“It’s a dry heat.”
That’s the cliché you hear again and again when visiting Scottsdale in the summer. But as horrible as weather that requires eight syllables to describe sounds — I recently played golf there at 111 degrees — it turns out to be true. The combination of heat and humidity that hits much of the country in summer is much more draining than higher temperatures here.
But why would anyone want to play golf in such extreme weather? Because it’s really good and really cheap.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open is the most attended golf tournament in the world, and its venue, the TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course, is instantly familiar to TV-watching fans. The famous 16th hole is a par-3 completely encircled by stands and bleachers (although the stands come down in summer), like playing golf inside an arena. It is one of the most iconic golf holes on the planet, the spot where Tiger Woods once famously wowed thunderous crowds with a magical hole in one. Golfers love to play in the footsteps of history, and for this reason, the TPC Scottsdale is an ultra-desirable spot to visit on a golf vacation.
It’s also one of the pricier rounds in the country, at least in peak season, when greens fees run as high as $369. But in summer, specials dip as low as $69, meaning you could play it five times for the rack rate and still have money left over for beer. This makes an out-of-reach dream suddenly attainable for many everyday duffers, and it is not just this course, but dozens of other desirable layouts across the region and around the country.
“It’s hot, but at least it’s not raining,” said Kieran Bell, a high school teacher from upstate New York who flew out west to stretch his golfing dollars on his summer break. Bell noted that unlike many of the world’s most desirable golf destinations in peak season, the weather here is reliably dry and virtually guarantees you can play every day. It’s also gloriously bug-free, an unheralded but valuable added benefit. Bell was playing 36 for most of his visit because “there are all these clubs here like this one [TPC Scottsdale] with two good courses, and if you play both it’s even cheaper.” As for the heat: “I just drink a lot of water and I’m taking a cart. I walk at home.”
While most vacation travelers view Scottsdale as a place to escape from cold winters, an increasing number of hardy golf lovers like Bell are making the trip from spring through fall to play high quality fantasy courses on a very realistic budget. There are six courses around the city that make Golf Magazine’s vaunted Top 100 You Can Play, including two different 36-hole facilities with both courses ranked in the nation’s Top 50, We-Ko-Pa and Troon North. Beyond that, there are dozens of acclaimed designs showcasing the unique beauty of Arizona’s Sonoran desert, making Scottsdale an epic golf destination at any time of year.
But in hot season — a third of the year — all are steeply discounted, with routine savings of 60% to 80%, and sometimes even more if you sign up for individual course emails and take advantage of last-minute special deals.
One of the highlights on Bell’s itinerary was We-Ko-Pa, arguably Arizona’s finest public facility, which in winter commands $235 a round for either course. He paid $125 to play both in a day, less than third of the regular rate, while the summer price for one round is $75. He was also playing 36 at Talking Stick, another highly acclaimed Scottsdale two-course facility that’s part of a full-service resort and casino complex.
For the combination of price, quality and breadth of choices, it’s nearly impossible to beat Scottsdale when it comes to bargain greens fees, but there’s more to the equation. The region is packed with luxury hotels and resorts that can easily run over $500 a night in season. In summer, these same four- and five-star properties struggle to attract guests even with deep discounts. For instance, peak winter room rates for golfers start at $674 nightly at the posh Four Seasons at Troon North. In summer, this drops to $204.
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, the official resort of the TPC facility, offers a summer golf package from $316 per couple that includes lodging and golf for two on a choice of several top-tier courses including the TPC or Grayhawk’s Top 100-ranked Talon, with ground transfers. That’s less than just one person’s peak season golf at the TPC.
With 36 exquisite holes and lodging in spacious private casitas, The Boulders — which was just extensively renovated — has long been one of the nation’s most famed luxury golf resorts, with two excellent desert courses. It rolls out the bargain red carpet with a $239 package that includes golf, room and lunch — for two. “During Phoenix Open week we get $275 a round, and now it’s $55 after 9 a.m., including golf cart,” said Ryan McKay, the Boulders director of golf.
These kinds of savings are widely available at top golf courses and resorts all across the region from mid-May to mid-September, and at the same time, restaurants and attractions are less crowded, there is less traffic, and everything is more accessible. “Everyone leaves after Mother’s Day and peak season doesn’t start again until Halloween,” said Jerry Rose, a lifetime local and golf marketing consultant. “Our Top 100 courses all get over 200 dollars in season but now you can play for 50 bucks.”
Scottsdale is certainly the most dramatic example of a destination packed with top-ranked and big-name courses that offers steep off-season bargains, but it is hardly the only one. Pretty much all hot weather golf spots that are busier in winter lower prices in summer, from Florida to Texas to Las Vegas (Orlando is a notable exception because the theme parks draw summer crowds). “It’s a great opportunity for golfers to play the courses they’ve seen on TV or read about in magazines that are very highly rated, with savings that can be more than half of the in-season rates. But it’s not just the savings: In the off season you can usually get around quickly with little or no waiting,” said Kris Strauss, senior vice president of Troon Golf, the nation’s largest golf course management company, operating more than 270 courses worldwide.
The 36-hole Streamsong resort in central Florida, between Orlando and Tampa, may be just a few years old, but it has fast become a must-play for traveling golfers. The two links-style courses by renowned architects Tom Doak and Ben Crenshaw both immediately cracked the Top 15, making them the first and second highest rated public courses in the entire Sunshine State. The resort gets $255 a round for either in winter, but from June 1 to Nov. 30, prices drop by more than 50%, with a walk-up rate of $125 and resort guest (or Florida resident) rate of just $85. An even better special summer package offers unlimited golf, with cart, plus accommodations, for just $150 per person nightly (double occupancy) and if you book two a third night is free.
Travel to the Caribbean drops off precipitously in summer — it is hurricane season after all — and so do golf rates. The region’s most famous resort, Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, is home of the Caribbean’s highest rated course, the Pete Dye-designed Teeth of the Dog, and two more acclaimed Dye layouts. Case de Campo just unveiled an unlimited golf package with luxury accommodations, breakfast daily and all the golf you can play from $169 per night.
Las Vegas is more erratic because pricing ebbs and flows with big conventions, but in general summer greens fees are discounted by as much as 50% to 75%. For example, from late May through the end of August, the luxury JW Marriott Summerlin’s golf package includes a room and round at the highly desirable TPC Lass Vegas, host of the city’s annual PGA Tour event, from $159 per person including transfers. Peak golf rates at the TPC run $250 with no lodging. In addition, the city is rife with twilight specials, 36-hole replay deals and stay and play packages, and has several local companies that specialize in liquidating unsold tee times within 48 hours at even bigger discounts, including GolfNow.com, LastMinuteGolfer.com and LVTeeTimes.com.
If cold weather is more your cup of tea, there’s a flip side to off-season bargains. Year-round destinations that are busier in summer go the opposite route and discount heavily when wintertime comes. These tend to be northerly locations that stay open year-round, such as in the Pacific Northwest or Mid-Atlantic, or southern spots that are beach destinations popular in summer.
Hilton Head Island, S.C. — the world’s first master-planned vacation community — is a great example of winter deals. There are around 40 courses on the island and in neighboring Blufton, many of them highly ranked and by famous designers, and winter weather can be great for golf. But it’s cool for the beach, and families are in school, and these are the island’s big tourism draws, so prices plummet, despite many full-service resorts, great restaurants and lots of non-golf attractions.
“Harbour Town is a perfect example of the off-season bargain,” said Brandon Tucker, the Golf Channel’s managing editor for travel and courses. “It’s a course every golf fan wants to play, but it costs $300. In winter, it’s $280 — with a hotel room thrown in.” A true fantasy round and one of the longest running PGA Tour venues (40 years), Harbor Town Golf Links is ranked in the nation’s Top 10, known for the iconic candy-striped lighthouse on its dramatic coastal finish. It’s the priciest on the island, and lots of other great Hilton Head courses go for far less in winter.
Oregon’s Bandon Dunes, the resort that famously bumped Pebble Beach from its longtime perch atop the rankings (Pebble has since moved back to No. 1 on Golf Magazine’s list, with Bandon’s Pacific Dunes course at No. 2), has the greatest collection of true links golf this side of the British Isles, and the finest array of standout courses of any U.S. resort, with four ranked in the nation’s Top 12 (no other resort has more than one). All four are fantasy rounds and all have high season summer rates of $275 — if you stay overnight — or $325 for outside play. In January, that drops by more than two-thirds to $85 ($100 for non-guests), with a 36-hole rate of just $130, while rooms are heavily discounted as well. I visited Bandon a few years ago for a long weekend around Valentine’s Day and it was surprisingly mild for place that can be rough even in summertime.
Some bucket-list courses are so desirable they do not discount even when the weather is at its worst, such as California’s Pebble Beach and Las Vegas’ Shadow Creek, which vie for the distinction of the highest greens fees in the country at $500 or more. Another in this league is Pinehurst Number Two, the nation’s third highest ranked and most historically rich layout, which gets peak rates of $460. Pinehurst is the nation’s largest golf resort with nine courses, and sort of has it both ways: Rooms and golf on the other eight courses drop by roughly 40% or more starting in November through winter, but prices on famed Number Two move much less, and it’s impossible to play for less than $300.
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