Tucson's (not so dirty) little secret: Prestigious Gallery Golf Club offers limited play to public

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

MARANA, Ariz. -- Tucson has a not-so-dirty-little golf secret being leaked to the golf press and general public with all the cunning of a tightly spun political campaign. The Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain - one of Southern Arizona's premier private golf facilities - is open to the public.

Well, sort of.

Members and management are making available a limited number of tees times for daily duffers. The private, non-equity facility 20 miles north of Tucson recently opened it's second, 18-hole layout, designed by Scottsdale based golf course architect John Fought. A handful of tee times are being set aside at the brand spanking new South Course and the existing North Course (1998) on a rotating basis.

"We really haven't marketed it, but we've contacted some hotels in Tucson to let them know what we are doing," said Gallery spokesman Ed Francese. "Each day one course is for members only and the other is member preferred with limited availability to the public."

Traveling golfers with a couple days to spare would do good to sample both tracks. The North Course is big, bold and bunkered. Fought - who teamed with PGA Tour player Tom Lehman on the design - routed the course up, through and over the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains using sand, scenery and sheer length as the primary defenses against par. More than 100 bunkers (108 to be exact) dot the 7,400-yard layout while some of the Tucson area's most stunning canyons and rock outcroppings provide the backdrop.

"What makes this course such a classic is that although it's desert golf, it's not really target golf," head professional Paul Nolen recently told GolfArizona.com. "The fairways have wide, wide corridors. It may feel as if it isn't desert golf, but it is. I guess I'd call it traditional golf with a desert feeling. There are some forced carries, but they're not overly demanding."

The North Course is still considered a slightly tougher test than its sibling. The South Course is a bit shorter (7,315 yards), less sandy (only 85 bunkers), and is hallmarked by its slightly elevated, turtle back greens with tightly mowed surrounds. "Pinehurst No. 2 with a cactus fetish," as one member described it - an astute if not overly simplistic observation.

"John really has an appreciation for Donald Ross and it shows on the South Course," Francese said.

Fought, a native Oregonian, became familiar with Ross's work in 1977 when he won the U.S. Amateur at the Ross designed Aronmink Golf Club outside Philadelphia. He broke into the golf course architecture business with Jack Nicklaus's design firm back in 1985 following an injury-shortened stint on the PGA Tour.

After two years with the Golden Bear, he struck out with Nicklaus protege Bob Cupp and the duo went on to design one of the west coast's most heralded courses, Pumpkin Ridge in Cornelius, Ore. Fought eventually hung his own shingle in Scottsdale and entered a design partnership with Lehman in 2001. Lehman was instrumental in the design of the North Course and a handful of other courses in Phoenix, California and Minnesota - his home state.

"The folks at Palo Verde Partners (who developed the Gallery) are from Minnesota and they really wanted Tom and John to work on a project together," said Francese. "I don't want it to sound like they played match maker, but the two hit it off and went from there."

With Lehman refocused on his playing career, Fought set out to craft the South Course on his own. Ironically, without his "player" consultant onboard, the former BYU All-American decided to refocus his design efforts on shotmaking and shot options.

"The course brings chipping and shot making back into the game," Fought said shortly after the course opened. "You don't always need to have deep rough around the greens. The higher handicap player is delighted because he's not in the sand, deep rough, water or getting a penalty stroke. He can chip it back onto the green without much effort."

Once on the green, however, the real adventure begins. Similar to Pinehurst No. 2, South's greens are enormous, turtle back putting surfaces divided into quadrants. Rather than taking dead aim at pins, golfers are encouraged (warned?) to pick a quadrant to fire at. Unlike the North Course, which typically calls for high lofted approach shots, the ideal approach on the South is often a knock-down shot to the front of the green.

"The two courses are night and day," Francese said. "We really didn't want the members to walk in and say 'I don't care which course I play today.' We wanted the two courses to be entirely different and I think John accomplished that."

And then some.

The North Course was designed for today's modern, aerial game while the South plays fast and firm with the ground as a viable option. The North Course leans on long par 4s and three-shot par 5s, case in point being the 725-yard, par-5 ninth hole. The South mixes up par 4 lengths (314 to 479 yards from the back Dorado tees) and has a couple of par 5s (one and 10) that are reachable in two from the middle "Verde" tees.

One of the most noticeable differences between the two tracks is the amount elevation change: The North Course traverses a couple hundred vertical feet while the South saunters along a subtle topography that rarely rises or falls more than 30 feet.

The courses do have two things in common - a practice range even Vijay Singh would appreciate and a 28,000-square-foot Bing Hu designed clubhouse. Inside, the golf shop is stocked with slick apparel and the latest gear, and members flock to the adjacent Gallery Restaurant for steak, seafood, cocktails and spectacular sunsets.

No timetable has been set for closing the Gallery courses to the public. Because every visitor is a potential member, Francese said there's no rush to "close the gates."

"Tucson is a desert location without the mystique of Palm Springs or Scottsdale," Francese said. "You could spend twice the money in those places. We are trying to appeal to a broader range of lifestyle than just high end custom estate property."

South Course breakdown

Best hole - the 601-yard, par-5 17th has it all: water, sand, strategy and beauty. Best view - the 588-yard, par-5 first plays downhill with unlimited views to the west. One of these holes isn't like the others - the par-5 534-yard 10th is bisected by an arroyo fortified by stone walls and features double fairways. Best vegetation - the tee boxes on the par-4 13th appear to be floating in a sea of cholla cactus.

The Verdict

If the Gallery South was a) unequivocally open to the public; b) pitched to more golf course critics and writers from national publications; or c) all of the above, it would be mentioned as one of the better courses to open in the desert Southwest in the past 12 months. TheFought designed South course doesn't possess the architectural bravado of the Fought/Lehman North course, but therein lies the beauty.

Golfers who dig fast, firm tracks with subtle touches will appreciate it for what it is- a traditional golf course with a not so traditional setting. Fought's emerged as a master at juggling par 4 lengths, evidenced here by the reachable 314-yard (259 middle tees) seventh and the virtually unreachable435-yard 15th. If there are a couple knocks on the South, they are these:the par-5 17th totally upstages the par-4 18th; and the dual fairway, par-412th (originally designed as a par 3) doesn't present a clear advantage in playing one fairway or the other.

Gallery Getaways

North and South will eventually be off limits for the pay-as-you-play crowd. Until that time, however, the Gallery is offering an enticing stay and play package in conjunction with it's 17 golf cottages. Two bedrooms cottages, replete with spacious kitchens, living rooms, and whirlpools are available for $275 per night.

Membership and Real Estate Information

Gallery memberships are available for $65,000 and monthly dues are $410. The initiation fee is 100% and is refunded after 30 years or upon resignation. One transfer to an immediate family member is permitted. Lots start at $250,000 with home and lots ranging from $1.5 to $7 million. Golf cottages start at $680,000.

Getting There

From the Tucson International Airport, take I-10 west towards Phoenix. Exit Tangerine Rd. and go east on Tangerine Rd. to Dove Mountain Blvd. Go left on Dove Mountain Blvd. and follow the sings to the Gallery.

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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