As was the case with many of my resorts visits back in the ’80s and ’90s, the first place I ever saw the Boulders was a quarter-page ad in Golf Digest. It was 1985, and I’d just moved from Florida to Orange County, California. I was working as a gopher for a rich guy who would occasionally take me to play golf. I saw the ad with a giant boulder and knew at once I had to play there. The only problem was that an in-season room night, including a round of golf, was a third of my monthly paycheck. The following year in June, they ran the summer special where for just $250 I could get a room, golf and dinner. I set off for Scottsdale the following week with my girlfriend in tow.
Back then, unlike now, Phoenix was a very convenient airport with the rental cars right in the airport, perfect for a quick getaway. We stopped in old Scottsdale for lunch and to wander around the wonderful art galleries. Driving towards Carefree on Scottsdale Road, there was nothing but a desert for miles and miles as soon as you passed Bell Road. We got to the resort around 1:30 p.m., and since it was too early to check-in, I went straight to the pro shop. As the parking lot was empty, I thought it would be no problem getting out. I asked the lady behind the counter for tee-time, “Sure,” she said, looking at her tee sheet, “I can get you out at 7:30 tomorrow morning.”
“What,” I stammered “There’s no one here.”
“Oh my,” she exclaimed, “You want the play now? It’s 110 out there!”
Indeed, I did, as they say, mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. I played all 27 holes in about three hours and filled an entire album with photographs.
I remember how fantastic the casitas were, with their adobe-style furnishings and the beautiful views from our balcony. I marveled at the waterfall that came from the boulders above the pool, and the astonishing varieties of cactus around the resort. I remember how great the food was and what a spectacular time we enjoyed. So spectacular that although we could only afford one night, we stayed three. It took me months to pay for the trip on my meager wages ($1500 a month), but in many ways, that trip was the catalyst that nudged me to set big goals for the future. I’ve always thought that if you want something, you should get a little taste of it — for that little taste can motivate you for years to come as that visit did.
Does the Boulders Still Live Up to Such Lofty Expectations?
I’ve been back to the Boulders a couple of times since, but before they expanded to 36 holes, and before they added all the new homes. These days the drive out to the resort is very different; the urban sprawl that is Scottsdale has made it almost all the way to Carefree. Cactus and desert have been replaced by housing developments and strip malls, but the Boulders remains a tranquil escape from the real world. Often when you have a nostalgic memory in your mind of a long-ago visit to a special place, it doesn’t always live up to your expectations. That was not the case at the Boulders. While it’s no longer the only resort in the desert boasting desert-style golf. The one thing its’ competitors cannot touch, is the stunning natural beauty of the twelve million-year-old rock formations for which the resort is named.
Desert Golf At Its Finest
Both the North and South courses were designed by noted architect Jay Morrish. They include some spectacular panoramic views of the high Sonoran desert, the Black Mountains, and the stunning rock formations. It’s target golf at its finest with islands of tees, greens, and fairways floating in a sea of desert, boulders, and cactus. The fairways are plenty wide enough and the greens large, but you won’t find many balls if you miss either of them. What you will find while hunting for a wayward shot, are bobcat, rabbits, coyotes, javelina, and rattlesnakes.
While all four nines are good, the front nine of the South course is the gem. The 447-yard, par 4, 1st gives you an immediate taste of the visual feast to come as you approach from a raised fairway to a green framed in desert splendor. The 535-yard par 5, 5th, is the resort’s iconic hole with the green set below a group of giant boulders. The next tee is set up among the boulders some 50 feet above the fairway giving a panoramic view of the short par 4, 6th and the casitas of the resort.
A large terrace overlooking the 18th green affords an ideal spot to review your scorecard and your photos, for no matter what you shot with your clubs, you are sure to have some fantastic pictures with your camera.
Golf Not Enough?
The Boulders offer several other exciting activities, including horseback riding in the nearby Tonto National Forest. Sonoran desert tours, hot air ballooning, and rock climbing. Then you can hit the 33,000 square foot, spa, and relax in style.
The Palo Verde restaurant in the main lodge offers indoor and outdoor dining with a Southwestern flair. Owned by the resort, the adjacent El Pedregal, shopping center is just a two-minute walk from the resort and has a collection of charming shops and an excellent Mexican Restaurant, called the Spotted Donkey — it also features 46 varieties of Tequila.
One thing I know for sure after this visit. I won’t wait so long to come back again!
At a Glance
- 36 holes of amazing golf on 1300 acres
- Elegantly appointed accommodations, including a choice of casitas, villas, and haciendas
- Tennis center with 7 courts
- Fitness center and 33,000 sq ft spa
- Four swimming pools, including an adult-only pool
- Stylish shopping center
- Over 50,000 square feet of meeting space, accommodating 10 to 350 guests
- Five unique restaurants and cafes