Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Golf Tucson AZ

by Larry Berle
When most people think of winter getaway golf in AZ, they think of Phoenix but after three rounds this week in Tucson,  This city should move up on your list
Tubac Golf Resort
Today we went to Tubac Golf Resort in Tubac Arizona,  about 30 miles south of Tucson.  Tubac Golf Resort is where many of the scenes from the movie Tin Cup were filmed.  If you loved Tin Cup, then you will find this a very fun place to visit and play golf.  There are even signs and plaques depicting where some of the scenes were shot.  If you want to hit the 240 yard shot over the water that Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner) hit— just find the plaque in the fairway and give it a try.

Tubac Golf Resort was founded in 1959 by Bing Crosby and a group of his Hollywood buddies when they bought the Otero Cattle Ranch.(a few of the cattle herd still live on the property)
It is more like a parkland course, than the desert course you would expect to find around here with plenty of trees  and surrounding  majestic mountains.
There have been over 60 full length movies shot here over the years so Hollywood is very familiar with Tubac.  They brought in Red Lawrence to design the course, a man who became known as “The Desert Fox”  for his outstanding courses in Phoenix.

We are less than 25 miles to the Mexican border and Interstate 19 south of Tucson is the only stretch of Interstate in the U.S. where the mileage signs are in kilometers rather than miles.   Despite all the rumors and tales of the areas near the Mexican border being unsafe, it's not.   It is a wonderful stepping off point to visit the border yourself and even go into Mexico. In fact Santa Cruz County has the lowest crime rate in all of Arizona.  Many artists have moved here year round so the town is filled with artist studios and galleries.

The resort food is outstanding and the villas make for a very charming get away.


The Gallery Golf Club.
The Gallery is a private club in Marana AZ  (a northern suburb of Tucson)  and for  two years was home to the Accenture Match Play Championship.  Troon Golf recently took over management of the course  (there are 2 courses, North and South) and there is now limited public play.  It’s always a wonderful thing when we can have a private golf club experience available to the general public. Every other day one of the courses is open to the public. There are many wonderful golf courses in the Tucson area that can be accessed by the public and it's thrilling to have the Gallery added to that mix.


Sewailo Golf Club and Casino Del Sol Resort
Casino Del Sol is located in South Tucson, about 8 miles west of the Tucson airport.  They have a beautiful concert amphitheater,  wonderful spa,  and a terrific hotel  and  casino and now a new golf course, Sewailo, which means “flowering world” in the language  of Pascau Yaqui Tribe. The course was designed by Notah Begay, former winner on the PGA tour and commentator on the Golf Channel, but he is perhaps best known as Tigers roommate at Stanford University.  This is his third course and if its any indication of what he is capable of, we will see many more from him.
At dinner tonight he told us  what inspired some of his design decisions.  It starts with lush greenery for a few holes then moves clearly into the desert then back to the lushness with an abundance of lakes, streams and creeks.  Approx 10 holes have water in play,  including #18 which  frames the green with a waterfall. This is much more water than most AZ courses. If your day has been frustrating, the waterfall will bring you to a  peaceful conclusion. 

Sewailo also has a double green of approx. 24,000 square feet shared by holes #1 and #8, these are rare but Mr Begay told us it was inspired by St. Andrews in Scotland.   The beautiful stone bridges will also remind you of St. Andrews for those of you who have been there.
Notah’s two favorite holes out here are #10, a  dog leg par five that require three very well placed shots between bunkers and water and #3 a short par 3  over water with terrific views of the casino hotel and Tucson Mountains in the  background.   One of my favorite holes was #6 a 545 yard double dogleg par 5.  A few minutes spent pondering your tee shot can pay off as it challenges you to cut off the dog legs and  go straight for the green.

Most of the holes have generous fairways which give you a safe landing area for your drives but you pay for that safety with a longer more challenging approach shot.  The fairways are bright green Rye grass and the rough is dormant Bermuda so the shape of the hole is very clear from the tee boxes.  The  T-1 bent grass greens putt beautifully. All this framed by the flowering plantings of the desert.
One thing to note is the GPS on the carts has outstanding graphics and a touch screen so you can touch a layup or carry area and it will give you the exact distance from your cart.  I suggest you get familiar with this feature and use it or you may hit driver on a few holes where you wish you hadn’t.  Sewailo has 14 acres of lakes over a mile of creeks and nearly 65 bunkers, so there are plenty of places to get in trouble. 

Sewailo is par 72 and has seven sets of tees from  7300 yards  tips down to 5209 from the very front.  The ladies in our group thought the forward tees were well fitted to their games. The slope and rating are 73.5 and 138 from the Bear Down tees to  69.6 and 123 from the forward tees for women.
They announced today that  Sewailo will be the home course of the U of AZ Wildcats golf teams.  So go tee it up with the big guys play— I think you will love it.

Other things to do in Tucson and the surrounding area
Old Tucson  movie studios
Pima Air & Space Museum   www.pimaair.org
Kartchner Caverns  (about 30 miles)   www.AZStateparks.com/parks/kaca
Biosphere 2 www.b2science.org

City of Tombstone  (home of the OK Corral)  http://www.tombstoneweb.com

Monday, December 9, 2013

SunRidge Canyon Golf Club Fountain Hills AZ

by Larry Berle
It had been years since I had played SunRidge Canyon. I avoided it because my memory of it was, “It’s just too difficult.”  It is difficult. Some people may even call this course “The Wicked Witch of the West,” but the new owners have made some significant improvements. I loved it today and will play there again soon.

The course was in beautiful shape. SunRidge Canyon has chosen not to overseed its greens these past few seasons. Last year they removed 220 tons of compacted dirt from the greens and replaced them mostly with sand. The new bermuda surfaces have almost no grain and are very firm and fast—firm enough that there is hardly a ball mark to be found. They may not be the bright green color we have become accustomed to, but they putt so well, who cares.  

Don’t let all this praise of the greens fool you. Good doesn’t equal easy. They have contours—sometimes subtle, sometimes not—that are a challenge to read. A day without three putts here would be a great day indeed. But here is one little tip that will help. Look toward Four Peaks, which looms strikingly over SunRidge Canyon, and keep in mind that putts tend to break toward this magnificent mountain.

SunRidge Canyon plays to a par of 71. From the tips the yardage is 6,878, but it plays much longer. I played it from 6150 and it felt like a few hundred more. I’ve been a Tee It Forward guy since before they invented the term, and SunRidge Canyon is Exhibit A for moving up. Believe me, you’ll get the full experience from the forward tees, including having a reasonable chance to conquer some of this course’s wonderful challenges. For anyone whose handicap is not tiny (or even plus), the tips here will be torture.     

The course opens with a short, welcoming par four, and builds from there. You won’t see a par three until number six, but ultimately there are five of them. They are all beautiful and full of character, ending with number 17, which has two sets of tees. They come at the L-shaped green from completely different directions—it’s two holes in one. Depending on the day you play, you’ll have a short iron to the smaller arm of the L or a long iron or hybrid to the bigger arm. None of the four par-fives is reachable except by the longest hitters, but the course really shows its teeth on the par fours. While eleven and fifteen stand out, SunRidge Canyon has numerous two-shotters where par feels like birdie and bogey is often a relief.

We are winding through a housing development, but the houses rarely infringe on this course as it descends to the bottom of the canyon on the front nine and climbs back up to the clubhouse on the back nine. Architect Keith Foster followed the contour of this canyon land and, unlike the homes, the canyon walls, water falls and large boulders do impact (or should I say add to) your experience.  There are several optical illusions here. On holes three and four, the fairways look as wide as a driving range from the tee box, but they are not. On hole seven, the fairway looks much too narrow to hit, but it’s not.

The challenges of SunRidge Canyon peak on the final six holes, which are mostly uphill, upwind, and just plain hard. The management has embraced this difficulty by naming this stretch of holes “The Wicked Six.” As you approach the thirteenth tee, there is even a plaque welcoming you to the Wicked Six. Welcome, indeed. The two par threes, two par fours, and two par fives of the Wicked Six will test both your skills and your fortitude. Play these well and you’ve truly accomplished something.   

This would be a very challenging course to walk, so riding will be the way you make your way around. A windshield would have been welcome in the morning chill. On the other hand, SunRidge’s carts are equipped with the most up-to-date GPS that I have ever used. Every hole has a flyover video with a tip from the pro and, in addition to yardages to the pins, you can tap the screen to a layup point of your choice and the exact distance there shows up.

Unlike many of the courses in the valley, SunRidge Canyon is not managed by OB Sports or Troon Golf, so it may not show up on your radar quite so easily but it is worth seeking out. You won’t forget it.

SunRidge Canyon is also home to the Jim McLean Golf School
And also home to  one of few Hot Stix locations

For more information and tee times: