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The Phoenician resort: A palace in the shadow of Scottsdale's Camelback Mountain

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer
Phoenician resort - Canyon golf course
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A golf tees off on the first hole of the Canyon nine, one of three nine-hole courses at The Phoenician. (Courtesy of The Phoenician)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Everywhere you look, The Phoenician is a true work of art.

Outside is Mother Nature's handiwork. Camelback Mountain towers over the resort. Inevitably, guests find themselves staring up at its rocky features, mesmerized at its grandeur.

Inside, the resort's charms are all man-made -- and only slightly less spectacular. This AAA Five-Diamond resort opened in 1988, but nothing feels out of touch or dated thanks to $80 million in upgrades over the past three years. The whole place sparkles with modern luxury, from the high-end shops, inviting bars, flowing fountains and acres of imported marble. A $25 million art collection adds an air of sophistication.

Who knew staying in the Arizona desert could be so posh?

There's plenty of competition when it comes to golf resorts in the Sonoran Desert. But The Phoenician, owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, always aims to be a step ahead.

Want proof? Just order a drink. The Relish Burger Bistro, which opened inside the golf clubhouse in 2010, boasts the largest selection of tequilas in the state as well as more than 75 styles of beer. The Thirsty Camel, the lobby bar, counters with the largest vodka offering in Arizona.

"The idea is we make it (ordering a drink) an experience, something that can't be replicated," said Denise Seomin, the resort's public relations director.

Trust me, The Phoenician, located just nine miles from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, is one of a kind.

The 643 rooms, including 62 suites and four presidential suites, are all nice, but they're not the reason guests come to this 250-acre oasis. There's endless recreation right out the door. The best is an inspiring hike up Camelback Mountain for views that stretch for miles. The 11-court Tennis Garden remains the only resort in the Southwest with four playing surfaces. There are nine different swimming pools (some are private) throughout the resort, including a 165-foot water slide at the main pool.

The Explorers Activity Center for children features a 72-inch movie screen and another 60-inch screen with a Nintendo Wii. Guests can also explore the Cactus Gardens (home to 250 types of the plant) and feed the colorful fish in Necklace Lake Lagoon.

My favorite sport is zoning out at the Centre for Well-Being. My therapist had a magic touch during a unique treatment, "Barefoot in the Lemongrass," which focused on my legs and lower body. I'm not a fan of spa treatments before playing golf, but this is one that works without interfering with the upper-body muscles of the golf swing.

There's even a "resort within the resort" at the Canyon Suites, home to 20 rooms, 38 suites and two presidential suites. Enhanced services, such as a personal wakeup call with coffee delivered in a sterling silver set, and privacy are signatures of this intimate section of The Phoenician.

More than 120,000 square feet of meeting and event space indoors and out allows flexibility for groups of all sizes. Roughly $40 million was spent to add the Camelback Ballroom in 2010.

The Phoenician: Resort dining

Nine restaurants serve all tastes and all budgets.

The more extravagant date-night dinners come from Il Terrazzo, opened in 2008, and J&G Steakhouse, manned by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Il Terrazzo serves a mix of American and Italian cuisine. For more intimate experiences, The Praying Monk offers Renaissance-inspired setting for small parties, and "Dinner at tee box eight" is a private gourmet meal for two under the stars at the golf course's highest point.

Golfers will drool over the signature burgers and appetizers at Relish. A lighter, family-friendly menu comes at the Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor and the grills at the pools.

Golf at The Phoenician resort

The Phoenician's 27-hole golf course, managed by Troon Golf, was built in phases. Homer Flint built the Oasis and Desert nines. In the 1990s, architect Ted Robinson Sr. added the first seven holes of the Canyon nine and revamped the Desert nine.

There is a bit of disjointedness to the Canyon nine -- there's an awkward cart path through another hole to reach the scenic par-3 eighth -- but this is the one to play. Its canted fairways playfully intermingle with Camelback Mountain, which lends some serious elevation changes. Although less scenic, the Oasis nine is characterized by bunkers and water hazards that hem in a tight layout. The Phoenician doesn't tend to show up on lists of the top golf courses in Arizona. Nevertheless, it's still a fine resort course with scenery and top conditioning on its side.

"It is strategic," said Kelvin Ayers, who played the course while visiting from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. "There are a lot of hazards you've got to think through. There are hidden hazards. You have to look at the (course) map closely."

The Phoenician Golf Academy is available for those who lose too many balls in the desert or ponds.

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Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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