By: Andrew Penner
After completing two world-class hikes, filling up a couple of memory cards, playing 18-holes of golf, and throwing back a few tacos and tequilas, I slept like a baby on my final night in the high-desert air of Sedona, Arizona. No, it’s not my typical way of doing things – cramming that much fun into one day – however, I was on a shortened time frame. And, thanks to a disaster of sorts that played out on my last visit to Sedona ten years ago, I had plenty of unfinished business to take care of.
For most people, “taking care of business” in Sedona, which is located approximately 100 miles north of Phoenix, entails rest and relaxation. And, granted, it’s easy to do that here. Many of the tucked-away resorts and upscale hotels that line the main drag come complete with spas, yoga programs, and other health and wellness initiatives.
After all, Sedona is famous for being a “spiritual” epi-center. The legendary vortexes – there are three of them in the area, so they say – are powerful gateways that harbor intense spiritual activity.
And golf, as we all know, has a strong connection to the “spiritual” realms as well. The zen-like qualities of the game are legendary. (Just ask Happy Gilmore and Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy.) So, appropriately, golf and Sedona make for a pretty sweet pairing.
Unquestionably, the golf courses here, which cruise in and around the awesome red-rock mountain formations, are super-scenic campaigns with a generous dose of the “wow” factor. Although there are just three courses in the area – Sedona Golf Resort, Oakcreek Country Club, and Seven Canyons Golf Club – they are all worth playing and each one is decidedly different in character.
And, from a photography perspective (sadly, this was the source of my “disaster” – more on that later), it really doesn’t get much better than Sedona. When you contrast those glowing red rocks with the sweet Sonoran skies, you’ve definitely got some serious photo ops. So, for me, “shooting” in Sedona has a double meaning: golf and photography are two of my favorite things. Needless to say, I had plenty of motivation to visit Sedona that first time. And even more the second time.
The 10th hole at the Sedona Golf Resort – a par-3 that shoots straight toward Cathedral Mountain, one of the prized peaks in the area – is said to be the most photographed hole in the Southwest. Obviously, these claims are impossible to verify, but, regardless, this is a gorgeous golf hole with one of the best backdrops you’ll ever see. And the Sedona Golf Resort, a beautiful resort with a sprawling residential development, is the perfect home base for your visit.
The course here, which is managed by OB Sports, is the poster child for what resort golf should be. The layout, while extremely easy on the eyes, is not overly difficult, not overly long, and not overly narrow, but still presents as a “championship-caliber” test. Even the considerable uphill gains that are made on the front nine are nicely masked, with only a few shots that play decidedly uphill.
Although the postcard-pretty 10th is the main reward, plenty of holes on the homeward half play downhill and end with tricky, tough-to-read greens. In fact, the large, beautifully-shaped putting surfaces are, on top of the epic scenery, the stars of the show.
Just a couple of blocks from the Sedona Golf Resort is the Oakcreek Country Club and another must-play in the area. Oakcreek, a co-design by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Robert Trent Jones Jr., is the oldest course in the area and has a little more “muscle” to it. Depending what you’re looking for, this may or may not be a good thing!
At any rate, meandering through towering pines and featuring bold bunkering and raised greens, the layout is a classic, parkland test that truly emits a “country club” aura. However, although there is a membership base, it’s open to the public seven days a week.
Unfortunately, access to the Seven Canyons Golf Club, a riveting Tom Weiskopf design in a remote region fifteen minutes north of Sedona, is a little trickier. The stunning course, which is enveloped by soaring peaks and red-streaked mesas, was initially an ultra-exclusive private enclave, then fell on tough times and went fully public, and, since 2012, is once again a private establishment. However, thanks to the new ownership group, the nearby Enchantment Resort, the course is accessible for resort guests. Also, members of other clubs can gain access if appropriate protocol is followed. It’s best to call well in advance to see if arrangements are possible. And if you can swing it, your effort will be rewarded as the canyon setting here is truly spectacular. The par-70 layout, which has received many accolades, is the trump card in Sedona.
For me, photographing the other-worldly terrain in this region was also a high priority. Or shall we say, re-photographing that terrain. On my first visit to the region in 2005 it was the famous “shots” at Red Rock Crossing, the location of a number of Hollywood Westerns, as well as Bell Mountain, Courthouse, and Coffee Pot, that captivated me. So, naturally, before and after my rounds I made a considerable effort to photograph these special places.
And then, well, I made the monumental mistake of putting my film into my checked luggage. It was all completely zapped, ruined by the powerful scanners at the airport. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I’ve made quintuple bogies that have made me happier.
Fast forward to 2014 and I had redemption on my mind. So, this time around, after playing my obligatory round of golf, I made sure I found all of the same great locations (as well as some new ones, such as Devil’s Bridge and Doe Mountain) and photographed them all over again. It was like déjà-vu. Except this time I was confident my digital memory cards would withstand the trip. And they did. I have the pictures to prove it.
Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. You can visit him at www.andrewpenner.com