As 18th century poet Robbie Burns insightfully wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” The famous quote came true for me in January when my “well laid plan” was a golf trip to Scottsdale to play some of the area’s renowned courses. It also included attending the annual Waste Management Phoenix Open, a PGA event that attracts many of the world’s best golfers. However, plans collapsed when a mere two hours after my arrival I tripped over a curb and sustained a badly sprained ankle. This ended any possibility of hitting the links–but all was not lost since Scottsdale has plenty to offer beyond fairways and greens. This sun-blessed metropolis in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert just east of Phoenix has a treasure trove of attractions.

Once promoted as “the West’s most Western town,” today the only real traces of the city’s frontier days are Western paintings in up-market galleries and a municipal logo that shows a cowboy riding a bucking bronco. Otherwise, this is a modern day city largely defined by trendy restaurants, luxury shopping, art galleries, sizzling nightlife and an overall sophistication.

Spending limited time in this fast growing city that mixes Old West values with contemporary luxury calls for setting priorities primarily because of the bounty of things to see and do.

Remarkable resorts

My home base for the duration was The Boulders Resort nestled in the foothills of the high Sonoran Desert just north of the city.

This is the kind of outstanding place where you could spend an entire vacation. It’s a desert-inspired resort featuring a large collection of adobe-style casitas and a variety of villas that blend into a sand terrain punctuated by ancient boulder formations. There are eight tennis courts, two championship golf courses and the renowned Golden Door Spa. While The Boulders is an exceptional property, it is not alone.

The city and surrounding area are dotted with a host of excellent places to stay including everything from name brand hotels, stylish boutique properties, dude ranches and a variety of superb golf and spa resorts.

Getting oriented

My one unwavering recommendation about travel to a new destination is to start with a city tour. It provides an overall picture of the place, what it has to offer and what attractions call for exploration. The Scottsdale Trolley Tour is free and introduces riders to various parts of the city including the Old Town district, the Arts District, 5th Avenue shopping and museums. In addition to historical facts, onboard tour guides provide lots of useful information about where to eat, where to dine and what attractions should not be missed.


The New York Times named Scottsdale one of the “hippest and most happening” places in America.

Their reasoning, I assume, is based on the fact the city is dotted with a plethora of hip nightclubs, restaurants and bars plus several fun-spots where visitors can get a taste of the town’s Old West roots. Places like the Rusty Spur Saloon and the Handlebar J Saloon are among venues where visitors can dine, dance and party like cowboys.

However, the city’s after dark entertainment is not limited to adults. It also includes plenty of family oriented options such as a night-vision Hummer tour in the desert where wildlife spotting can include rattlesnakes, wild boars, owls and other desert creatures.

Old Town

Again, the New York Times weighed in on present-day Scottsdale saying that its Old Town (downtown) section as “a desert version of Miami’s South Beach.” Its area of winding streets where 5th Avenue stores have anchored shopping for a half century is home to an extensive collection of unique shops, great restaurants and more than 100 galleries. There are Native American galleries stocked with art and jewellery, together with some of the top fine art galleries in the country. Old Town is definitely the place to buy quality Native American crafts including everything from genuine Navajo rugs to individual pieces of hand-made silver jewellery.

Desert tours

To many Scottsdale visitors, including Canadians, a desert terrain is foreign topography and a chance to explore it often makes their must-do list. There are umpteen outfitters in and around the city offering a great variety of guided forays into the Sonoran Desert.

They include jeep, Hummer and ATV tours led by knowledgeable guides who inform participants about the flora and fauna of the desert. There are also horseback riding tours, target-shooting adventures, hot air ballooning, hiking and even Segway tours over desert sand

Most guides ensure participants finish their tours knowing a lot more about the desert environment than they knew coming in.

Unbeatable golf

While I didn’t get to set foot on a single fairway or green, it would be a tremendous oversight to write about Scottsdale and not talk about its world-class golf. More than 300 days of annual sunshine and a year-round warm climate, contribute to this golf destination’s ranking among the top four in the country. Moreover, hitting the links in desert surroundings is on many a golfer’s bucket list. With a host of courses ranging from premier tracks to good public clubs, it amounts to picking from a fine lot. Among the big name clubs with big reputations is Troon North featuring two 18-hole layouts stretching through the foothills of the Sonoran Desert. This club is considered by some to be the hallmark of the desert golf experience. Certainly not taking a back seat is the TPC Scottsdale where two championship courses provide stunning views of the McDowell Mountains. While the area has a healthy share of trophy courses, there is a good mix of affordable places to play that still provide great desert golf.


For more information and to order a free Scottsdale travel guide call 1-800-782-1117 or go online at

Air Canada has service from Montreal; and Air Canada Vacations has vacations to Scottsdale from Montreal, as does and Gryphon Golf Vacations.

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