The golf trips we’re dreaming about taking this winter | Courses

by | Nov 6, 2021 | Driving Ranges

The wintery months are here, so if you’re in colder climes, naturally all you can do is dream about warm weather. You might brave the cold to play on the frost-covered fairways a couple times over the winter, but what’s better than getting away to the warm weather when temperatures are freezing?

These are the golf trips we’re dreaming about taking, curated by our friends at Golfbreaks by PGA TOUR. The company actually helped us identify some of their most popular itineraries, including lodging—to make it easy as possible to plan your next trip.

Scottsdale really might be the perfect winter getaway. It’s always warm, it never rains—there are plenty of flights—and there’s plenty of good golf. (There are more than 200 courses in the Scottsdale area!)

For those wanting to be near the heart of great golf and the action of Old Town in Scottsdale, the Hyatt House Scottsdale/Old Town is a solid option. It’s just 15 minutes away from the airport and even closer to some of the best golfing options in the area. Here are a few that should be on your must-play list.

Casual golfers know TPC Scottsdale for the rowdy 16th hole on the Stadium Course during the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but there are 36 holes worth playing. The Stadium Course features a number of other notable holes (14, 17 and 18 are all great) with some great greens, renovated a few years ago by Tom Weiskopf. The Champions Course, built in 2007, doesn’t get the same fanfare as the Stadium Course, but it’s a playable, enjoyable course that will test better players. The McDowell Mountains and pine tree-lined fairways provide a nice contrast to the typical desert setting.

Both courses at Troon North rank inside the top 10 of Golf Digest’s best public courses in Arizona. The Pinnacle Course, designed by Weiskopf in 1989, features wide, rolling fairways but small greens, placing a premium on accuracy over distance. Weiskopf’s second course at Troon North, the Monument Course, opened in 1990. Similar to its sibling course, tight greens combat wide fairways. The back-nine here is the main attraction, overall, but the par-5 third hole has one of the most unique playing obstacles in the area. A giant rock formation sits in the middle of the fairway, forcing players to pick a side.

Located just seven miles from the airport, Raven Golf Club is an ideal option to play on the day of arrival or departure. On the side of a mountain, the course is framed by fully grown pine trees. Collegiate tournaments are frequently held here.

For variety and convenience, consider Ocotillo Golf Club, designed by Ted Robinson. Water comes into play on 24 of the 27 holes, and more than 100 sand traps (many of them pesky pot bunkers) come into play. Ocotillo has a different feel than most courses in the area.

The South course is the higher-ranked of the two with slightly more challenge, meandering through natural rock outcroppings. The North course might be slightly more playable, and our panelists enjoy the fact each hole is isolated from the others, giving you that secluded feeling throughout the round.

Troon North is frequently paired with a trip to the Boulders, making it a great four-course rotation.

Grayhawk Golf Club is 16 miles south of downtown Scottsdale and boasts two courses ranked inside Golf Digest’s best public tracks in state. Make time for Phil’s Grill, an ode to Phil Mickelson’s ambassadorship for the club.

The Talon Course is one of Scottsdale’s must-plays (tee times can be tricky, as it’s one of the most popular courses in the desert). Described by one of our panelists as one of the “most exciting and dramatic” layouts in the southwest, Talon features views of the McDowell Mountains and Scottsdale skyline with fairways that are wider than they appear from the tee. The back nine plays around box canyons with several holes playing along steep drop-offs. The Raptor Course, designed by Tom Fazio, is the only other course in Scottsdale to have hosted a PGA Tour event—what is now the Fortinet Championship was played here from 2007 through 2009. Fairways are wide and greens are large, but deep greenside bunkers and chipping areas will eat up wayward approach shots. With gentle hills and natural creeks running through the course, there are lots of beautiful views on the course.

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club boasts Golf Digest’s top-ranked public course closest to Scottsdale (Saguaro) and a second 18 (Cholla) that’s also inside our top 10 public courses in the state. The Saguaro course is a Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw design that opened in 2006 and features a ton of width, giving players of all levels options, but providing interesting greens to test the best players. It’s a relatively flat piece of land, perfect for walking, and a great chance for public golfers to experience some Coore/Crenshaw architecture.

The Cholla Course was the first course that opened at the resort and runs through desert ridges and arroyos, surrounded by mountains and views of river valleys. This is another desert course that places a premium on ball position and strategy. Absent of any housing developments, golfers enjoy unrestricted views on both courses.

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club is another must-play in the region, located 45 minutes south of Scottsdale, but well worth the trip—ranking in Golf Digest’s top 10 best publics in Arizona. It has been the site of several U.S. Open qualifiers, PGA Tour and Korn Ferry qualifiers and two state amateur championships. Designed by Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley, long-time apprentices of Pete Dye, with some consulting from Fred Couples, precision is key, especially off the tee, but nowhere is accuracy more important than on approach shots, where bunkers and multi-tiered greens will make par a good score on any hole.

The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch is worth considering for its range of amenities—golf, tennis, swimming and spa facilities on-site. The Gainey Ranch Golf Club has three nine-hole courses that each offer different challenges. The Lakes Course has five lakes in its nine-hole stretch, while the Arroyo Course is named for the arroyo that winds through its holes, with many requiring shots to carry it. The Dunes Course is the shortest of the three, with undulating fairways and lots of bunkers. There’s no water on the course—showcasing the variety in each of these three courses.

Just 10 minutes down the road is Talking Stick Resort, which boasts two Coore/Crenshaw designs. The O’odham Course is a Scottish-style links course in the desert. Unlike most desert golf, tee shots here are played to wide, rolling fairways and approaches to crowned greens. Just to remind golfers that they are truly in the desert, the lack of vegetation and real estate allow for views of the landscape as far as the eye can see. The Piipaash Course is slightly easier and a bit more straightforward than the O’odham. Here, the fairways are tree-lined and the greens are elevated. There’s some water that comes into play, too, if golfers aren’t careful. Like its sister, the lack of real estate provides great vistas of the Sonoran Desert.

The desert has been a golf destination for decades and decades, and it’s still one of the best places to be in the winter.

La Quinta Resort & Club should be on every golfer’s list planning a trip to Palm Springs. The resort (above) offers five-star accommodation and facilities, great food and the opportunity to play any of the five championship courses at PGA West.

The resort course isn’t particularly long, tipping out at just under 7,000 yards, but features Dye’s signature railroad ties, pot bunkers, elevated tees and hidden pin positions.

The aptly named Classic Club was designed by Arnold Palmer, perhaps the most classic guy in all of golf. Regarded as one of the best clubs in the area, it has hosted the Bob Hope Desert Classic in the past. Palmer dotted the course with more than 5,000 pine, pepper and olive trees, 30 acres of water features and 14 stone bridges. The elevated tee boxes offer stunning views of the Coachella Valley.

There are many other options for public golfers in the area, but one talked about less frequently is Indian Canyons, just minutes from downtown Palm Springs and the airport, offering 36 holes. The South Course, designed by William F. Bell, the son of Torrey Pines’ designer, is set up against the mountains, while the North Course boasts a full driving range and putting green right next to the first tee. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan and celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason have all enjoyed these courses over the years.

Public golfers should absolutely consider Desert Willow, which has 36 holes, and its Firecliff course ranking among Golf Digest’s best 30 public courses in California. Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry designed 36 holes (including the Mountain course) on this flat desert floor in the Coachella Valley and moved enough earth to create some interesting holes that frame the surrounding mountains.

Golf might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Sin City, but there are some great options not too far away from the strip.

One of the best destinations for golfers is the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa, which offers four-star accomodations and still offers the nightlife options of the strip just 20 minutes away.

Access to the private SouthShore Country Club is offered for resort guests. Ranked in the top five of best courses in Nevada, SouthShore was routed by Jack Nicklaus between mountain peaks—meandering back up and down the mountains, offering a great variety of uphill and downhill shots. There’s up to 1,750 of elevation change throughout the course, with one of the most memorable views being the par-3 17th hole, looking down at the strip. The closing stretch of holes has been named the “Fantastic Four.”

If your preference is to be closer to the action, it’s tough to beat the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. It’s just five minutes from McCarran International Airport and offers a central location to not just the nightlife but golf, too.

Of course, we must mention Shadow Creek when mentioning the MGM. Only available for the highest rollers, talk to your concierge at the MGM about the availability of tee times. Though the highest greens fees in golf were recently increased to $1,000, we’re told demand has actually increased at Shadow Creek—so if you plan to play it, try to book it as far out as you can.

Bali Hai Golf Club is just a few blocks away from the MGM, and given its central location and proximity to the airport, is one of the most popular options in Vegas. Curley and Schmidt routed the course through seven acres of water and a total of 4,000 trees and 100,000 Balinese plants. For those seeking a Vegas-like experience, we’re told Jello shots and Golfboards are frequent options for guests here.

The Bellagio Hotel & Casino is another resort right on the Vegas strip that likely needs no introduction. There are 18 restaurants on site, including “Le Cirque,” which boasts AAA Five Diamond credentials.

Rio Secco, in nearby Henderson, is another local favorite. Accuracy is a premium off the tee, as the narrow fairways are a natural defense for this sub-7,000-yard course. The front nine plays through canyons, while the back nine emerges to the top of the plateau to offer stunning views. This is a must on any Vegas trip.

Cascata, ranked No. 8 on Golf Digest’s most recent Best in Nevada list, is in Boulder City, also just outside of Las Vegas. Designed by Rees Jones in 2000, the course requires players to think on every shot with tight, sloping fairways and firm greens. There’s lots of elevation change, making for a fun challenge and offering great vistas of the desert and its surrounds.

Twenty minutes northwest of the Vegas strip, TPC Las Vegas sits right next to Red Rock National Park. The course hosted the Shriners Children’s Open for the decade following its opening and can challenge golfers of all skill levels. The front nine plays like a traditional desert course, while the back nine weaves through, over and around canyons and wasteland.

The Paiute Golf Resort is 25 minutes north of the strip and offers three courses, each slightly different than the other. Two of them, the Snow and Sun Mountain courses, both designed by Pete Dye really stand out. Snow Mountain is known for its par 3s. Wide fairways are a big draw for resort golfers, while the water that comes into play on seven holes can be penal. The 16th hole is a long par 3 over water, played to a peninsula green. Views of the Sheep Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop. Sun Mountain is lauded for its playability, but fescue will eat up errant shots pushed around by strong desert winds. Most impressively, Dye used the landscape to create 18 holes that each seem to play differently than the others.

The third course at Paiute Golf Resort is the Wolf Course. This desert course can play as long as 7,600 yards, and its tight fairways provide a stout challenge for golfers of all levels. Dramatic elevation changes add to the difficulty, but also make way for great views of the mountains and Red Rock Canyons.

The Lexington Course at Revere Golf Club, brainchild of the late Billy Casper, is another course that has a great variety of holes. Views of the mountains and the Vegas strip line the background here as golfers are provided with challenging elevation changes and forced carries.

Aliante Golf Club, which opened in 2003, is a half hour outside the city. The course uniquely features Pear and Purple Locust trees, rarely seen on desert courses. A dry creek comes into play on 14 holes, providing a constant challenge for golfers.

The Luxor Resort & Casino is also located right on the strip. Known for its pyramid shape, the Luxor is one of the most recognizable hotels in the world. The hotel hosts several dining options and is optimally positioned for nightlife activities.

Las Vegas National has some stout history, being one of the courses in the rotation at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational, site of Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour win. Affectionately known as “The National,” it has become a landmark over the years, having played host in the 1960s to The Rat Pack. Locals tell stories of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr. playing matches under the lights and singing songs at the piano in the clubhouse. Just because it’s become something of a landmark doesn’t overshadow the golf course, itself. Fairways wind through trees, while the greens are fiercely protected by bunkers.

The Legacy Club is a bit of a trek but for those looking for a bit of a break from all the hustle and bustle of the strip, this is worth playing. Designed by the late Arthur Hills, the course is known for its well-placed bunkers, water features and rolling greens. This is another thinker’s course, with ball positioning at a premium.

Desert Pines is much closer to the strip, just 15 minutes away, but you’d hardly know it. Pine trees line the fairways and white sand bunkers guard undulating greens. This place feels more like a course in the Carolina sand hills than the middle of the desert. It’s not particularly long, but the tight fairways and several water hazards will test golfers of all skill levels.