THE ART AND SOUL OF SCOTTSDALE

With seasonal tenacity, Canadians endure waist high winter snow-drifts, salt trucks and sub-zero wind chills that blow in like the Starship Enterprise set to warp speed. It is a tradition that defines us. Yet while Canadians are built winter tough, we’re not all built winter tolerant.

A growing number of Canadians are shedding their winter woolies and heading for the arid climate of Scottsdale, Arizona. According to the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, Canadians make up the largest international-visitor market in Scottsdale that relies heavily on tourism for its tax dollars.

What is it about this desert community that appeals to the Snowbirds of the north? As an annual repeat guest to the Valley of the Sun, I can honestly say – absolutely everything!

Scottsdale is an affluent community with roots that date back to the Hohokum civilization between 800 and 1400 AD. Spread over 478 square kilometers in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert, it is a health and wellness enclave that delivers 320 days of Vitamin D rejuvenating sunshine to visitors seeking refuge from the depths of Canadian winter.

Boasting over 200 city and surrounding area golf courses, including the PGA course at the TPC Scottsdale; 50 plus day and resort spas; and 70 plus hotels and resorts with a combined capacity of 14,700 rooms, it is easy to see why more Canadians are choosing this slice of desert reprieve for a quick pick-me up or an extended stay to ride out the winter months.

Over the past several years, Scottsdale’s steady growth of trendy, hip-clubs, upscale restaurants, and luxury shopping, has made it a favourite destination for the style-conscious travel set. The thriving Scottsdale art scene has also transitioned, evolving from predominantly Native American portraits and landscapes to a diverse offering of artists and mediums. As one of the world’s foremost art communities, Scottsdale has more art galleries per capita than almost any other US city.

With the recent expansion of events, public art walks, and artist-friendly bars, the city has become a popular hub for art-aficionado’s and artists alike. However, unbeknown to both foreigners as well as a surprising number of locals, Scottsdale supports a sub-culture of art and communal artists living in unassuming compounds committed to the preservation of the artist and their work.

Cattle Track Arts Compound is one such hidden treasure spread over 13 acres in the heart of contemporary suburban Scottsdale. Established in the 1920s by Rachael and George Ellis, the bohemian complex supports a multi-dimensional community of artists who are ‘invited’ into the compound based on their spirit to work and create. Comprised of 11 buildings, 40 percent of which are made from recycled and reclaimed materials, Cattle Track’s infrastructure is fixed in a time warp of austerity, void of streetlights, gutters, paved roads and sidewalks.

Thanks to the incredible Ace Bailey, Professional Tour Guide for the City of Scottsdale, I had the pleasure of experiencing Cattle Track and meeting its residents as a welcome guest in their home. Working inside the compound are photographers, printmakers working from old-fashioned letterpresses, a blacksmith (the oldest living resident artist), painters, and our host and property manager, the highly acclaimed Mark McDowell, etc. There are no words to describe the living soul of Cattle Track; it has to be experienced first hand in order to fully appreciate the brotherhood upon which it was built and the essence that continues to drive its creative energy.

If art isn’t your scene – no worries: Scottsdale offers a plethora of activities and opportunities for the sun loving, spa indulging, shopping, and entertainment enthusiast. Without a doubt, a day at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess’ Well and Being At Willow Stream Spa is a rewarding and rejuvenating treat. With an extensive menu of spa and fitness amenities and services available, the 4-star Forbes rated, fully integrated wellness oasis is decadence refined.

Where to eat in Scottsdale? Easy. Dining in Scottsdale is an eclectic cornucopia of local fare and internationally inspired cuisine. The tableside guacamole at The Mission is a favourite, the duck fat fries at Bourbon Steak are outstanding, and the Cobb Salad at Cowboy Ciao is a must. For a more sophisticated comfort food offering, Citizen Public House is a staple for locals and a welcoming retreat for travelers.

Located in the heart of ‘touristcentric’ Old Scottsdale, Citizen is a relaxed, low-key hotspot whose hospitality and service is off the charts. Its raw and genuine appeal is enhanced by the rhythm and blues piped through the sound-system. There is nothing contrived about Citizen. The menu is simple and there are no specials because according to the wait staff, ‘everything on the menu is special.’ Two thumbs up for Citizen – everything was delectable. I highly recommend the bacon flavoured popcorn and their signature pork-belly pastrami; it was crazy delicious.

Citizen Public House is also the site of a growing concept of modern-mixology clubs fashioned after the Speakeasy’s of the prohibition era. Citizen’s R&D is a 32 seat, back-alley mixology lounge that offers patrons a choice of 40 signature cocktails, rotated bi-weekly, and prepared by a staff of seasoned mixologists. Described as an intricate and crafty cocktail lounge, R&D operates on a word-of-mouth system – no ads, no gimmicks.

And, of course there is golf. For the golf enthusiast, Scottsdale is a virtual wonderland of greens. In order to afford the city its due diligence as a golfer’s paradise, Preferred Magazine engaged the services of Wooden Sticks Golf-pro, Steve Wilson to play a few rounds. Here is his take:

Standing on the 16th tee at the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale can be a little unnerving. The ‘Loudest Hole in Golf’ is a somewhat short par 3 with minimal penalties for errant shots, and shouldn’t be that intimidating. But throw in over 179,000 screaming fans during the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and suddenly you’ll feel the pressure.  The grandstands were empty in mid-November, but as my caddie and I checked and double-checked yardages and wind, it became obvious to me how daunting this shot would be with so many critics.  Fortunately my well-struck 9-iron found the putting surface, and in keeping with tradition, my playing partners cheered enthusiastically.

Such was my introduction to desert golf…day 1 of my visit and I’m thrown to the wolves (or coyotes in this case!)  Actually, it was the perfect way to start.  I had heard that playing in this part of the country was all the same…hit a fairway or go rattlesnake hunting. That certainly wasn’t the case here. Generous and well-sculptured fairways and green complexes merge perfectly with the desert. Make no mistake, the Stadium Course will test you at every turn, but it will also allow for some errors.  You need to play this course, and not just for the rush of playing where the Tour plays.  You will want to experience the truly great practice facility for a real warm-up, and indulge in the impressive, knowledgeable staff that understand what golfers want and seem to be at arm’s length when you need them, and invisible when you don’t. The golf course speaks for itself, and is a marvelous design that won’t destroy your confidence with every swing. The course was in magnificent condition and played beautifully, even though there had been a significant amount of rain prior to my visit.

After visiting the ‘must play’ on day 1, I decided to be a little more adventurous and test my skills against a somewhat tighter layout, the Pinnacle Course at Troon North.  A five-minute shuttle from the Four Seasons, Troon North has that true desert ‘feel’.  The fairways are also generous here, but only a sliver of rough will save an errant shot from the cacti and Jumping Cholla that are in play on virtually every hole.  The opening tee shot requires a well-placed ball, so a driver may not be the right choice. An emphasis on the strategy of the game comes heavily into play for essentially every shot. As the course winds slightly uphill for the first few holes, spectacular views of Scottsdale become a distinctly pleasant distraction. Troon is very much ‘target golf’ with very challenging, although generous greens, that will test your mind as well as your abilities.  Conditioning was outstanding, and I found reading those tricky greens to be a real task.  The Starter gave me a quick hint prior to the round….everything breaks towards the town.  I probably should have paid more attention!

Day 3 and I found myself at the toughest test in this short visit, The Boulders club at the Waldorf Astoria.  After playing at Troon North, I believed that I was fairly prepared for what lay ahead.  The opening tee shot on the South course (the North course was set up for a member event), sets the tone for the rest of the day, as it requires a perfectly placed tee shot to have any opportunity of getting on the green with your approach.  The layout of the South Course is outstanding, each hole asking you to maneuver tee shots from both sides while controlling your distances to the well defined landing areas.  Each green features significant contouring, with opportunities for multiple pin positions so simply firing at the flag is not necessarily the best option. I absolutely loved playing here. The challenge of the course combined with pristine conditions, the raw beauty of the desert rising into the rock formations, and the very friendly and accommodating staff made for a great day. Oh, and try the Smokehouse Burger in The Grill Restaurant….fantastic!

My 3-day weekend in Scottsdale was a golfer’s dream. With nearly 200 courses to choose from in the greater Scottsdale and surrounding area, the city is the perfect destination for any level of player. If you have never been, a weekend in Scottsdale is a definite must for any ‘Golf Bucket List’.

So, whether it’s golf that get’s you going, or you are in need of a little R&R, or it is culture that you crave, Scottsdale, Arizona is the Canadian friendly destination community ready to welcome you,