Canoa Ranch Golf Club: Green Valley outdoes itself with its new course

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

GREEN VALLEY, Ariz. -- Green Valley is a series of subdivisions that stretches for miles along Interstate 19 south of Tucson and that does indeed look greener than much of Arizona. Because of its 3,000-foot elevation and cooler temperatures, it's a great destination for golfers from Phoenix or Tucson.

Canoa Ranch Golf Club
Canoa Ranch Golf Club features startling views of the Santa Rita Mountains.
Canoa Ranch Golf ClubCanoa Ranch Golf Club near Tucson
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Canoa Ranch Golf Club

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The course at the Canoa Ranch Golf Club is demanding but also scenic. Dramatic elevation changes provide spectacular views of Elephant Head and strategic bunkering throughout provides plenty of challenges.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 71 | 6701 yards | Book online | ... details »

The area is chock full of courses and the newest -- and probably one of the best -- is Canoa Ranch Golf Club. The club was designed by the Scottsdale architects Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley, famous for creating Bali Hai in Las Vegas and a lot of courses done with big-names like Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Annika Sorenstam and Fred Couples.

With Canoa Ranch, Schmidt and Curley prove they can produce quality even in a subdivision where the budget is tight and space has to be left for home sites along the fairways. Of course, they were given a really scenic piece of property to work with. And Schmidt and Curley were able to use it to full advantage, creating 18 holes of challenging golf that are still really playable for average golfers. Startling views of the Santa Rita Mountains and Elephant Head pop up on almost all holes of this par-70 course -- 6,549 from the tips.

"They did a superb job when you consider that they were restricted by the home sites and the need to keep views open for the houses," says Vito de Santis, general manager and head professional for the course. "That's probably why they had to make it a par-70."

A lot of similar new subdivision courses in Arizona open for play about six months before they should. Golfers at these courses have to contend with mobile home-style clubhouses, bulldozers roaring while they're on the tee, little sticks of trees for landscaping -- that kind of thing.

Canoa Ranch is a tough course to play without GPS or a yardage book because it's an up-and-down mountain-style site. A good example of some of the strategic difficulties is No. 2, a par-5 (546 yards from the back tees and 385 yards from the forward) with breathtaking views from its elevated tees. You hit first across a rocky draw into a landing area that's like an island of grass amid brush and mesquite. For your second shot you can go either right or left because you have to hit across another draw to a fairway that's split in two lengthwise. There are lots of problems and alternatives to weigh. If you opt for the left-approach fairway, there's less brush to cross, but you do have to carry another small arroyo to get to the green. If you opt for the right approach fairway, you'll find the green at the end of the fairway, but you also have to thread your way through a thin throat of grass. On top of it all, the green is bedspread-sized and needs a very accurate approach shot.

Because this is a par 70, there are three par 3s on each of the nines, and they are some of the best holes on the course. Consider No. 4 (207 yards from the back tees and 92 from the forward) -- a great scenic hole and the longest par 3 on the front nine. From the back tees, players have to carry over an enormous area of rocks and brush to a well-contoured green heavily protected by bunkers.

Schmidt and Curley are know for using sand to destroy scoring opportunities, and they do it again on No. 6, a shorter par-3 but one surrounded by a wide variety of grass hollows and bunkers. It's 184 yards here from the back tees and from that point, you not only have to cross brush, tees and rocks, but also a fairly large bunker to reach the green.

Another bewildering par 3 is No. 12 (230 yards from the back tees and 115 from the forward). As you're standing on the tee, you can only see about part of the green because of a rocky hillside to the right. If you're a slicer, you might face some danger here. The green is fairly large, however, with a putting surface that measures more than 7,000 square feet. A single bunker guards the front-left part of the green.

Canoa Ranch Golf Club's ninth is ranked as one of the toughest holes on the course and with good reason. Getting a par here would be very satisfactory. It's unlikely that you could get to the green here in two shots -- not so much because of the length (565 yards from the back tees, 451 from the forward), but because of the obstacles.

This hole plays more than 50 feet uphill and every shot has to be well placed as you climb up this monster. It's also a dogleg left and you don't really know where you're going until you get there. The final obstacle -- about 80 yards from the pin -- is the challenge of hitting over a dry creek bed and up a little wall to the green.

"It's one of the toughest par 5s I've ever played," Vito de Santis admits.

He suggests taking a really good look at the green area when you're 150 to 160 yards away so that you can figure out where the pin and bunkers are. Because of the elevation of the green, the closer you get to it the harder it is to see the layout.

Canoa Ranch Golf Club's most photogenic holes

Supposedly the signature, most photogenic holes on this course are the par-4 No. 15 (398 yards from the back tees, 245 from the forward) and the par-4 No. 18 (441 from the back, 295 from the forward). That's because No. 15 has an antique windmill on it that has been preserved on site and No. 18 has an island green. But really there are several others earlier on the tract that are far more spectacular because of their rugged mountain views.

"We were trying to pick out a picture of the most scenic hole to put on a card, and we really couldn't pick one out," says De Santis. "No. 2 is a great hole, No. 12 is a great hole, No. 13 is a great hole, they're all beautiful."

One more unique thing about this course: It has three kinds of grass: bentgrass on the greens, Bermuda on the tee boxes, and chaparral rye on the fairways and rough. That rye grass means that the course won't require any closure over seeding in the fall the way that many Arizona courses do. Tee boxes will have to be overseeded, De Santis says, but the course will rotate the tees to avoid closure.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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