Cast your gaze in almost any direction from downtown Scottsdale and you’ll see ribbons of emerald turfgrass artfully woven through cacti, boulders, wildflowers and desert scrub. With so many scenic courses to choose from close at hand, it might seem needless to drive an hour east to Gold Canyon Golf Resort. But although south Scottsdale lies in the shadow of Camelback Mountain and north Scottsdale overlooks the McDowell Range, only the small city of Gold Canyon sits at the base of the Superstitions, one of Arizona’s most amazing mountainscapes.
If not for its out-of-the-way location, the resort would enjoy trophy-course status for Dinosaur Mountain, the finer of its two eighteens. Yet the journey there is part of the fun. After driving half an hour east of Mesa along Route 60, you reach a juncture in the road. To the left is the Apache Trail, which heads toward Tortilla Flat, the storied camping ground for prospectors. (Legend has it that hidden in this hardscrabble land is a treasure of gold, the Lost Dutchman’s Mine—and for more than a century people have searched obsessively for it.) To reach Gold Canyon, stay on Route 60 until you start to make out lush green swaths climbing the arid slopes.
"Are those golf holes?" one of my companions asked as we approached the resort. I nodded, but he remained unconvinced.
What had caught his eye were the opening holes of Dinosaur Mountain, so named because the course abuts an outcropping that resembles a stegosaurus. Ken Kavanaugh, the course designer, recalls that when he first saw the property it reminded him of a fantasy golf calendar with holes playing across the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. In his routing, Kavanaugh decided to create drama right from the start: The short par-four first marches uphill in the shadow of the mountain, followed by a plunging par three.
Although home construction has compromised the course’s once-unencumbered views of the Superstitions, with the elevation changes and the sheer size of the mountains, there are still plenty of vistas that evoke the wilderness of the old Southwest.