Top 10 Courses: Arizona

Estancia (Photo by Michael Paul)

The birthplace and spiritual home of “Desert Golf,” Arizona golf is unlike almost anywhere else. Its citizens play almost 12 million rounds of golf yearly over the state’s 300+ courses and several PGA Tour players proudly call Arizona home. From immaculately conditioned layouts routed through housing developments to minimalistic designs situated on Native American reservation land, these are the 10 best courses in the Grand Canyon State.

1. Estancia, Scottsdale
Tom Fazio’s 1995 Scottsdale debut remains the Arizona gold standard. Generous fairways and greens and relatively few forced carries make for a less penal assignment than at most desert courses and this ultra-exclusive layout is always in top condition. 

2. Forest Highlands (Canyon), Flagstaff 
Set in the mountains at 7,000 feet, this is a far cry from most desert designs. Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish carved their masterpiece through spectacular ponderosa pines with a bold routing featuring six par threes and five par fives. 

3. Desert Highlands, Scottsdale
The Jack Nicklaus course that launched Scottsdale golf, this 1983 design has broad fairways but woe betide those who stray as rugged desert lines every hole. 

4. Whisper Rock (Upper), Scottsdale
With two stern courses, a superb practice facility, and a golf-serious membership (average handicap 8), this is the club of choice for local PGA Tour players. The Upper Course, a Tom Fazio design, marked by forced carries and linoleum greens, bills itself the Pine Valley of the Southwest. 

5. Stone Canyon, Oro Valley
Set between the Tortolita and Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson, this is taut, adventurous golf—just 70 acres of turf, surrounded by unplayable lies and spectacular views. 

6. Desert Forest, Carefree
The granddaddy of desert courses, this 1962 design may also be the original “minimalist” course—no fairway bunkers, no water hazards, no out of bounds. It’s not long but the fairways are humpy slivers, making this an unrelenting test off the tee.  

7. Whisper Rock (Lower), Scottsdale
The older, more sinister sister of the Upper was co-designed by its most famous member, Phil Mickelson, along with Gary Stephenson. Its green complexes present the kind of up-and-down assignments perhaps only Lefty could love.

8. Desert Mountain (Chiricahua), Scottsdale
Elevation change is constant on this mountaintop course, roughly half the holes playing uphill, the other half down, all through craggy terrain. The slope rating’s steep too: 154.

9. Pine Canyon, Flagstaff
Centerpiece of the community of the same name, this picturesque and playable mountain course  threads through pines and ponds. The par threes are particularly engaging, not the least of them the island-green 19th, “Double or Nothing.” 

10. We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro), Fort McDowell
This Coore & Crenshaw design allows breathing room to choose alternate paths to the holes. It’s one of two courses on land owned by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, land that will never be commercially developed, thus ensuring the courses’ enduring charm.