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Destination Guide: Phoenix

The greater Phoenix metropolitan area is commonly known as the Valley of the Sun.

The nickname gets folks a little hot under the collar in the summer; temperatures routinely exceeding 110 degrees will do that. But in the winter months, when much of the country is covered in snow and braving frigid weather, Arizonans bask in the sobriquet.

But a more appropriate moniker for the area might be, "Phoenix, A Golfer's Paradise."

It's hard to imagine any area in the country that treats golfers better. The Phoenix/Scottsdale corridor has it all: World-class golf courses, world-class resorts, top restaurants, a ton of things to do and have we mentioned you can play 12 months a year?

Sure, it's hot in the summer but the courses are relatively empty and the rates drop dramatically. Locals know it's the best time to play.

So, without further ado, here's your guide to paradise.

Where to play golf in Phoenix

Trying to select a few courses from the dozens of top-flight layouts in the Valley is like picking Miss America: A few deserving candidates are going to be left out.

Still, you can't go wrong starting with either the Pinnacle or Monument courses at Troon North Golf Club in north Scottsdale. Golf Channel says Troon North is one of Arizona's Top 10 resort courses, and the scenery is as spectacular as the 36 holes. Both Pinnacle and Monument pose hardy challenges -- particularly the elevated greens and mature desert -- but they're well worth the effort and the price tag.

Just a few miles south of Troon North is TPC Scottsdale, host of the Waste Management Open. If you've watched the PGA Tour event over the years, you'll get a kick out of some of the course's landmarks -- like the 1,000-pound rock Tiger Woods was allowed to have moved in 1999. And, of course, when you step onto the tee of the infamous par-3 16th, you can't help but imagine 20,000 fans surrounding the hole, waiting to boo if your shot doesn't land on the green.

North Scottsdale is flush with great courses -- Wildfire, Kierland Golf Club, etc. -- but four other terrific tracks are Raven Verrado in the West Valley, Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills, the two courses at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club on the Beeline Highway, and the Australian-links course Southern Dunes in Maricopa.

Top Places To Stay in Phoenix

Fortunately, the Valley has just as many luxurious resorts and hotels as it does quality golf courses. In north Scottsdale you can't go wrong at the Four Seasons Resort at Troon North or the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa. The Xona Resort Suites isn't quite as fancy, but it has stay-and-play packages with several nearby courses and will shuttle golfers to their favorite destination.

One of the top resorts in town is the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa along Loop 101 in Phoenix. It's only a few minutes drive from some of Scottsdale's finest courses, and the resort itself is spectacular. Arizona residents often stay there in the summer to luxuriate in the huge pool and lazy river.

Want to stay closer to town? Try the Phoenician, which sits at the base of Camelback Mountain and is only two miles from Old Scottsdale and its eclectic mix of restaurants and art galleries. As a bonus, the Phoenician has 27 holes on the property.

Golfers who venture to the East Valley will want to unpack their bags at Arizona Grand Resort in south Tempe. The Resort is just one-half mile from Arizona Mills Mall and close enough to South Mountain that hikers can just walk to the closest trailhead.

Finally, there's the Hotel Valley Ho on Main Street in Scottsdale. It's a funky place that is located within walking distance of several terrific restaurants.

Dining in Phoenix

For many years, Phoenix was anything but a restaurant mecca. Fine dining was two tacos at Jack in the Box. But that's no longer the case. In 2010 AAA Arizona gave 19 restaurants their four- or-five star diamond rating.

Several high-end steak houses dominate the restaurant landscape, including Flemings, Bourbon Steak and Donovan's Steak and Chop house in central Phoenix.

Those interested in more than just meat and potatoes should try Kai, at the Wild Horse Pass Resort in Chandler. The menu is hard to describe -- it's Native American cuisine -- but visitors rave about the outstanding food and the service.

For some romance with a meal, try Top of the Rock restaurant at the Marriott Buttes in Tempe or House of Tricks in downtown Tempe.

Like spicy? Then head over to one of the three Los Dos Molinos locations in south central Phoenix, downtown Phoenix and Mesa. The Mexican fare -- particularly the carne adovada -- will burn your palate. But it's so tasty you won't mind a little singe.

For Italian, try one of the several Oregano's Pizza Bistros in the Valley. The pizza, particularly the deep dish, will remind you of Chicago, and the pasta dishes are decadently good. Plus, the portions are so big you'll have leftovers. Oh, and don't forget to save room for the Pizookie, a half-pound of cookie dough warmed in an oven and then topped with three scoops of Vanilla Bean ice cream.

Your diet will forgive you.

Top nightlife spots in Phoenix

The Valley has a little bit of everything: Hip urban clubs, dance spots, karaoke bars, country-and-western bars, martini bars, and even some old-fashioned dives.

To see the beautiful people, head to the Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall area. It's a cornucopia of tanned, tight flesh, from Kona Grill to Axis-Radius, Six, Devil's Martini and Suede.

Just across the street from Devil's Martini is the Dirty Dogg Saloon. Let's just say it's a walk on the wild side, with honky tonk blasting from the speakers and scantily-clad bartenders swinging from the rafters.

Sports bar enthusiasts should try Majerle's in downtown Phoenix, named after former Phoenix Suns guard Dan Majerle. It's not unusual to see Majerle or other Valley athletes in the bar after games.

For more sedate entertainment, try the Wright Bar at the Arizona Biltmore Resort. You can nibble on a cheese plate and enjoy a glass of wine while listening to some quiet piano tunes.

Real music lovers have to stop by the Rhythm Room in central Phoenix. The no-frills venue has been around for decades and played host to some of the world's foremost blues and jazz musicians.

Top entertainment options

Okay, so the Valley isn't Los Angeles or New York but anyone who complains there is nothing to do just isn't looking hard enough.

Love sports? Well, 15 Major League Baseball teams play Cactus League games in the Valley in the month of March. In addition, the Valley is only one of 11 municipalities to have franchises in the four major pro sports leagues: NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL. Oh, and let's not forget Arizona State University, which sits in the heart of downtown Tempe.

Like to gamble? There are casinos in north and south Scottsdale, Chandler and on the west side of the Valley. You won't have to drive more than 15 minutes to find a place to lose your money.

South Scottsdale is home to electric restaurants, coffee houses, comedy clubs and art galleries. In Tempe, Mill Avenue is a great place to take a walk, have a good meal and, afterwards, enjoy a cold beer on an outdoor patio as the world walks by.

The West Valley, meanwhile, has enjoyed a resurgence thanks to Westgate City Center, with its retail stores, restaurants, movie theatres and, most importantly, walking access to Arena, home of the Phoenix Coyotes, and University of Phoenix Stadium, the Arizona Cardinals' facility.

Heck, if you want a taste of New York, try one of the Broadway touring plays at ASU's Gammage Theatre.

Like we said, Arizona is a golfer's paradise.

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