Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort's new management dedicated to golf

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

ORO VALLEY, Ariz. -- "Welcome to the Shera-, I mean Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort," said the smiling bellman, turning slightly red in the face. A full year after Hilton Hotels Corporation purchased and assumed management of the chic, Northwest side resort, the property's longtime affiliation with Sheraton still lingers.

Hilton Tucson El Conquistador golf resort - Canada Course - 3rd
Because it's uphill, the par-4 third on the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Resort's Canada Course plays at a least a club longer than its yardage.
Hilton Tucson El Conquistador golf resort - Canada Course - 3rdHilton El Conquistador C.C. - Conquistador Course - 1st
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Hilton El Conquistador - Pusch Ridge Course

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Encircling the El Conquistador resort is one of the best kept golf secrets in Tucson - the 9-hole Pusch Ridge Course. It's layout makes full use of the ravines and ridges as well as indigenous cactus and trees to challenge any player.

9 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 35 | 2788 yards | Book online | ... details »
 

Hilton El Conquistador - Conquistdor Course

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The Conquistador Course is one of three courses at the Hilton El Conquistador. The course has been consistently ranked as one of the top courses not only in Arizona but throughout the Southwest.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 6819 yards | Book online | ... details »
 

Hilton El Conquistador - Canada Course

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Nestled at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountain Range, the Hotel El Conquistador’s three golf courses all offer breathtaking canyon and mountain views. One of these three courses is the Canada Course, which is known for the amount of strategy that is required to do well.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 6713 yards | Book online | ... details »
 

The occasional slip aside, resort officials say it is time to set aside a prosperous past for an even more promising future. With Hilton at the helm, the resort hotel recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation to its 428 guest rooms, four pools and 53,000 square-feet of meeting space. The new-look hotel is now on the level with the resort's recently remodeled 36-hole golf centerpiece, the El Conquistador Country Club, situated just seven minutes away.

"With Hilton you get a management company that is more dedicated to golf," said El Conquistador Head Professional Larry Helminen. "Sheraton was a good company, but this resort is defined in many way by its golf and it is important that the dedication to the product come from the top."

To wit, El Conquistador is Tucson's largest golf resort. In addition to the two aforementioned 18-hole layouts, the Canada and Conquistador courses, the resort is also home to the nine-hole Pusch Ridge Course, which meanders around the hotel property.

"Not many resorts in the state can say they have 45 holes of golf," said El Conquistador's director of golf, Steve Darcy. "We have quantity but we also have diversity."

The Arizona-based design team of Greg Nash and Jeff Hardin designed El Conquistador's (then known as Canada Hills) original 18-hole circuit in the 1980s. As demand surged around the turn of the decade, nine holes were tacked onto each course to create two full 18-holers. Nash returned in 1999 to perform extensive renovations both tracks and to improve the overall continuity.

We've come a long way and I think we still have a ways to go," Helminen said. "We want to redo the cart paths and we have some landscaping improvements planned. These two courses have a lot of personality, and we want to build upon it."

El Conquistador's Canada Course, named for nearby Canada del Oro River, is the favorite among guests according to Helminen. Half of course's holes feature elevated tee boxes and the majority of green complexes are raised above the fairway landing areas to take advantage of the surrounding views.

While neither course could be described as "target" style, Canada has a decidedly more desert feel. The course's narrow fairways and hilly landing areas are lined with think strands of Mesquites. The various arroyos (dry river beds) and rock outcroppings of the Canada Del Oro also come into play on many holes, putting a premium on creative shotmaking. Canada plays to a par of 71 with yardages ranging from 5,093 to 6,713. With a respectable slope rating of 130, it is also three to four shots harder than El Conquistador.

This may explain why Conquistador is the preferred course of the club's 300 plus members. Its straightforward design and (comparatively) flat holes lend a sense of playability to the layout. And with a forward tee yardage of 4,821, Conquistador is a hit with the club's many female members.

"If you miss your spots you are going to have some difficult lies and stances," Helminen said. "For the most part it is easy to feel comfortable out there. The men love it and the ladies love it."

Nash spent the majority of his time on Conquistador restoring more than 60 fairway bunkers. The sand traps had deteriorated over the years and were gradually eliminated. For good measure, he sprinkled a handful of pot bunkers throughout the course -- a move that would not have endeared him to the members had he not opened all 18 green fronts to allow for more creative shotmaking (and forgiveness on mishits.)

Golf-loving guests with more than a couple days to spend at the resort should do themselves a favor and sample both offerings. Despite some obvious similarities (same designer, property, and surroundings) the Conquistador and Canada Courses are different enough to make playing both a must.

Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort off course

Some might find it hard to focus on golf with a 143-foot water slide beckoning. The impressive water feature is part of a $3 million fantasy pool that has to rank among the best in Southern Arizona. If barreling down a slippery chute sounds a bit extreme, guests can opt for a signature Prickly Pear Margarita and a stunning view of jagged Pusch Ridge some 2,000 feet above.

Hilton Tucson El Conquistador has a generous menu of other recreational pursuits to fill the hours between tee times. Tennis-heads flock to the resort's 31 lighted hard courts and horse lovers can take advantage of the equestrian center. An on-site wellness center can help keep the frequent visits to the resort's five restaurants in check and a variety of treatments are available at the wellness center spa.

Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort: Dining

Guests at a premier Southwestern resort should expect at least two culinary options: good Mexican food and a meat and potatoes steakhouse. Hilton El Conquistador delivers on both. Dos Locos, despite the quirky name, serves up a menu full of Latin American specialties that are anything but run-of-the-tortilla-mill. Last Territory Steakhouse is a throwback to the cowboy corrals of the Wild West with a full slate of steaks, chops, and ribs.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


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