-50 foot high trees, comfortable fairways and well-bunkered small greens. The Adobe is 6767 from the back tees. The Link course, designed by Bill Johnston, surrounds the property in true links fashion with long, narrow fairways over 6,400 yards.

Arnold Palmer-designed Wildfire Golf Club at Desert Ridge (602-473-0205), is a winner of a course. Using the natural attributes of the desert, Palmer and his design team called on all their experience to create a truly exceptional course. From the back tees, Wildfire is a stout 7170 yards in length but there are optional tees to fit one's game.

The drywash that meanders throughout and the undulating desert contours makes this one of the gems in the Phoenix area.

In Tucson, there are over 40 plus courses to choose from.

We stayed at the The Golf Villas at Oro Valley ( 888-388-0098). The Golf Villas at Oro Valley is located in northwest Tucson overlooking the exclusive El Conquistador Country Club Golf course and the dramatic Catalina Mountains.

When staying at the Golf Villas, your tee times on seven of Tucson's most challenging courses can be reserved up to 60 days in advance. The Villas is an elegant golf refuge with fully equipped gourmet kitchens and it is affordable. While in the Tucson area we played the Tom Weiskopf-designed Golf Club at Vistoso ( 520-797-9900). The vistas were breathtaking. Rancho Vistoso is located in the heart of the Tucson desert, at the base of the Catalina and Tortalita mountain ranges. The course plays to 6905 yards from the back tees and 5962 to 6439 for the average to intermediate golfer.

Vistoso is a forest of saguaros, ocotillo and mesquite along with natural washes. Both Wildfire and Vistoso are true target golf adventures in which you must carry arroyos (wash plains or small canyons) to reach narrow fairways and undulating greens. If you should go into one of these areas, you usually can find your ball, only be very careful not to brush up against any of the desert vegetation.

Back in Scottsdale, we concluded our golf trip by playing Talking Stick Golf Club ( 602-860-2221) designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, located in the middle of an Indian reservation. Unlike the desert terrain of Wildfire and Vistoso, Talking Stick resembles some of the courses in the Midwest -- acres of watered fairways and greens and manicured grassy rough. Indian reservations are not subject to water code restrictions that other courses have to comply with, so consequently they are permitted to water as much and as often as they want to. Talking Stick offers two courses, the North and the South. The North has broad, angular holes, slightly crowned greens and close-cropped approaches and plays to 7133 yards from the back tees and 6510 from the middle ones, while the South course is more tree-lined with raised greens and is a more straightforward style of play. The South plays to 6833 yards from the back tees and 6430 from the middle ones.

Arizona is very capable of getting out the good news about golf. If you wish more information about Arizona golf you can find it in a 56-page publication called GOLF ARIZONA. This publication lists all of Arizona's golf courses, resorts and golf schools. Call 888-946-5320 or write to: GOLF ARIZONA, 16446 Tombstone, Ste. 100, Fountain Hills, AZ 85268. You can also get information by contacting the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau which provides comprehensive information on golf packages. For information, phone 602-254-6500 or write to GPCVB, One Arizona Center, 400 E. Van Buren St., Ste. 600, Phoenix, AZ 85004-2290. Their web site is www.arizonaguide.com/phoenix. For Tucson contact the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-638-8350.

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