Forthwith, the prickliest, sharpest and most succulent layouts in the desert. These courses aren't just in the desert, they also incorporate desert elements in their design. (Shadow Creek in Las Vegas did not make the list because, although it's built in the desert, it more strongly brings North Carolina to mind.) The best time to play these courses (except Paa-Ko Ridge, which is closed in winter) is from November to March, when daytime temperatures seldom reach higher than the mid-seventies. Bargain hunters, however, can play cheaply in the off-season, when conditions are tolerable if you tee off early, bring plenty of water and don't forget the sunscreen.
1. Pinnacle Course at Troon North Golf Club, Scottsdale, AZ
Architect: Tom Weiskopf, 1996. Yardage/Slope: 7,044/147. Green Fees: $75$240. Tee Times: 480-585-7700.
Pinnacle is more visually dramatic than its older sibling (see 2) and as brutal as it is beautiful. Watch for its granite sculpturing, elevation changes and bunkers galore. Beautiful.
2. Monument Course at Troon North Golf Club, Scottsdale, AZ
Architects: Tom Weiskopf, Jay Morrish, 1990. Yardage/Slope: 7,028/ 147. Green Fees: $75$240. Tee Times: 480-585-7700.
This ultimate desert golf experience features arroyos, saguaros, mesquite, paloverdes and a back nine as sharp and distinct as a rattlesnake bite.
3. Mountain Course at The Lodge at Ventana Canyon, Tucson, AZ
Architect: Tom Fazio, 1984. Yardage/Slope: 6,907/147. Green Fees: $99$199. Tee Times: 800-828-5701.
Fazio claims that the 107-yard par-three third, which cost more than $1 million, is the most expensive hole he ever built. It's as flawless as it is famous.
4. Talon Course at Grayhawk Golf Club, Scottsdale, AZ
Architects: David Graham, Gary Panks, 1994. Yardage/Slope: 6,973/143. Green Fees: $50$225. Tee Times: 480-502-1800.
This former home of the Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf faces the McDowell Mountains and boasts immaculate conditioning and a five-level waterfall.
5. South Course at The Boulders Resort, Carefree, AZ
Architect: Jay Morrish, 1991. Yardage/Slope: 7,007/146. Green Fees: $110$220. Tee Times: 800-553-1719.
The ultimate Flintstone-style target-golf experience. The famed resort's layout is punctuated by huge rock formations, and features forced carries and legions of cacti watching the action. Wil-ma!