Robert Trent Jones' Arizona Classic Course

By Scott Behmer, Contributor

TUCSON, Az - An hour south of Tucson lies one of the most highly acclaimed courses in Arizona, Rio Rico Golf Resort and Country Club. Rio Rico serves as the site for Arizona's annual PGA Qualifying School and will test your skills just as it does those of aspiring tour members. Designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones, this 7119-yard course has tight landing areas and the fastest greens in southern Arizona, conditions reminiscent of a tour event. Unless you are a scratch golfer, tee it up from the blues or whites for men or the reds for women.

Rio Rico opens with a par 4, 430-yard dogleg left. Just by observing from the tee you can tell you'll need to hit it straight all day. A lake looms right of the fairway; a dense cluster of trees guards the left. What remains after that straight drive is a long iron second into a green guarded by a lone front bunker. Now you'll be thankful you warmed up on the practice green earlier. Otherwise, you'd see your putt whiz by the hole to the opposite side, only to be stopped by the rough.

Rio Rico's two front side par 5's, #2 and #7, are straightforward yet scenic. #2, a three-shot par 5 requires the drive to fit between the left fairway bunker and bordering trees on the right. After advancing your ball down the fairway with your second, you'll have a relatively simple third shot into a wide but shallow green and a good birdie chance. The 484-yard #7 also presents a chance for birdie if you can get near the green in two. A wide open tee shot into a valley leaves a second shot uphill to the bi-level, front-bunkered green. These are the only real birdie holes on the front side so take advantage of them.

Two of the best holes are par 4's, #6 and #8. The 411-yard #6, a dogleg left, has a demanding tee shot with fairway bunkers and trees on the right. The ball seems to just want to roll through the fairway. Your second shot, uphill into one of Mr. Jones's large slippery greens, is no easier. #8, the 439-yard signature hole, is a brilliantly designed golf hole. An into-the-wind drive to a valley with trees on both sides sets up a beautiful yet very challenging second shot. A long iron over water into a left-to-right green is very difficult to hit. Instead, you may choose to play up the fairway with a short iron, leaving a wedge to the green, all the while watching out for the water.

Unfortunately, the back nine is nothing like the front. Tight drives and demanding second shots are now gone. Left, however, are two excellent par 3's. #12 is 150 yards over a lake with trees overhanging the green. Bunkers surround this small green, further minimizing the room for error, but a pinpoint shot will leave a short birdie effort. The 200-yard #17 also plays over a lake. When the into-the-face wind blows, this becomes the hardest hole on the course. Try to go between the two huge lakeside trees. No room for shortcuts here; you must play straight at the pin. The only helpful aspect of this hole is the large putting surface.

Rio Rico ends with another solid hole, a par 5 measuring 602 yards. As a true three-shot par 5, a big drive will prove helpful for the approach. Trees border the fairway's right side; however, the real trouble spot is the lake guarding the front of the green. Because of the severe back-to-front slope, a front pin placement provides a thrilling downhill putt for golfers who play conservatively to the back.

Upon completion of his Rio Rico course, Robert Trent Jones commented "I really felt I had a classic on my hands." Indeed, with unique and challenging holes, the front side warrants such high praise. The back plays more like an above-average municipal course, though, with mostly flat and unappealing holes. If you put up a high score on the front, it's consoling to know that you can recover with a low score on the back.

Scott Behmer, Contributor

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