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Phoenix-Scottsdale: Must play golf in the East Valley

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Most golfers who come to Arizona for a few rounds head up to north Scottsdale, where world-ranked courses are as plentiful as the saguaro cactus.

But if they set their GPS for the East Valley -- Tempe, Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, Apache Junction, etc. -- they won't be disappointed. There are dozens of quality golf courses in the area. Some green fees are pricey, but others won't put much of a dent in the wallet.

Here are just a few to put on the itinerary.

Dinosaur Mountain at Gold Canyon Golf Resort

Gold Canyon Golf Resort is a bit of a haul -- it's about a 45-minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport -- but it's well worth the trip. The par-71, 6,653-yard Dinosaur Mountain Course at Gold Canyon has been ranked as one of the top 10 underrated courses in the country by Sports Illustrated.

The course, which features six par 3s, winds its way through the Superstition Mountains, and designer Ken Kavanaugh took advantage of the spectacular scenery and elevation change. Several of the tee boxes are set on cliffs, and it's not unusual to have a 60-foot drop from tee to green.

The par 3s make the course. Three of them are more than 200 yards, and the drop from the no. 2 tee to the green is 80 feet. Club selection, as one can imagine, is paramount.

One tip: Keep the ball below the hole. Putts rolling down from the mountain are treacherously fast.

Superstition Mountain Golf & C.C. in Apache Junction

There may not be a more picturesque setting for golf in the Valley than Superstition Mountain, which sits, naturally, at the base of the Superstition Mountains.

Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club was once a private club, so everything about it is first class, from the clubhouse to the facilities to the courses themselves. Even Ben Crenshaw was impressed, saying, 'These greens are as good if not better than any I have ever played.'

Superstition Mountain features two 18-hole layouts: The Prospector Course, a 7,225-yard par 72 that for years hosted an LPGA event, and the Lost Gold Course, a 7,351-yard par 72. Jack Nicklaus designed both courses, but the conditions aren't as difficult as some of his other Valley courses, which feature narrow fairways, forced carries and elevated greens.

Both courses are playable; the fairways wide and the greens inviting to bump-and-run shots.

Red Mountain Ranch Country Club in Mesa

Red Mountain Ranch Country Club, located in northeast Mesa, is one of the Valley's hidden gems. It was designed by Pete Dye in 1986 and is unlike many of the desert courses in the area.

The big difference: It's length, or lack of it. The par 72 plays only 6,653 yards long. In addition, there's little sand or water. But Dye countered those benign characteristics with mounding borrowed from Scottish links courses. The mounding runs through the fairways and is particularly prevalent around the greens.

It's not unusual to stand behind a greenside mound and not be able to see one inch of the putting surface.

The best part about Red Mountain, besides the fact the once-private course is now open to the public: Its prices. They're far lower than many of the resort courses in the area, and a great buy to play a Pete Dye design.

Ocotillo Golf Resort in Chandler

The first hint that Ocotillo isn't your typical desert course: There's water, and lots of it.

The resort, which is located in south Chandler and features 27 holes, more resembles a typical Florida layout with its waterfalls, floral arrangements and palm trees than it does an Arizona course.

Water comes into play on 23 of the 27 holes. It's particularly plentiful on Ocotillo's Blue Course, where it shadows fairways and greens on eight of the nine holes.

Ocotillo isn't as elegant as, say, Superstition Mountain, but tee times can be had for $40, and it's a pleasure not to have to trudge through desert to find your ball every other hole.

Longbow Golf Club in Mesa

Longbow Golf Club turns the real estate axiom -- location, location, location -- on its head. Located in east Mesa, Longbow is adjacent to an industrial park and in the flight path of Falcon Field Airport.

Fortunately, the course makes up for the scenery. Redesigned by Ken Kavanaugh in 2003, Longbow is part-links, part-desert course that has 18 solid, if not spectacular holes. The greens are the most notable characteristic; they're as fast as any putting surfaces in the Valley.

Longbow probably isn't for the golfer who has a couple hundred bucks to spend and wants the best Arizona can offer, but, with tee times as low as $30, it's a terrific alternative to the local munis.

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