On the way to Tombstone, stop off for a cooler 18 at San Pedro Golf Course in Benson
BENSON, Ariz. - When it's 100-plus degrees in Phoenix, local golfers often seek respite at higher elevations. And one of the newest cooler golfing destinations is in the town of Benson, an old railroad crossroads about 45 miles east of Tucson, where they have opened San Pedro Golf Course.
Summertime temps in Benson are about 10 degrees cooler than Phoenix, five degrees cooler than Tucson. Not total relief, but enough to make you think about playing golf instead of watching the PGA on TV with the AC going full blast.
Benson also makes a convenient pit stop on the way to historic Tombstone just down the road, as well as other sights in southern Arizona. Tombstone plus a round of golf -- sounds like a weekend at any time of year.
San Pedro and Benson may seem like the middle of nowhere, but the golf course had a somewhere kind of architect, Mark Rathert of Colorado who worked early on for designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. Since going out on his own, Rathert has designed such courses as Boulder Creek in Boulder City, Nev., Indian Creek in Nebraska and a slew of layouts in Japan, Thailand and Malaysia.
Designing San Pedro, a par-72 golf course that plays at 7,313 yards from the tips, was a bit of a special challenge, Rathert agreed, because it lies on top of what was once a town eyesore -- a landfill and city corporation yard next to an out-of-date sewage treatment plant. But the city cleaned up the site and gave a long-term, highly attractive lease on the land to a Denver banker Tom Hartley who built the course.
Even though the site has some history, it also offers scenic advantages: the San Pedro River runs through the area, it's loaded with arroyos filled with thousands of ancient mesquites with black twisted trunks, and the Dragoon Mountains form a backdrop for the course. "San Pedro is an interesting property with beautiful natural areas," says Rathert, "and that helped keep development affordable."
The only time you really grasp the full impact of what the site once was is on the par-3 16th when you get a full view of the new up-to-standard treatment plant that was built on the site and that now provides treated water for the bluegrass fairways and bentgrass greens.
The front nine basically wanders among the arroyos along the river; the back nine travels through some canyons and ends up back at some man-made lakes next to the clubhouse.
Rathert has several favorite holes at the course. "I like the second (an uphill par-4) because it runs along the San Pedro River and the third hole that has a split fairway and is a risk-reward situation," he says.
That No. 3, a long par-4 (421 yards from the back, 269 from the forward), offers a choice of driving left off the tees toward one of the fairways that lies right in front of the green, or taking the easy way out on the right fairway if you're not driving well. If you go right, you still have to cross a small arroyo with a 9-iron to get to the green. "If driving is not the strength of your game, I still allow you to hit the ball safely," Rathert says.
Rathert also likes No. 5, a long par-5 (567 yards from the back, 432 yards from the forward) that is a dogleg left. You need to cut the dogleg a little in order to get on in three. The 13th is the longest hole (605 yards from the tips, 492 from the forward) and on the tees here you reach the highest elevation on the course. You can see three mountain ranges as you tee off, including Cochise's Stronghold.
The golf course calls the par-4 18th its signature hole (457 from the back tees, 319 from the forward). Because of the ponds on this hole, you have the option of taking a tee shot over water to try to cut some distance off your second shot. It's a long way though from the back tees - about 225 yards in the air.
What will keep San Pedro going are the low green fees. "I'm a staunch believer in the fact that the game has gotten too expensive," says Rathert. "A lot more people will keep coming back to play if it's more affordable."
June 8, 2003