Tucson Golf: Winter Golf without Spending Too Much Green 1 557

Westin La Paloma

Arizona’s Downstate Golf Destination

During a normal winter, let’s face it, there really are only a handful of reliably warm-weather winter golf locales in the Lower 48: Phoenix-Scottsdale, Southern California, Florida, the Gulf Coast, and, in a good year, Southern Nevada.

La Paloma Golf CourseAll have their own attributes, cultures and price points, but this tale of winter golf hope and promise is about a destination largely missing from the national conversation – Tucson, Ariz.

Just an hour and 40 minutes south of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport on Interstate 10, Tucson offers a decidedly more laid-back vibe than its glitzier, gold-plated cousin to the north, yet just as much, if not more, golf dollar for dollar.

Nearly 1,600 feet higher than Scottsdale, Tucson tends to be 10 to 20 degrees cooler both in summer and winter. But be forewarned: To experience the best of Tucson-area golf, be prepared for some long drives from your hotel or host resort, thanks to the spread-out nature of the Tucson Metro area – which includes the suburb of Marana to the north and could justifiably include the town of Tubac, south on Interstate 19, down toward Mexico way.

That being said, here are some recommendations for value golf for snowbirds, not including the best-known high-end Tucson resorts – Dove Mountain, Starr Pass and Loews Ventana Canyon – all of which are worth the tariff if you have the green.

Casino del Sol Resort

Casino del Sol sits on the on the southwest edge Tucson on Pascua Yaqui Pueblo land, which makes it handy to Tucson International Airport, about 15 minutes to the east. The resort’s latest amenity is a Notah Begay III signature design, Sewailo Golf Club, which plays 7,400 yards from the tips.

Casino del Sol ResortThe name Sewailo means “Flowerland” in the Yaqui language – which is fitting because rather than native desert, the course’s margins are lined with some 30,000 flowering plants that bloom throughout the year.

Begay, the only full-blooded Native American PGA Tour winner, now performing on-course commentary for the Golf Channel, along with architect Ty Butler, moved massive amounts of soil to give elevation to what once was a glass-flat desert of creosote and cactus. The earthmoving created playability, visual interest and enough slope so that Sewailo’s creeks have adequate flow to serve the course’s 14 acres of lakes and its showy Donald Trump-style flower-framed waterfall behind the 18th green.

Sewailo’s golf rates have come down from the $129 peak rate announced when the course opened in 2013. Peak season greens fees for weekend play in early winter come in at an incredibly affordable $69. Better yet, the resort offers a smoking deal for a $665 three-night stay-and-play package that includes two rounds per day – that’s per room, not per person – for the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend.

Arizona National Golf Club

Arizona National GCIf website photos of this OB Sports-managed golf course look familiar, that’s because it was the site of some of the USGA Qualifier scenes in the movie “Tin Cup” where Roy McAvoy’s (Kevin Costner’s) fill-in caddie stumbles through the torrid heat of a summer round.

At Arizona National Golf Club, designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. made deft use of the jagged boulders and rock outcroppings of the course’s setting at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. A round at Arizona National on Thanksgiving weekend can be had for just $63.

Westin La Paloma

Speaking of punitive. Let’s just say, you don’t want to walk this mountainous throwback to the days when Jack Nicklaus set out to … hmmm…. punish people who hadn’t yet won 17 majors – not counting the 18th he eventually won two years later.

Westin La PalomaOK. That’s harsh. But if you play the right tees on this rollercoaster at the Westin La Paloma Resort, you won’t be disappointed by one of the Golden Bear’s earliest signature designs – 27 holes with elevation changes that would make a mountain goat pant from exhaustion.

Nicklaus’ target-golf layout requires lots of nerve and plenty of golf balls, but a check of the resort’s website shows an affordable rate of $149 for peak weekend play in late November (Thanksgiving was fully booked by Labor Day).

Tubac Golf Resort

Remember when the part in the movie when “Tin Cup” Roy McAvoy breaks everything but his 7-iron and Romeo (Cheech Marin) quits as his caddie? That scene was shot in the shade of the third tee of Tubac Golf Resort & Spa’s Rancho Nine. One look at the Tubac Resort website and you’ll see what I mean.

Tubac Golf ResortAnd the scene where Roy, as caddie, bets David Simms (Don Johnson) he can “go for it” and clear the water hazard from 230 yards? That’s the 16th hole on the Rancho nine at Tubac. The movie’s low point, the “Who can hit it farthest with a7-iron” bet, happens in Tubac’s parking lot. This is cool stuff.

It’s a ways from Tucson, but the Town of Tubac is a homey, quirky, artsy town 30 minutes south of Tucson on I-19, almost to the Mexican border. The resort’s website offers a $223 hacienda=room stay-and-play per-night rate on Thanksgiving weekend.

Randolph Park

Randolph Park Golf CourseAnyone looking to retire to Arizona should first play Randolph Park, a Tucson municipal golf complex that will change your mind about the wisdom of retiring to the pricier Phoenix/Sun City/Peoria/Mesa Metroplex.

Truth be told, as much as I love the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix has only one muni – Papago Golf Course – comparable in quality to these two affordable side-by-side beauties in the center of Tucson.

The Randolph Park golf complex – the Randolph North Golf Course and the Randolph Dell Urich Golf Course – both served by the same earthy, vintage clubhouse – offer plenty of elevation change but without the sense of a mountain looming over you.

Both are parkland in style. The heavily tree-lined Randolph Park North, which opened in 1925, has been the site of multiple PGA and LPGA Tour events. Randolph Dell Urich, redesigned in 1996 on the site of the old Randolph South course, is more open, which means its east-facing holes offer terrific view of the aforementioned Santa Catalina Mountains.

Now, here comes the best part: the price.

Although anything around Thanksgiving was booked when I checked the website on Labor Day, a non-resident could ride Randolph Park for $36 for 18 holes in the last weekend in October (the furthest out the booking engine would allow that day). The tariff for Randolph Dell Urich for the same weekend was a shocking – $36.

To quote Bill Murray in “Ghostbusters” – “I love this town.”

Dan Vukelich, editor of ABQ Free Press, an Albuquerque alternative newspaper, is the former editor of Sun Country Golf, the official magazine of the Sun Country Amateur Golf Association of New Mexico. Reach him at dan@newmexicogolfnews.com.

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1 Comment

  1. 10-20 degrees cooler than Phoenix? Try 5-10 degrees. Winter temps in Tucson are very comparable to Phoenix in the daytime and a bit cooler at night. Summer temps are cooler with more afternoon rain, thanks to the summer monsoon.

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Los Cabos’ Quivira: Pebble Beach in Mexico 0 51

Quivira Golf Club No 6

Nicklaus Tested by Beautiful, Severe Baja Terrain

“Have you ever walked the golf course,” I asked Quivira Golf Club Los Cabos’ director of golf, Antonio Reynante.

“My assistants and I tried it once, but we couldn’t get past Number 6,” the fit-looking 35-year-old former mini-tour player told me. “We had to call the shop to come out and take us back in golf carts.”

It wasn’t an indictment of his staff’s physical conditioning so much as a testament to architect Jack Nicklaus’ ability to design a golf course that starts at 30 feet above sea level and climbs to nearly 400.

Quivira Hole No 15 “I thought it was a very challenging yet spectacular piece of property,” Nicklaus said when the course opened in 2014.

“I hope most people will think it’s the most spectacular golf course and the best golf course they have ever seen. And yes, some other people will say, “You have got to be kidding.

That’s an honest appraisal. A cynic might say that Quivira is just a clown’s mouth or windmill away from goofy golf, but in my mind Nicklaus cast aside his usual highly engineered approach; instead, he let Quivira’s landscape dictate an appealing compromise between playability for the vacationing player, visual impact and sustainability.

The result is a track that Golf magazine named “Best New International Course” in 2014. In 2016, Golf Digest gave it the magazine’s Editor’s Choice award for best golf resort in Mexico or Central America.

The Challenge

Part of The Golden Bear’s solution to the challenging elevation changes at Quivira is the longest cart path I’ve ever ridden – 1,500 meters, or just shy of a mile – switch-backing its way 250 vertical feet along the flank of a massive dune-topped granite ridge rising above the ocean.

The ride is both exhilarating and relaxing, much like the first long ascent on an amusement park roller coaster. As you climb between Nos. 4 and 5, the views of the receding golf shop, beach, and the occasional humpback whale breaching well beyond the surf break are reasons enough to pat yourself on the back for choosing Cabo.

Quivira Golf Club Hole No 5Cresting the last switchback to the No. 5 tee box brings a truly vertigo-inducing view – the kind that snaps your senses to full alert, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and announces in no uncertain terms that, yes, your golf vacation has finally begun.

To the left: the Pacific Ocean and a sheer drop of 280 feet. To the right: the ridge rising higher still. To the front: a narrow ribbon of grass leading to an unseen green dangling some 100 feet below the layup spot in the fairway. The putting surface itself is perched 125 feet above the surf.

It’s not often I’m thankful to see a “Cart paths only this hole” sign, but this was one of those times. The thought of our cart launching us a la “Thelma and Louise” into the ocean fleetingly crossed my mind.

Quivira No 6 holeThe Par 3 6th is no less spectacular. I’ll let the course description do the talking: “The tee shot must find and hold a long narrow green that drops off to a cavernous bunker and oblivion on the left.”

“Oblivion” would be the Pacific. From the back tee box, the putting surface is but a speck of green 180 yards away, sky blue above, ocean blue to the left, granite brown to the right.

Multiple Personalities

Quivira Golf Club No 13Once the course turns inland, the rest of Quivira’s holes range in personality from those you’d find on the sandy links courses of Scotland to those you’d find in Scottsdale or tucked in the folds of the hills and ravines of Northern California.

What you’ll likely not find elsewhere, though, are Quivira’s four staffed, on-course food and beverage stations, where complimentary beer, wine, tacos and other hand-held fare are freely offered. The halfway house, called the Oasis, features regional cuisine and a full tequila bar.

Pueblo Bonito Hotel and poolQuivira is part of the Pueblo Bonito family of resorts, which has three Cabo hotels, the Pacifica, an adult-oriented beach-side hotel, the Sunset Beach, a family-oriented hotel sited next to a 161,000-square-foot central food market, and the Greco-Roman-themed Rose Resort. For those seeking extra privacy, affiliated residential communities offer condos and freestanding ocean-view villas for rent.

If You Go

What: Quivira Golf Club Los Cabos, Pueblo Bonita Resort

Where: Cabo San Lucas, Baja Sur California, Mexico

When: Moderate temperatures year-round

How much: Greens fees, $227-$370, depending on season; $213 per round as part of a three-round stay-play package. Rooms start at $466 a night.

All the Pueblo Bonito properties in Cabo offer activities that include swimming with the dolphins, whale-watching, jet skiing and guided fishing trips. All offer a variety of spa treatments.

Getting to Cabo San Lucas is a snap, with easy connections through Phoenix. One wrinkle you should know about: For a reason no one I asked could explain, you can take golf balls in your carry-on baggage on the flight to Cabo but Mexican authorities will confiscate them before you board on your return.

 Dan Vukelich is the senior editor at ABQ Free Press, a former editor at Sun Country Golf magazine and editor of newmexicogolfnews.com. Reach him at dan@newmexicogolfnews.com.

Phoenix’s West Valley Gets a Winner with Victory Club 1 82

Verrado Victory Golf Club

Rocky Foothills Now 7,258 Yards of Emerald Fairways

The Phoenix Metro just got another great new golf course — the Victory Course at Verrado Golf Club in the West Valley — that can be had for an introductory rate of $99, with a replay for $25.

This one’s a must-play for Spring Training fans flocking to the Valley of the Sun to see Cactus League baseball in a couple weeks. It’s off I-10, about 12 miles northwest of the Metro’s western-most Spring Training venue, Goodyear Ball Park, where the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds train.

Designed by PGA Tour player Tom Lehman, the Victory Club was built on a former proving ground for Caterpillar heaviest and toughest earth-moving equipment.

Victory Club at VerradoLehman called his new layout “surreally beautiful.” He said the rugged rock environment dramatically contrasts against “immaculately maintained fairways and greens.”

In every way, he said, “We’ve truly used whatever the land has given us and left the terrain all natural, so it looks like the course has been built right into the land. In fact, I can’t think of another course in Arizona that is quite like it.”

The Victory Club is the first course to open in the West Valley since its sister course, Verrado, opened in 2002. Its opening coincides with Arizona’s peak golf season.

“Because Victory’s debut is so special, we wanted to do something special for our guests, too,” said Doug Foss, director of marketing for Verrado Golf club. “We know there has been a lot of anticipation about the course opening, and I think what people will find when they come and play it is that Tom Lehman has really added another true gem to the Arizona golf scene.”

The Victory Club is 32 due west of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, hard against the White Tanks Mountains.

To play Victory now for just $99, and get the replay, which the club is calling “the bounceback round,” for just $25, visit www.verradogolfclub.com or call (623) 388-3000.

Dan Vukelich, former editor of Sun Country Golf magazine, in Albuquerque, N.M., is the editor of ABQ Free Press, an alternative newspaper. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Golf Travel Writers Association. Reach him at dan@freeabq.com.