If you're an avid golfer, you know that some of the best golf courses on the planet are in Arizona: Troon North and Greyhawk to mention perhaps the finest desert golf anywhere. You probably also know that Golf Digest and Golf Magazine rank several courses in the Phoenix area highest, such as Gold Canyon. I agree. I've played them. But these days I never go to Phoenix if I don't absolutely have to. Congested, smoggy, hostile ... more like L.A without the beaches.
There are several exceptional courses in the Tucson area that are highly rated. Here are my recommendations. But first, consider my criteria for THE BEST GOLF EXPERIENCES IN BAJA ARIZONA.
- I detest slow-play more than anything. I'll play in 107 degree summer heat and have the golf course to myself, just to avoid slow-play. Generally, the cheaper the green fees, the slower the play. Thus, municipal courses are the worst: Silverbell, Del Urich, Randolph, etc. Resort courses are better. Private courses, such as Skyline Country Club are best. With luck, you'll be staying at one of our fine resorts or have a reciprocal membership.
- I love a challenge. I want the course to put up a fight. I appreciate a golf course designer who makes me think, who deliberately adds subtle complexities to the fairways and greens. I want to be rewarded for distance, accuracy, and smart decisions; and I expect to be penalized for a wayward slice or ill-considered putt. Part of the fun of golf is trying to out-smart the course. I take it personally.
- Natural beauty matters. I love desert golf because I love the desert. When I'm on the course, I want to occasionally stop, look around, and take in the beauty of my surroundings. I particularly don't care for courses with houses or condos so close to the fairways that I have to be concerned about breaking someone's window or worse, hitting them with an errant ball as they garden in their back yard. As with most good things in life, beauty comes at a price. Thus, the most scenic courses are the most expensive.
- Well-maintained fairways & bunkers; well-groomed greens. No poana. Also, I don't believe a proper bunker should be comprised of gravel. I do prefer fine white sand. I do appreciate a course with yardage marked on the sprinkler heads. I'm not a pro. I don't have a caddy who walked the entire course taking detailed yardage notes just before my round.
- I appreciate a personable, knowledgeable pro; a discerning pro-shop; and an exceptionally fine 19th hole with an expansive view of the beautiful course that just picked my pocket; really good food (not just ordinary bar stuff), and pleasant, efficient service. After that, it's all about good golfing buddies. I've had some good ones - Gary & Gini; Cookie & David; Dan & Wanda; Rob & Sue. My favorite golfing buddy is Ms. Karen. I can out-drive her (usually), but she's deadly around the greens. Our Women's Club Champion in her younger days.
BEST BAJA ARIZONA GOLF
(In No Particular Order )
Green Fees Vary Hugely By Season & Time of Day. Resorts Offer Package Deals
- Weston La Paloma Resort & Country Club. Catalina Foothills. Three 9-hole courses. The Canyon Course is the most challenging. Members and Resort Guests Only. Green Fees: If you have to ask, you can't afford them.
- Arizona National Golf Club. Tucson-East Side. 18 holes - 6800 yards - par 71. Green Fees: $80-$110.
- The Golf Club at Vistoso. North of Downtown Tucson in Oro Valley (30 minutes). 18 holes - 7000 yards - par 72. Green Fees: $40-$80 (a best value).
- Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain. North of Downtown Tucson 40 minutes. Three 9-hole courses. Green Fees: $50-$180. Extraordinary setting. Just what you'd expect from a Ritz.
- Starr Pass Tucson Golf Club. J.W. Marriott Resort & Spa. Just 15 minutes west of Downtown Tucson but from the course you'd never know you were that close to the City. Three 9-hole courses. Green Fees: $50-$135. Wonderful setting.
- Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. Catalina Foothills. Canyon Course: 18-holes - 6800 yards - par 72. Mountain Course; 18-holes - 6900 yards - par 72. Green Fees: $50-$120. Stop occasionally and enjoy the desert surroundings. This respite will calm your mind and help your game.
- The Gallery, Dove Mountain. Private, but on occasion, the pro at the Ritz can get you on. A seriously fine golf course to rival Troon North and Greyhawk, but not Gold Canyon. Not sure any course approaches Gold Canyon, not even the best courses in Ireland and Scotland.
Other Worthy Golf Courses. Good But Not Extraordinary.
- Del Lago Golf Club. Public About 30 minutes east of Downtown Tucson on I-10. 18-holes - 7200 yards - par 72. Green Fees: $30-$90. I've had good and bad experiences at Del Logo. Once, slow play was so bad we asked for our money back. Got a rain check. Once, it was snowing so hard we had to quit. Got a rain check. Other times ... delightful.
- Canoa Ranch Golf Course. Wyndham Canoa Ranch Resort. Green Valley. Public. Green Valley, 30 minutes south of Downtown Tucson. Lots of condos paralleling the fairways, but mostly not an issue. 18-holes - 6700 yards - par 71. Green Fees: $30-$45. A pleasant course. Not far from Tubac.
- Tubac Country Club. Tubac Golf Resort & Spa. Public. Gini says it varies in difficulty and the three 9-hole courses are unique. Cookie says some of the greens are not always in good shape. It wasn't on Gary's or Dan's top 3 list. I've played here and enjoyed the round. Some challenging holes. Mostly flat. Lunch in the resort restaurant was mediocre and overpriced. I understand this restaurant is under new management (Spring 2011) so it may be better now.
- Torres Blancas. Wyndham Canoa Ranch Resort. Green Valley. Public. 7,000 yards. Designed by Lee Travino, my favorite pro. Played with Lee in a couple of Pro-Am charity events years ago. This course is one of Gini's top 3 picks. She says, "Looks easy - isn't." I have not played it, so have no comment.
- Turquoise Valley Golf Course. Naco. 20 minutes south of Bisbee. Arizona's only par 6. Gary, my CPA, says it's a good course, very reasonably priced. He should know on both accounts. Wasn't on anyone else's top 3 list, but I'm guessing Gary favors Turquoise Valley because of the inexpensive green fees.