SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Even the TSA agent at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport had to ask me, 'Scottsdale? Why didn't you go to Vegas?'
I've had to explain the reason for selecting my bachelor party destination a handful of times over the past couple months. My answer was this: with most of my group having been veterans of a Las Vegas bachelor party weekend, the appeal to Scottsdale was that we could get warm weather, pools, golf and bars -- but things probably wouldn't go over the top, as the 24/7 entertainment of Vegas has a way of triggering.
After all, we're in our 30s now, and no one wanted to go home to their better halves explaining why next month's mortgage payment may be late.
Summer golf courses great for groups around Phoenix-Scottsdale
Raven Golf Club Phoenix, minutes from Sky Harbor Airport.
Yes, early September isn't exactly prime time on southwestern desert golf courses. But if you're willing to endure 100-degree temps, the reward is bargain tee times on wide open courses that were in surprisingly green and lush shape. Over-seeding doesn't occur on most courses until late September or early October, so we had our pick of just about every course in town.
We started at Raven Golf Club Phoenix, which was a perfect spot to play on arrival day since the airport is just 10 minutes away. It's a course I played last winter and really enjoyed as part of an O.B. Sports event, and it was good to see it's summer look is great, too. The layout has wide, rolling fairways and huge greens. Some of us hadn't played in awhile, so the idea of a target-style desert course wasn't appealing. While we sat in our shady carts drinking a mix of sports drinks and beer, we looked a fairway over and saw a single hoofing it in 100-plus degree heat. That surely wouldn't be us this week.
On day two, we headed north to Kierland Golf Club, part of the Westin Kierland Resort and always known to sport some of the best conditions and amenities in town to go with a resort-style, player-friendly layout. 27-hole Kierland has a layout that, particularly on the Acacia nine, has some really cool shots that made for a fun afternoon of skins, long drives and closest to the pin games. It's pretty easy to be talked into a margarita by the beverage cart gals who have pre-mixed taps ready to pour (nursing a beer in 100-degree sun generally means the final few sips taste like bath water). Troon Golf-managed courses like Kierland have recently been rolling out 'Time Par' for their facilities that promotes a swift pace of play. When you're out on a 105-degree afternoon however, it's easy to keep the ball hunts brisk and be generous with conceding three-footers.
On Friday, we wrapped up our golf portion of the trip with a two-team scramble on Talking Stick's North Course. Each course at Talking Stick is well-suited for groups with a few novice golfers in tow. Fairways here, like most Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw designs, are monstrous (there is no rough, just fairways and desert areas), which lessens the possibility of someone's weekend getting ruined by a 'jumping cholla.' Greens are large and rolling with plenty of room to run up shots from the fairways. Yet, there is good hole variety, particularly on holes like the double-fairway 12th (named 'Red Mountain Gambler') a favorite hole for scramble strategy. There are only two par 5s, which lessens the birdie chances a bit. But considering my team shamefully bogeyed the par-5 17th hole (don't ask), I suppose we can't complain. Our two teams shot equal 3-under 67s, called it a 'truce' and were off to Old Town Scottsdale for the night.
The crew after playing to a scramble draw at Talking Stick.
Nightlife in Scottsdale's Old Town and lodging at Talking Stick
We chose to make Talking Stick Resort our base for the week for a variety of reasons, mainly because it was a better value than downtown Scottsdale and lot to do onsite, including golf and 24-hour gaming. Some folks in my group lamented the lack of live craps and roulette in Arizona casinos (there are video versions), but the rows of blackjack tables made up for it.
The centerpiece of the non-golfing activities of the weekend centered around the resort's weekend Release Pool Party series which runs through the end of September and attracts a good crowd. For the football-obsessed folks in my group, reserving a poolside cabana meant we had a front row seat to the pool, plus a DirecTV feed that got us any college football game we wanted Saturday afternoon. Between the scenery around the pool and the games on TV, there wasn't a better place to be in town for awhile. We kept our waitress busy for six hours, ordering everything from buckets of beer to margaritas and quesadillas. I don't trust my camera phone much near bodies of water, but this resort-made video on Labor Day just about sums up the vibe:
It seems that during summertime, the majority of the crowd in Scottsdale is in the 'staycation' mode. Bachelorette parties are in abundance, which makes an easy ice breaker for us tourist folk. Even on what we thought would be a relatively slow weekend after Labor Day, lines were out the door at many bars, so I'd recommend going early. A lot of bars, even the ones that seem relatively casual, can get shoulder-to-shoulder by midnight and getting a table requires a reservation.
The epicenter of the scene is 'Whiskey Row' in Old Town, a compact block with a handful of large, open-air bars that pound music. At Dierk Bentley's Whiskey Row, country clad gals dance on the bar pouring out shots, and there's also a stage elevated above the bar that shows bands on the weekends. A few other bars were worth venturing a few blocks from here elsewhere in Old Town, like American Junkie, which has a most festive crowd, indoor/outdoor setup and good tunes.
American Junkie is a good spot to end the night, but a few other spots are good for starting it off. Patties is an Irish pub with shuffleboard and ping-pong, while The Lodge has corn hole, darts, pool, Golden Tee and Big Buck Hunter. In the streets, 8-seater golf carts serve as a cheap and efficient method of transportation between spots in Old Town; the drivers work on tips and are easy to spot.
Getting us back and forth from Talking Stick was a free hotel shuttle that runs guests downtown every hour until 2 a.m. In fact, the driver offered to zip us around personally for a few hours both Friday and Saturday so we could bounce around the city at will, while leaving our rental car we needed for golf parked all weekend. Besides gratuity, it didn't cost us a thing.
By Sunday morning, as we gathered for one last breakfast, our entire group was quite knackered. Myself, and I'm guessing everyone else, was ready to head home to our better halves -- and that's the point of a successful bachelor party, right?