Head For The Desert!

Scotland may be the spiritual home of golf, but as we edge further into the new millennium it is surely the United States that is showing the way forward.

Scotland may be the spiritual home of golf, but as we edge further into the new millennium it is surely the United States that is showing the way forward. Nowhere on earth can match the US for the sheer number, diversity and quality of its golf courses.

They are everywhere.

Even so, there are true hotspots dotted around that boast just as much heritage as St Andrew's or Turnberry, such as North Carolina, Georgia, New England and Michigan with venues such as Pinehurst, Augusta, Bethesda and Oakland Hills.

And then there are the up and coming areas like Florida (Sawgrass), California (Torrey Pines) and Arizona, best represented by the stunning desert courses around Phoenix and Tucson.

Phoenix, one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the US due to its stunning climate (perfect for most of the year but red hot in the summer months), boasts hundreds of courses - more than in the whole of Scotland.

And the suburb of Scottsdale - with over 160 courses itself - is certainly the jewel in the crown.

In fact, Scottsdale now rivals Florida as a top-class venue for holiday golf.

A city in its own right, the Sonora Desert scenery is stunning - and to us Brits, the total antithesis of what we are used to.

Scottsdale also boasts some of the best resort hotels in the world - such as the Four Seasons and the Westin Kierland - and is a fabulous holiday destination in its own right, particularly as flights from the UK are readily available to nearby Sky Harbour International in Phoenix.

Central Scottsdale also features an array of glitzy shopping malls while there is a plethora of other attractions waiting to be discovered - such as revolutionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright's home, the Hubble space observatory, the spectacular red rock cliffs of Sedona and, a little further to the north, the legendary Route 66, the mighty Grand Canyon as well as Monument Valley.

All in all, this part of Arizona it's a great place for a family holiday as the hotels are so well equipped there's plenty to keep the non-playing members of the party happy while you are out on the fairways.

Ideally, spend part of your break in central Scottsdale at a resort such as the Westin Kierland, which has 27 holes right on the property as well as a great adventure water park - complete with a 900-foot flowing river, a 110-foot water slide, an adult pool and a sandy beach leading into a wading area - as well as a spa.

Then, you can move out of town to the Four Seasons to experience more of a true desert course like Troon North.

The Kierland is a fabulous spot and is the perfect place to try and refine your game - and your fitness.

The course is magnificent, incredibly lush with wide fairways and studded with a myriad of sensuously shaped white sand bunkers.

True, this is a resort course and so its aim is to guide you around as comfortably as possible, which makes for a lot of fun, though it is testing enough to keep you on your toes.

What's great about playing golf in the US is that if you are on your own you will get the chance to play with some regular Americans, which is a brilliant experience.

You can also make use of one of the air-conditioned buggies or try out one of the new Segway two-wheelers - a sort of upright robo-scooter with touch sensitive steering and a wrack for your golf bag (amazing and great fun in its own right).

And you can also try out a brand new fitness regime especially designed for golfers at the Kierland.

The hotel's fitness director Steve Heller has developed a unique programme dedicated to improving accuracy and distance off the tee while enhancing overall fitness.

This one-of-a-kind training system is based on three distinct areas of emphasis: flexibility, functional golf strength, and aerobic conditioning.

While you are trying to improve your condition, you could book the children into the digital kids zone, where they can learn to make movies, while your wife takes a trip to the spa.

It will be difficult to tear yourself way from the Kierland, but after a few days you could move a few miles out of town to the Four Seasons.

In the cooling foothills of Pinnacle Peak, the AAA Five Diamond Four Seasons offers a truly handcrafted desert resort experience.

Spacious casitas and suites open to astonishing scenery in the high Sonoran Deser and offer heart-skipping views across the whole of Scottsdale and much of Phoenix.

Located adjacent to the renowned Weiskopf & Morrish-designed courses of Troon North and set on 40 acres of vibrant desert blooms, the Four Seasons only has 210 rooms, but all are large and luxuriously appointed.

There's also a full-service spa and a lovely pool area.

Troon North (managed by the same company that is responsible for the Kierland) is right next door and if you play anywhere in the greater Phoenix area it has to be this place.

There are two courses but the Monument, carved through dramatic desert scenery, is probably the pre-eminent challenge of the two, though Pinnacle is also top-class.

After a comprehensive two-year renovation project overseen by Tom Weiskopf, both courses were re-opened in October 2007. The two were blended together and the playing sequence dramatically altered.

Every hole is stunning, the design accommodating and incorporating the large boulders that lie randomly around the course, while the fairways are remarkably lush for such a harsh climate.

However, beware if you go off piste as the rough is probably some of the roughest you'll encounter anywhere in the world and formed by a colourful and picturesque variety of cacti that are as hostile as they are beautiful.

And then there are the rattlesnakes - and worse (spiders and scorpions) - that may be secreted in the undergrowth. The staff will let you know before you start just how safe it is to look for a lost ball!

Still, it all adds to the experience and helps to concentrate the mind on some straight hitting.

Troon North is not to be missed - it is what golf in Arizona is all about.

Scottsdale is just a fantastic base for a US holiday - and the Grand Canyon is just a three-hour drive north.

In the next issue, we'll look at golf in the Tucson area of southern Arizona.

Factfile Westin Kierland Resort & Spa

6902 E. Greenway Parkway, Scottsdale, AZ 85254.

Contact: Tel: 480-624-1315; Fax: 480-624-1001.

Website: www.kierlandresort.com

Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North.

10600 East Crescent Moon Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85255.

Contact: Tel: 480-515-5700; Fax: 480-515-5599.

Website: www.fourseasons.com/scottsdale

Troon North Golf Club.

10320 E. Dynamite Blvd., Scottsdale, AZ 85262.

Contact: Tel: 480-477-0480; Fax: 480-585-5161.

Website: www.troonnorthgolf.com


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