Desert Forest Golf Club is located at altitude in Carefree, Arizona, to the north of Phoenix and it was one of the earliest desert-style courses ever built. Desert Forest was fashioned in 1962 by Robert "Red" Lawrence who went on to shape numerous other courses in the American Southwest, consequently becoming known as “The Desert Fox” of golf course architecture.
Perched at 2,500 feet, Desert Forest offers welcome cool from the arid desert heat and the 7,035-yard course is routed over the landscape rather than through it with virtually no earth moving having taken place. The effect of this thoughtful routing has created a natural layout which rests in perfect harmony with its surroundings.
Desert Forest is unusual in that there are no ugly cart paths nor out-of-bounds markers. Missing also are fairway bunkers (they are redundant here) and there’s just one water hazard which must be avoided on the par three 3rd. Instead the golfer has carpeted Bermuda grass playing surfaces (bent grass greens), natural rock formations and the desert to contend with. It makes a pleasant and welcome change from the norm to play this spontaneous layout from either the immaculate surfaces or the desert itself.
At this altitude the Desert Forest topography is deliciously rolling with the natural valleys and peaks being used to maximum effect. Meghan Bolger won the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship here at Carefree in 2007, but following in her footsteps is not easy. Desert Forest is strictly private and exclusive, with membership levels set at about 250 you’ll need to befriend one in order to tee it up here.
I love this course for its purity. The routing is fantastic which gives the player the choice of walking, pull cart, EPC, caddy or cart. The greens (hybrid bentgrass) are perfect and the fairways (bermuda) are the proper width knowing there is desert on either side (no fairway bunkers needed). Very challenging, but not punitive and the views of Black Mountain are majestic. Small, old-school clubhouse - just the way the members want it. With so many different tees, it makes it playable for a wide variety of golfers. The members I played with were classy, understated and great players!
If you love golf course architecture then you’ll appreciate Desert Forest. It makes you think on each and every shot but it’s also honest and straightforward with everything laid out in front of you. It’s an easy walk (and yes you can walk here and leave the cart behind) but it’s tough as nails and be prepared to lose a few balls in the desert bush. Simply wonderful.