With thoughts drifting towards possible places to go for next year's holiday, Chris Stratford reports on a top destination in the Sonoran Desert which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
GOLFERS do not, in general, need too much encouragement to seek excuses for an errant shot: a sudden change in the wind's direction, a yell from a player on an adjoining fairway, the jangling of car keys and loose change by a sly opponent.
All will have been used at some stage by the majority of golfers to explain incidences of failure.
But if an opponent claimed he or she was taking a free drop because a coyote had run off with their ball you might suspect they had spent too long out in the sun.
And you might be right, although sunstroke would not be the reason for their claim at The Boulders luxury golf and spa resort in Carefree, just outside Scottsdale in Arizona, but provision within the local rules on the North and South courses which accounts for canine kleptomania.
On my previous golfing trip to Arizona I had seen signs warning of the possibility of rattlesnakes on the course; now I was being told prairie-wolves might be in attendance.
But in case you get the erroneous idea that I deserve some sort of award for braving dangerous golfing terrain on the reader's behalf I should assure you playing the game at The Boulders is among the most relaxing experiences available to the sport's enthusiasts.
The resort is celebrating its 25th anniversary and the accolades gleaned during its quarter-of-a-century lifetime underscore its standing: Golf magazine has ranked the North and South layouts among the USA's top 100 courses, for instance, and Travel and Leisure puts The Boulders, a new addition to The Waldorf Astoria Collection, in the top 10 resorts.
Many other awards have come its way but listing them would not convey the breathtaking beauty of The Boulders which could scarcely have any other appellation given the stunning array of 12-million-year-old rock formations which perforate the Sonoran Desert skyline, some jagged and angular, others smooth and round, all intensely ethereal.
Most of the 36 holes on the championship courses designed by acclaimed architect Jay Morrish have their own granite accumulations and the experience is one of playing golf among an exhibition of modern art installations.
The 'gallery' has as its backdrop the ubiquitous and iconic saguaro cactus, its giant arms seemingly held up in surrender, albeit to no avail at some points on the course – many have golf balls embedded deep in them as a result of misdirected shots.
The courses are testing but an imaginative and intelligent use of a variety of tees ensures that players at the middle and higher end of the handicap scale can respect but not fear the challenge set before them.
And whatever your handicap, each hole is a visual inspiration and while not qualified to offer any golfing advice I would counsel anyone lucky enough to play here to take time out between shots to admire the Arizona panorama.
The feeling of calm and tranquillity attracts a high number of celebrities to The Boulders where they are content in the knowledge that they can enjoy virtual anonymity while being treated with the same degree of attention afforded all its residents.
Accommodation includes 60 villas and 160 casitas – or little houses – which are grouped in village-like clusters. The resort's many amenities include El Pedregal, an outdoor marketplace made up of boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and an amphitheatre.
Chief among El Pedregal's restaurants is the Spotted Donkey Cantina, a lively eatery which manages to embrace the ambience of a sports bar without compromising its overall aim of providing a festival atmosphere in which southwestern and western cuisine – and drink - can be sampled. Great food and great value.
El Pedregal is just a golf cart's drive away while closer to hand are Latilla and Palo Verde, the former offering comfortable and elegant night-time dining and the latter breakfast fare to suit the needs of all residents as they prepare for their day, be it golf, tennis, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing or making use of the Golden Door Spa.
A variety of massages, therapeutic baths, and refreshing treatments are offered plus steam rooms, saunas, and the O'furo, a traditional Japanese bath.
A movement studio provides pilates, yoga, and Tai Chi classes, for all levels and the Golden Door Spa is a haven for both the non-golfer awaiting the return of their partner from the course or the golfer themselves.
The golfer's massage focuses on the neck, shoulders, lower back and hamstrings and with stretching and advanced therapeutic techniques can provide pre-game conditioning or deal with post-game soreness.
Four swimming pools also provide venues for relaxing before and after any of the many activities on offer, and a fitness centre means being thousands of miles away from your local gym is no excuse for not maintaining your daily personal health regime.
The casitas offer a spacious bathroom and shower plus a sumptuous living area although given the climate it is likely most time will be spent on the patio admiring the Sonoran Desert scenery and passing wildlife including numerous birds, rabbits, and the javelina pig. A neighbour's casita was paid an early-morning visit by a bobcat but timing is everything in life, and I had just gone inside after an outdoor breakfast and missed it.
But it is the golf which is likely to appeal most to you, the reader, and the North and South courses provide a myriad of challenges.
The older of the two is the 6,811-yard par 72 North course which weaves its way through the Boulders community and offers spectacular views of Black Mountain. Both courses are built into the desert foothills and the lush tees, fairways and greens are juxtaposed with the strikingly arid desert landscape.
The 6,726-yard par 71 South course, regarded as marginally the more scenic, has holes which are embraced by the boulder formations, including two of the resort's most recognizable features, 'Boulder Pile' and 'Rosie's Rock'.
The environment here is shared with bobcats, rabbits, javelina and the aforementioned coyotes, any of which may be encountered during the search for a wayward shot.
Should you visit the resort's golfing academy beforehand and receive tuition from Yorkshire-born Director of Instruction Donald Crawley, though, you are likely to endure fewer wild slices and wild hooks and therefore not make such a close inspection of the area's wildlife.
As well as hour-long lessons, the academy offers two- and three-day packages, the latter including personalized full swing diagnosis and correction, digital video analysis, short game instruction (chip, pitch, sand, and putting), uneven lies and trouble shots, a three-hour playing lesson and three 18-hole rounds of golf with cart rental.
Just as The Boulders is an apt name for the resort so too is Carefree the most suitable of names for its location: top quality golf in the most relaxing surroundings imaginable.
Factfile on staying at the Boulders
America As You Like It offers seven nights in Scottsdale, Arizona from 1,309 per person. Price includes:
Six nights' accommodation at The Boulders Resort & Golden Door Spa in Scottsdale
Return international flights from Manchester to Phoenix with British Airways
Price is based on two people sharing when departing in February 2011.
For more information please contact America As You Like It on 0208 742 8299
email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.americaasyoulikeit.com.
For more information on holidaying in Arizona visit www.arizonaguide.com or call 0207 367 0938.