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Top-notch links and military lodging make Arizona a winter golf destination

Oct. 6, 2011 - 01:46PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 6, 2011 - 01:46PM  |  
The Raven Golf Club at Verrado's award-winning desert course is adjacent to the White Tank Mountains.
The Raven Golf Club at Verrado's award-winning desert course is adjacent to the White Tank Mountains. (Raven Golf Club at Verrado via the AP)
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Military inns & campgrounds

• Fighter Country Inn, Luke Air Force Base, $39-$53 per night, 623-935-2641.
• Gila Bend Family Campground and Desert Hideaway Inn, Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field, about an hour southwest of Luke AFB, 38 RV spaces, full hookups, $7; no hookups, $3; spaces start to fill up in October, first-come, first-served. The Desert Hideaway Inn on Gila Bend is operated by Air Force Inns, 928-683-2911.
• Pine View RV Park, Arizona Navajo Army National Guard campground near Camp Navajo (west of Flagstaff) and 2 hours, 45 minutes from Luke AFB. It’s one of the top-rated campgrounds on www.militarycampgrounds.us but closes after the first winter storm. Primitive campsites at nearby Tappan Springs and Indian Village campgrounds are $2 per person per night. Pine View’s developed RV sites are $15 per night.

Whether it's a way to escape the cold this winter or the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me deals other times of year, Arizona is a haven for golfers. The sheer volume of courses makes it worth the trip. The 200 or so just in Phoenix and its suburbs make a map of the area look like a Dalmatian covered in green spots.

And with one of the military's premier links and lodging nearby, you can hit the high-profile courses and still have your winter golf getaway on a budget.

The terrain is unlike anything anywhere else, ruggedly beautiful mountains surrounding a gravel-covered Valley of the Sun filled with all shapes of cactus, twisty-trunked trees with green bark and a variety of unique flora that give the desert a distinctly clean smell.

The weather? Autumn, winter and spring, it's almost perfect, everyone walking around in shorts while the rest of the country is bundling up or digging out of snowdrifts.

"If you're coming from out of the state, it's a totally different experience than anywhere in the country," says Rui Pereira, general manager for Rancho de los Caballeros in Wickenburg, about an hour northwest of Luke Air Force Base.

Temperatures in Phoenix are typically in the 60s during the coldest months, with 80s in late fall and early spring. Occasionally, when wind chill dips below zero in the far northern states, Arizona can have a 100-degree difference in temperature.

Scottsdale is the epicenter of the Arizona golf scene, with one world-class golf course seemingly next door to another. From Grayhawk and Troon North to TPC Scottsdale and The Boulders just to the north in Carefree, you can't go wrong. But Phoenix — about 10 miles from Scottsdale — is the launching point for many winter visitors, with its massive international airport and many entertainment and dining options in addition to golf courses of its own.

While Arizona's courses run the gamut, from local (and often more affordable) municipals to resorts that rank among the best in the world, you don't want to miss Falcon Dunes Golf Course at Luke, an 18-hole par-71 with views of the White Tank Mountains billed as "truly one of the top military golf courses in the world" with "mounded contours that frame rolling fairways and undulated greens."

And here are three great civilian courses worth trying:

Rancho de los Caballeros

Location: Wickenburg, about 45 minutes on Highway 60 northwest of Phoenix.

The course: Set at the foot of the Bradshaw Mountains in the upper Sonoran Desert, los Caballeros is a hidden gem — and well worth the extra drive. An award-winning desert layout with spectacular views, the course is challenging yet still accommodating for higher handicappers with its wide fairways. Check out the horseback riding, target shooting and spa when you're finished.

Yardages: Front tees of 5,264 yards to 7,020 from the back.

Green fees: $90 peak season to $39 in summer.

Don't miss: The par-5 13th hole. A little hard to figure where to hit off the tee (aim farther left than you think), but the second and/or third shot is one of the most spectacular in the state, with a dip in the fairway leading to an elevated shot at the green with a tough-to-get-around bunker front-left.

Nearby lodging: The Ranch Resort. Located on 20,000 acres of open range right next to the course, The Ranch has an Old West feel — it's rated by the Historic Hotels of America — and has great stay-and-play deals with plenty of other entertainment options besides golf. Get more info at www.ranchodeloscaballeros.com.

Close to: Luke Air Force Base, 1 hour; Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, about 3.5 hours.

Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia

Location: Peoria, off Loop 303 northwest of Phoenix.

The course: A little different from the cactus-and-desert courses around the area, the tall fescue grass off the fairways and multiple bunkering is more like something you'd find in Nebraska or Iowa — even Great Britain. Same quality of award-winning course and staff as some of the Scottsdale courses, but cheaper and not too far away.

Yardages: From 5,573 from the front tees to 7,259 from the tips.

Green fees: Peak around $130, down to $49 during off-peak months.

Don't miss: The par-5 18th. Has great vistas in the distance, a stream along the fairway and a lake near the green. Great example of the tall grasses along the fairway.

Nearby lodging: Trilogy has an arrangement for preferred rates with Cibola Vista Resort and Spa near Lake Pleasant and deals with a handful of Scottsdale hotels. Get more info at http://cibolavista.com.

Close to: Luke AFB, 35 minutes; Davis-Monthan AFB, 3 hours; MCAS Yuma, 3.5 hours.

Raven Golf Club at Verrado

Location: Buckeye, just north of Interstate 10 west of Phoenix.

The course: Spectacular award-winning desert course at the edge of the White Tank Mountains that's immaculately maintained with an incredibly attentive staff. Great views, particularly from the elevated holes on the back nine, and plenty of wildlife wandering through the challenging-but-fair layout. Watch out for the rattlesnakes in the desert areas off the fairways. A zoo and spring training sites nearby.

Yardages: Front tees of 5,142 yards to 7,258 at the tips.

Green fees: Around $120 for out-of-towners ($80-$90 for residents) during peak season; as low as $29 during the summer.

Don't miss: The Par-5 18th. Great views of the mountains to the left and the valley below. Reachable in two with a good tee shot, but beware the lake front-right after the fairway drops. Take a look back up the fairway from the green to see the Raven logo on the drop-off.

Nearby lodging: The Raven has deals with a few Scottsdale hotels. For something closer, there are plenty of chain hotels off I-10, including Days Inn, Comfort Suites, Holiday Inn Express and Best Western. The Wigwam Resort is only about 10 minutes away for anyone who wants to stay there and hit the Raven. Get more info at www.wigwamresort.com.

Close to: Luke AFB, 30 minutes; Davis-Monthan AFB, 2 hours, 45 minutes; MCAS Yuma, 3 hours.

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