Eye off THE BALL

Scotts­dale: amaz­ing food, lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tions and great golf

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - DESTINATIONS - By Steve Lyons

SCOTTS­DALE, Ariz — In ret­ro­spect, my pre­vi­ous vis­its here had per­haps been rather my­opic — play­ing golf, get­ting ready to play golf, shop­ping for golf clothes, and well, think­ing about the re­cently com­pleted round of golf and then of course the next day’s game of golf. This time, I de­cided to take my eye OFF the ball. Turns out there’s more to Scotts­dale than chas­ing af­ter that lit­tle white ball. Don’t get me wrong — if you’re look­ing to hit the links, Scotts­dale knows few ri­vals. The city is blessed with more than 325 days of sun­shine each year and has about 200 cour­ses in the area, of­fer­ing lay­outs that range from rolling green fair­ways of tra­di­tional cour­ses to the lat­est in mod­ern desert tar­get-golf de­signs. You want to es­cape the cold and white stuff in the middle of a Win­nipeg win­ter and play some golf? The Scotts­dale-Phoenix area is se­cond to none. But, if you’re look­ing to branch out and give the clubs (and your nerves) a break there are other rea­sons to visit this desert get­away. Mark Twain is fa­mously quoted as say­ing ‘Golf is a good walk spoiled.’ There’s not a lot of walk­ing done on golf cour­ses th­ese days (most places in­sist on you tak­ing a cart), so if you are in fact look­ing for a great walk through some very un­spoiled land­scape, then get your run­ners or trail shoes on and ex­plore the Sono­ran Desert. And af­ter a day on the trails, there are plenty of great places in the area to sat­isfy your hunger for food and per­haps soothe your toes with a lit­tle R and R. I was col­lected by my guide Steve (Spro the Pro) Sproviero from Ari­zona Out­back Ad­ven­tures (aoa-ad­ven­tures. com) at 7 a.m. A lit­tle ear­lier than I would nor­mally be ready for golf, but no sweat. The hook was, I was ad­vised the desert was not only cooler at that time of the day, but the scenery was more im­pres­sive.

Not that I’m try­ing to avoid the heat — it’s De­cem­ber and -20 C back home! A half-hour drive and we have es­caped the hus­tle and bus­tle of Scotts­dale proper and are pass­ing through the gates of the McDow­ell Sono­ran Pre­serve. Es­tab­lished in 1995, the pre­serve of­fers more than 30,000 acres of do-it-your­self or guided out­door ad­ven­tures — in­clud­ing hik­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, rock climb­ing and horse­back rid­ing. Our three­hour morn­ing trek was on foot and Steve pro­vided ter­rific in­sight into the area that over­flows with tow­er­ing mesas, soli­tary saguaros and ex­otic wildlife. Ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional fel­low hiker and a few folks on bikes, the over­whelm­ing feel­ing I got was... peace and quiet. The Sono­ran Desert is un­like most in that it re­ceives rain­fall twice a year rather than once, pro­duc­ing a much greener land­scape and an abun­dance of flora — more than 2,000 na­tive plant species in fact. There are about 300 kilo­me­tres of hik­ing, bik­ing and horse­back-rid­ing trails criss­cross­ing Scotts­dale. Other no­table places to check out the unique ter­rain in the area in­clude Camel­back Moun­tain (great views of the Val­ley of the Sun), Pin­na­cle Peak and The Boul­ders Re­sort (www. the­boul­ders.com), where 1.4-bil­lion-year-old rock for­ma­tions in a foothills set­ting pro­vide hik­ers and bik­ers with stun­ning scenery. And if you are feel­ing ex­tra ad­ven­tur­ous, Scotts­dale is within day-trip dis­tance to a cou­ple of world-fa­mous hik­ing spots — the red rocks of Se­dona or the won­ders of the Grand Canyon — maybe next time. Am I ever hun­gry af­ter that. While cow­boy-themed steak­houses and Amer­i­can­ized-Mex­i­can are what first comes to mind, Scotts­dale in fact has a bur­geon­ing food­ies scene and of­fers a wide ar­ray of culi­nary op­tions apres hike. Over my nu­mer­ous trips to the area, I have en­joyed too many great meals to chron­i­cle here, but my most re­cent visit served up a cou­ple of no­table men­tions — and not what I would have an­tic­i­pated. The best cala­mari I have ever eaten was in a small vil­lage on the Aegean Sea on the Greek is­land of Les­bos. Since that ex­pe­ri­ence I have al­ways passed on the dish, feel­ing it would never be as good as that Au­gust evening in 2001. I tried to ex­plain this stan­dard to my waiter at the The Spot­ted Don­key Can­tini, but he per­sisted — in­sist­ing this sam­pling of cala­mari would change my mind. Yep, he was right: Filet de Cala­mari Frito — ten­der morsels of squid panko-crusted and served with a va­ri­ety of chipo­tle sauces — was ex­tra­or­di­nary and has bro­ken the ties on my cala­mari em­bargo. It was ex­plained to me the head chef was not only al­lowed to spe­cial or­der the cala­mari, but he also plucked only the finest pieces for this house spe­cialty. Voted the best Mex­i­can restau­rant in the Greater Phoenix area, the Spot­ted Don­key is ad­ja­cent to the Boul­ders Re­sort, and a great spot to re-nour­ish af­ter a hike or — yes, a round of golf at The Boul­ders’ two 18-hole cour­ses that me­an­der through the breath­tak­ing land­scape in the area. So, if it wasn’t sur­pris­ing enough to dis­cover this amaz­ing cala­mari dish in the desert, it was equally un­likely to be served up one of the tasti­est lob­ster dishes I’ve been blessed to en­joy at an­other Scotts­dale din­ing stal­wart. (Lis­ten, I was born in Nova Sco­tia — we take our lob­ster se­ri­ously). Lo­cated in­side the Westin Kier­land Re­sort (kier­lan­dresort.com), De­seo (mean­ing de­sire in Span­ish) show­cases Nuevo Latino cui­sine. Grilled meats and fish cooked in rich and mouth-wa­ter­ing mari­nades and sauces high­light the main cour­ses, but it’s the ce­viche ap­pe­tiz­ers that draw many of the din­ers and one that brings them back over and over again is the lob­ster

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The Boul­ders kolf Club winds through pre­his­toric

rock for­ma­tions.

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