Dell Urich Municipal Golf Course: A 'Master-ful' public option in Tucson
TUCSON, AZ - When Dell Urich Municipal Golf Course opened in 1994, the Arizona Daily Star called it, "Arizona's Augusta National." Dell Urich is unlike any other course in Arizona, and by far the most popular public course south of Phoenix. Its layout, design features, greenskeeping, and order of holes all are very similar to Augusta National. Here's a look.
The similarities are immediately evident even from the tee box. Teeing off from a shoot of trees, well-struck drives echo between the pines. Don't worry about landing in the rough, because there isn't any, just like Augusta. The penalties for hitting errant tee shots are the pine trees that line each hole and the multitiered fairways. Just like Augusta, hitting the fairway isn't enough, you must play the ball to where you can shorten the hole. Drive into the low tier and you'll be forced to hit an uphill second, adding one to two clubs for your second shot. Land on the proper tier and your drive will bound down the fairway, presenting a prime birdie opportunity. Finding the fairway isn't very difficult; the difficulty comes in placing the ball in the correct part of the fairway.
Miss the green and you'll be in a sunken collection area. Go too long or too short and the ball will also roll down into a collection area, necessitating a flop shop to get near the hole. Without rough, it's difficult to slide the blade under the club so you can get the ball to go straight up-and-down. A perfect example of this type of collection area is in front of Augusta's #9 green. Year after year, players go after the front pin and come up short, rolling back down from the green. This shot also requires the flop. Phil Mickelson is the master of the flop and this is one reason he is always one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Once on the green, there's no chance that you'll have a flat, straight putt. Heavy undulation and hog backs in the middle of many greens make speed control crucial. Though the greens aren't nearly as fast as Augusta's, when a putt comes rolling down one of the hog backs touch is every bit as important. One fortunate aspect of Dell Urich is that putts seem to funnel into the hole. Just get the putt on line and its going to drop.
Augusta's most famous stretch of holes is Amen Corner, where great shots are rewarded with eagles and birdies and mistakes are penalized with minimum of a bogey. Dell Urich has its own excellent stretch of challenging holes from #12 through #14. #12 is a 438-yard dogleg right par 4. You must slice your drive around the bend at 200 yards. If you don't then you'll be left with a 200-yard second shot. The hole that you must take advantage of is #13, a 500-yard dogleg right par 5. Reachable in two, this is a prime example of a hole where you need to drive it on the proper tier to not only have a shorter second, but a better angle at the pin. Finally, #14 is a straight-away, 440-yard par 4. The approach is the key shot here. The right-to-left diagonal green has a 30-foot deep collection area in front that is virtually impossible to get up-and-down from. This second shot may be the most demanding on the course, but I've never heard of a great hole that doesn't challenge the player.
Dell Urich's signature hole is the 140-yard, par 3 #17. The tee shot must find a small green with water guarding both its front and left sides. It should be an easy par, but its visually intimidating and has ruined many rounds. The same can be said about Augusta's last par 3, #16, which also has a lake that comes into play. Just ask Greg Norman. #16 saw the biggest collapse in history as Norman plopped his seven-iron in the water, practically giving Nick Faldo the 1996 Masters. On a typical day #16 also appears easy, but come crunch time balls just seem to be attracted to the lake.
Both courses close with wide open holes that place the emphasis on the approach. Beware, though. Dell Urich's #18, a straight-away, 435-yard par 4, has fairway bunkers that are more likely to come into play than Augusta's. Bunkers guard both the left and right sides of the green, making the already long approach even more demanding. You just need to put the ball on the putting surface, though, to give yourself a chance at birdie. Last year at Augusta, that's all Mark O'Meara did and he came away with the green jacket.
The Masters is a tournament unlike any other. Augusta National is impossible to get on unless you know a member of golf's most exclusive club. Dell Urich is the closest you can get in Arizona, and is a very similar design. And at $35, if you lose the "Masters of the Southwest" one day, you can afford to try again tomorrow.
April 13, 1999