Sunset on the Rocks: Golf, dining & relaxation at The Boulders Resort

By Karen Villalpando, 2/07/2013


If you are a golf aficionado, you may have watched Phil Mickelson win the Phoenix Open on Sunday  (the other sporting event that garnered big TV coverage last weekend.)  The Stadium course in Scottsdale looked inviting, but to me, not as remarkable as the golf course at the Boulders resort, located just outside Scottsdale in Carefree, Arizona. With a name like “Carefree” who wouldn’t want to visit?  With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, perhaps it’s the perfect time to put some “carefree” living back into your relationship and rekindle the romance with a weekend getaway to The Boulders.

The signature hole at The Boulders Resort is #5 on the South Course. (photo courtesy of The Boulders Resort)

The Boulders is a Waldorf Astoria resort,  nestled in the Sonoran Desert foothills, consciously built to blend with the natural landscape. Named The Boulders for the 12-million-year-old granite boulders that seem almost strategically placed there, the vistas are magnificent with the terrain and native plant life being virtually untouched.

Accommodations at The Boulders consist of 160 guest casitas and 61 villas (either one, two, or three bedrooms, many located along the golf course.  The stone-colored, low-rise buildings are integrated into the landscape, earning the resort awards for their eco-friendly design. We were a party of four, Michael, my sister and her husband, all avid golfers – plus me. We stayed in a lovely two-bedroom villa with a full kitchen, and an outdoor patio with a wood-burning chiminea. Our comfortable home was perfect for relaxing and unwinding. We enjoyed dinner at two of their six on-site restaurants and spent the third evening preparing a meal in our well-appointed kitchen. Our first evening, we enjoyed a cocktail on our private patio, before heading off to a casual dinner at the Spotted Donkey Cantina. The modern Mexican restaurant serves delicious southwestern style food and a mean margarita! The atmosphere is lively and fun, a perfect beginning to our three-day weekend.

Golf was definitely on the agenda at this award-winning golf resort featuring two 18-hole, championship courses designed by Jay Morrish. They are considered to be challenging with rugged beauty and amazing panoramic views. Wildlife is abundant on the course. We saw jack rabbits, bobcats, roadrunners and cranes.  Viewing these creatures in their natural habitat of cacti and palo verde trees, among other plant life, was spectacular!

This photo of was the inspiration for the headline. (photo by Col. James W. Gray, Ret.)

The course is demanding and you must take care when searching for lost balls (snakes, coyotes and plants with prickly thorns) but our foursome did very well and enjoyed the magnificent day of 72º weather with a light breeze. The signature hole is # 5 with a large outcropping of boulders that shelters the green. Every hole offers incredible views, but one that stood out for us in particular was #7, where it looks as though the balancing rocks could tumble down any second, yet they’ve been standing there for 12 million years. I won’t be so bold as to post our scores, but the day was highly enjoyable. The “drink” cart not only offered cold beverages, but box lunches as well. Even though it had been many years since I swung a club, I lasted all 18 holes and was quite proud of myself at the end.

The resort is quite large and courtesy buses provide rides to the various restaurants, the Golden Door Spa and the golf course. However, most travelers rent cars to get there from the Phoenix Airport – which comes in handy as well. We enjoyed a beer in the “19th hole” – Bogey’s sports bar – after our round, and found other affable guests who just finished on the links. That evening, the courtesy shuttle delivered us to the The Grill for an outstanding meal by chef Martin Scott. In the exhibition kitchen, Scott prepares American cuisine with a twist – like a luscious lobster risotto with generous pieces of lobster and a savory leek sauce as a starter. The duck tamales with Anaheim chilies, raisins and fig mole was good, but I think chef could be a little riskier in his flavoring. (hint – I like spice!) the roasted beet salad with goat cheese and arugula comes with a tangerine vinaigrette and was one of the best versions of this salad I’ve had.

Steaks are a specialty at The Grill, as you’d imagine, and the aged12 oz New York did not disappoint – very tasty and juicy and grilled to a perfect medium rare. The fennel dusted diver scallops with a roasted poblano fritter arrived with easily six on the plate, a nice portion of these tender sea gems. Beef medallions with forest mushrooms were melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and the special of the evening – prime rib – was succulent and abundant.

Karol and Jim Gray marveled at the balancing boulders on hole #7. (photo by Michael Villalpando)

We shared two desserts – a crème brulée and a chocolate flourless cake, both satisfying ends to our meal. We lingered over a Quercetto Riserva Chianto Classico, a very fine bottle of wine, recalling the mental pictures we took of golf shots and landscapes during our day.

Another choice for dining at the resort is the Palo Verde, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The patio is a nice option for lunch, which overlooks a water hole, where we watched cranes take off and land.

Hiking, tennis, rock climbing, mountain biking, hot air balloon rides, and horseback riding are all available activities at the resort. And after partaking of the outdoor adventures, why not completely unwind at the Golden Door Spa? The 33,000 square foot facility offers a plethora of soothing treatments, from massage therapy,  facials, wellness counseling, acupuncture, reflexology, fitness programs, herbal wraps, and more. We opted for massages, receiving 50 minutes of therapeutic bliss – working out all the kinks from golf, age and the stresses of life. Following our treatments, we soaked up the spa amenities, such as the steam room, sauna, and heated swimming pool. The spa provides the ultimate space for total relaxation.

That evening, we ascended to the top of the walking path and climbed atop the boulders to view the sun setting over the plains below. It was a memorable scene, one I hope to see again someday. The Boulders is an ideal retreat for couples looking to spend quality time in a tranquil setting – and howl at the moon with the coyotes.

The Boulders Resort, 34631 North Tom Darlington Drive, Carefree, AZ 85377. (480)488-9009; www.theboulders.com. Rates start at $339 per night with special packages available.



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