Tucson: Working Man’s Scottsdale 0 144

Arizona National GC

Not as Pricey but Plenty of Top-notch Golf

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.

All 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.

The 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.

Notah Begay III   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

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

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

Westin La Paloma 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. OK, that’s harsh. But if you play the right tees on this rollercoaster, 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 McIlroy 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’s Rancho Nine. One look at the Tubac Resort website and you’ll see what I mean.

Kevin Costner and Rene Russo in Tin Cup   And 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 a 7-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

Anyone 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.

Tucson 's Del Urich Golf Course   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, 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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Phoenix’s West Valley Gets a Winner with Victory Club 1 598

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.

Mid-winter Update: Golf in Palm Springs 0 133

Desert Willow Golf Resort

Your Guide to Golf in the Coachella Valley

No longer Just for Geezers, Valley courses offer top conditions, strong value

Call this New Mexico Golf News’ long-overdue mid-winter golf update, with a quick overview of what’s new in a destination that has come a long way since Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore and other Hollywood swells first found respite there from Tinseltown.

It’s long overdue because of the months of work that have gone into my responsibilities as editor of ABQ Free Press, a cool alt weekly, which has wreaked havoc on my golf game.

So, when I had a chance recently to visit Palm Springs, I packed by golf bag and headed west. Frankly, I used to think Palm Springs golf was overrated and overpriced, but my recent return persuaded me otherwise.

What has been cheekily called “God’s Western Waiting Room” has a energetic vibe despite the presence of so many retirees. The Greater Palm Springs Convention Bureau’s site lists activities ranging from strenuous mountain hiking to zoos to auto performance schools and Jeep tours to architectural tours and tennis tournaments.

Palm Spring Convention Bureau logoIn short, it’s a happening place. In April there’s the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, where an actual polo ground is taken over by acts that include rock, indie, hip hop, and electronic dance music.

Here’s a wrap-up of a golf destination where the muni courses shine just as brightly as the resort courses.

Indian Wells Golf Resort, Indian Wells, Calif.

Indian Wells Golf ResortDamn, if this isn’t the prettiest golf property I’ve visited in a long while — and a municipal golf course, no less. Indian Wells Golf Resort has two courses, the Celebrity and Players Course. Both are heavily planted with desert plants and ornamental flowers.

Both courses have significant elevation changes across a parcel of land that once was nearly flat. The result is tee shot views that intimidate thanks to overhanging tree limbs that force a player to make a concrete choice on line rather than just grip-and-rip.

Mature trees, desert shrubs off the fairways and well-kept greens give the player everything he or she could want.

The Indian Wells clubhouse is a monument to Mid-Century Modernism, with Art Deco accents of metal inlaid on dark wood. The golf courses are managed by Troon Golf, the gold standard of golf-management companies. Prices during high season come in at $189 on weekdays and $199 on weekends.

And speaking of Modernism, Feb. 16-26 is “Modernism Week” in Palm Springs when 250 events are held to celebrate the design style of the late 1950s and 1960s when movie stars and other L.A. swells flocked to Palm  Springs to indulge themselves in “Space Age” home building using avantg garde designs that have held up to the test of time.

SilverRock Resort, La Quinta, Calif.

You should be so lucky if this muni were your muni. Tucked in the shadow of the Santa Rosa Mountains SilverRock Resort is a gem that can be had for $142 during high season.

Silver Rock Golf ResortWhen I mean tucked in the shadow, I mean right up against the mountain, where big-horn sheep amble about on the fringe of the golf course until — wham — one of them gets spooked and in an instant the entire herd clambers 150 feet straight up a 60-degree slope of rock and hardscrabble with the ease of effort that you or I would expend getting out a golf cart.

PGA West, La Quinta, Calif.

With so many public courses to choose from — the Norman, the Nicklaus and Pete Dye’s Stadium Course — it’s tough to go wrong with any of the public courses at PGA West.

PGA West Stadium CourseBut be forewarned: In designing the Stadium Course, Pete Dye has been especially diabolical in his hazard placement — with massive fairway bunkers and hidden hazards such as the deep bunker than forms a horseshoe around the back of the rear-canted green on the 363-yard 12th hole.

By contrast, Jack Nicklaus’s resort course at PGA is surprisingly forgiving, with more of a residential Scottsdale feel to it than the soul-crushing style of so many of the Golden Bear’s other designs.

Desert Willow Golf Resort, Palm Desert, Calif.

Let’s just say this pair of golf courses, Mountain View and Firecliff, are both a feast for the eyes and true bargains.

Desert Willow Golf ResortTrue to its name, Desert Willow is an aesthetically pleasing combination of lush fairways and native flora with the San Jacinto Mountains looming in the distance. The city, which was once a collection of sand dunes straddling wind-blown Interstate 10, has become a bustling winter home for golfers and tennis players from both coasts.

Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry have done a tremendous job melding aesthetics with playability at Desert Willow — a feat that has been recognized by repeat California “Top 10 You Can Play” awards. It seems that every time you turn a corner to the next hole of either the Mountain View or Firecliff courses, a fresh vista with mountains, desert flowers and cactus opens up. The scents that come with the native plants are as sweet as the golf.

Best of all, Desert willow is easy on the wallet, with most high season tee times available for between $129and $138. Mid-day tee times can be had for as little as $85, with plenty of time to finish.

Where to stay

There is no shortage of cheap lodging in the Coachella Valley, with choices ranging from low-rent chains to mid-range brands to an eclectic mix of boutique hotels and B&Bs that sprang up when Palm Springs first became a getaway for style-conscious gays from L.A.

Westin Mission HillsTwo throwbacks to the age of the 1950s full-service resorts are the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage and the Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, the latter having the added advantage of practically being across the street from the Indian Wells Golf Resort.

The Westin has two golf courses, one designed by Pete Dye and the other a Gary Player signature course. Both are worthy resort-style courses easy on both the eye and the ego.

A beer joint

Beer Hunter Sports Bar La QuintaJust down the street from the Miramonte Resort is the aptly named Beer Hunter La Quinta Sports Bar & Grill, at the corner of the main drag, Hwy. 111 and Washington Street. Plenty of beer choices, beaucoup TV screens, plenty of friendly wait people and overall a nice, friendly vibe. You could go a long way along I-10 before you found a place this cozy.

Getting there

If you’re budget-conscious, you can fly into John Wayne International Airport in Orange County, Calif., but what you’ll save in airfare will be paid back in the likelihood of traffic frustration and increased travel time. I’ve done it both ways and my recommendation is to fly into Palm Springs with its quaint indoor-outdoor feel — something Phoenix’s Terminal 1 had into the early 1990s before traffic through Sky Harbor exploded.

Palm Springs AirportWhile your budget-conscious buddies are slogging it through L.A. traffic and winding through the mountains and descending into the Coachella Valley from the west, you’ll have already checked in, had a soak and probably will be well into your second margarita.

And in my book, that’s a good thing.

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.