Omni Tucson National: Revered PGA Tour Stop Traditional In Midst of Desert's Untraditional

By David R. Holland, Senior Writer

TUCSON, AZ - Some of the early Tucson National members knew better than to try to hustle a hustler.

"Lee Trevino was on the first tee during one of the practice rounds of the Tucson Open," said former head pro Bob Klewin, "and I called him over to tell him there was a group of members betting the pros that they couldn't reach the par-4, 438-yard first hole in two. Well, you know Trevino, he was famous for hustling in his younger days in Dallas. Lee went over to the members and told him he'd gladly take that bet. Not one member was foolish enough to accept the challenge."

Trevino won the '69 and '70 Tucson Opens and Klewin, who served at the club from 1962, before the grass was even planted, to 1975, said Trevino was just one of many tour pros that made his job fun during the tournament.

The same era brought "The Desert Fox," Johnny Miller, to the forefront of desert competition. He won three straight Tucson Opens from 1974 to 1976 and added a fourth in 1981. He also won in Phoenix in '74 and '75 and scored victories in the California desert at the Bob Hope Desert Classic in '75 and '76.

"I'll never forget Miller in 1975," Klewin said. "He shot 61, 11-under-par, in the final round and I don't think he was ever more than six or eight feet from the pin all day long. It remains the course record."

Arnold Palmer, who won the 1967 Tucson Open, may have been Klewin's favorite. "Palmer was a great guy. He scored a 14 on No. 18 during one pro-am and afterwards came over to me, put a finger on his forehead, and said: 'You know, Bob, you get just as much publicity for a 14 as you do for a double eagle. ' "

When the NCAA Tournament came to the Tucson National in 1971, Klewin was in charge of pin placements.

"The first couple of days I made it really tough and no one was breaking 70," Klewin remembered. "The local paper wrote a story about how tough it was and kind of got on me about it, suggesting I give them a break or no one would break 70 - and this field included eight Walker Cup players. Well, Texas' Ben Crenshaw came up to me before the third round and politely said he read the article in the paper and he was going to break 70. He shot a 68 and won the individual national title."

Other key memories: "Our first regional telecast was in 1965 and the day before the pro-am we had five inches of snow on the ground. I have picture of that hanging in my den. The next day we were able to play the pro-am," Klewin said.

It was the early days of TV golf, where you could watch the final two rounds of the Tucson Open or Bing Crosby's Clambake at Pebble Beach. And if you actually admitted to watching golf on TV most likely your non-golfer friends would make fun of you.

The old light bulb was going on in the heads of snowed-in golfers everywhere in the colder parts of the USA. Geez, it's January and these guys are playing golf in shirt sleeves in Arizona. You know, that would make a great vacation - winter golf.

"Also, most golf historians know this tournament is famous for first-time winners. In 1979 Bruce Lietzke won his first title by making a 105-foot putt on the 18th green, which was bigger than it is today. I don't think there was a longer putt that could have been made on that green that day."

Today, The Omni Tucson National Resort & Spa is a part golf's rich history. It's a traditional layout that began as a private course designed by Robert Bruce Harris. It had an curious combination of mounds and bunkers sitting away from the greens. That had to be changed. So Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin were called in to correct the boo-boo and another nine holes was also added.

"It was so interesting watching this golf course grow from day one," Klewin said. "The first superintendent dragged the dirt fairways eight times before he was satisfied that it was perfect. And he told me that 25 years into the future golfers would be able to ride carts in the fairways without any bumps and that it would be as smooth as riding on the cart paths.

"During construction we actually leveled everything. All the vegetation was removed except for some select cacti and saguaros and we started from scratch. All the trees you see out there were planted after the bulldozers went through. Today, with all the environmental concerns, that just isn't done anymore," Klewin said.

The Omni Tucson National opened on January 3, 1963, 128 days after it had been seeded.

"I like the new target-styled desert courses," Klewin opined, "but I think in many cases the new courses start with a lake on left or right or a trap and pretty much are the same. So when you come to Tucson National it's like a midwestern traditional course and a big change from what's being built today."

Today the year-round golf destination has 232 acres of mature trees and stunning views of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The pros play the Orange/Golf combination, at par-72, 7,148 yards in length.

The Green Course, added in 1982, features hilly-elevation changes and some challenging uphill and downhill shot opportunities not typically found in Tucson. The newer nine, which measures 3,222 yards at par 36, offers stunning views of the surrounding Sonoran Desert and features tough bunkering and elongated fairways.

No. 18 during the PGA event or No. 9 on the Gold Course is a classic. This par-4, 465-yard test has a small landing area with water on both sides. In the 1960s Palmer made a 7 here to lose the tournament. It's one of those holes that no lead is safe when the Tucson Open leader comes to the tee trying to hold a lead.

The tee shot is somewhat blind and normally leaves a mid to long iron to a well-protected, elevated green. Even if you have found the fairway on your first shot, missing the approach will usually lead to bogey or worse. It's consistently ranked one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour.

The Orange Course's No. 8 is another challenge. It's a par-5 at 524 yards with fairway bunkers and tall pine trees on the right. If you don't carry your tee shot far enough, you will face a second shot that's blind.

You might do a double-take when you stand on the tee of the Green Course's 500-yard No. 6, which goes steeping uphill. Just keep it in play and you might have a chance to score well.

Today, the Touchstone Energy Tucson Open is the ninth oldest tournament on the PGA Tour. It was first staged January 19-21, 1945, at El Rio Golf Club, and it has endured 12 names changes over the years including such monikers as Dean Martin and Joe Garagiola.

In 1986, Tucson National opened to the public after operating for nearly a quarter century as one of Tucson's finest private clubs. That "private club" association really never really left Tucson National.

Tucson National's fairways feature Tifway 419 pollen-free Bermuda and the new greens are Champion Bermuda. There are 10 lakes and 188 strategically-placed steep-pitched sand bunkers. The club sponsors year-round golf clinics and individual instruction provided by resident professionals and the John Jacob's School of Golf.

A Little More History

Every name player the game has ever known has been a part of the Tucson Open - Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Jack Nicklaus all played but never won. Arnold Palmer won in 1967 and Lee Trevino in '69 and '70.

Phil Mickelson, a three-time champ here, won his first tour event at the Tucson Open in 1991 as an amateur. He won again in '95 and '96. Lee Janzen registered his first tour win here in 1992.

The Tucson Open first used Tucson National from 1965 to 1978. The tournament was co-hosted by Starr Pass, but returned to Tucson National with a great 1993 tourney. Masters' champ Larry Mize sunk one key putt after another on the final nine to win.

The Touchstone Energy Tucson Open was reduced to satellite status when it was recently placed on the PGA Tour schedule head-to-head with the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and then opposite the Mercedes Championships.

But 2001 marked its strongest field in years with such names as Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Steve Elkington, Lee Janzen, John Daly, Curtis Strange, Fuzzy Zoeller and Mark Calcavecchia, and it secured a renewed position as the place to break through with a first victory or give a slumping career new life.

This year Garrett Willis put an exclamation point on first-time winners when he triumphed in his first official PGA Tour event.

This club is one of the two that hosts the PGA Northern Telecom Open each January - the other is the Starr Pass Golf Club. The Pac 10 finals and the NCAA Regionals are also held here. A redesign of six holes was completed by Red Lawrence in 1966.

Omni Tucson National Resort & Spa
2727 West Club Drive
Tucson, Arizona 85742

Telephone: 800-767-3574

Green Fees: $149 in prime season. Includes GPS. Twilight: $89 after 2 p.m. Shoulder season rates $89 to $99. Nine holes rates available.

Where to Eat: Legends is a classy sports pub featuring custom billiards, shuffleboard and darts, serving light soups and sandwiches and a wide range of microbrews and draft beers. The Catalina Grille is located in the main resort building, serving classic American regional cuisine and complementing domestic wines for dinner.

Directions: From Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport go south on I-10. The Omni Tucson National Golf Resort & Spa is on the northwest side of Tucson, approximately a 90-minute drive from Sky Harbor Airport. Exit the freeway in Tucson at Cortaro Farms Road (Exit 246) and turn left (east on Cortaro Farms Road). At the third traffic light, take a left (north) onto Shannon Road. The Tucson National sign will be on the wall facing the intersection on the northeast corner. The entrance is approximately 200 yards from the intersection. The resort is located on the right hand side.

Awards: Mobil Four-Star Award designation every year since 1986.

Where to Stay

The Jeremiah Inn Bed & Breakfast, Ltd.
10921 East Snyder Road
Tucson, Arizona 85749
Telephone: 520-749-3072 or 888-750-3072.
Internet: http://www.bbonline.com/az/jeremiah.
Email: JeremiahInn@Juno.com.

The Jeremiah Inn Bed & Breakfast allows you to relax in a beautiful new home and refresh yourself on a 3+ acre desert retreat in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. Enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran desert, the vistas of nearby mountains and the awesome sunsets, all within minutes of fine dining and local attractions.

The Jeremiah Inn offers Southwestern-styled contemporary comfort, will all rooms having private baths, queen beds, television, telephone and an outside entrance with no hassle of valet parking. Sit by the pool or in the spa, enjoy the starry sky, enjoy chocolate-chip cookies, lemonade and provided soft drinks and bottled water. Breakfast is a real treat served with baked goodies, fresh fruit, juice, coffee and daily entrees served by your hosts Bob and Beth Miner.

Omni Tucson National Resort & Spa

The resort has seven Casita Suites with king and queen sofa sleepers, three King-Suites, 79 Mini Suites, 20 Casita Kings, 34 Resort Rooms with two queens each and 24 Haciendas with king-size and queen-size sofa sleepers.

Tucson Open Champions

1945 Ray Mangrum.
1946 Jimmy Demaret.
1947 Jimmy Demaret.
1948 Skip Alexander.
1949 Lloyd Mangrum.
1950 Chandler Harper.
1951 Lloyd Mangrum.
1952 Henry Williams, Jr.
1953 & 1955 Tommy Bolt.
1956 Ted Kroll.
1957 Dow Finsterwald.
1958 Lionel Hebert.
1959 Gene Littler.
1960 Don January.
1961 Dave Hill.
1962 Phil Rogers.
1963 Don January.
1964 Jack Cupit.
1965 Bob Charles.
1966 Joe Campbell.
1967 Arnold Palmer.
1968 George Knudson.
1969 Lee Trevino.
1970 Lee Trevino.
1971 J.C. Snead.
1972 Miller Barber.
1973 Bruce Crampton.
1974 Johnny Miller.
1975 Johnny Miller.
1976 Johnny Miller.
1977 Bruce Lietzke.
1978 Tom Watson.
1979 Bruce Lietzke.
1980 Jim Colbert.
1981 Johnny Miller.
1982 Craig Stadler.
1983 Gil Morgan.
1984 Tom Watson.
1984 Gene Littler.
1985 Jim Thorpe.
1985 Harold Henning.
1986 Don January.
1987 Mike Reid. 1988 David Frost.
1989 No Tournament.
1990 Robert Gamez.
1991 Phil Mickelson.
1992 Lee Janzen.
1993 Larry Mize.
1994 Andrew Magee.
1995 Phil Mickelson.
1996 Phil Mickelson.
1997 Jeff Sluman.
1998 David Duval.
1999 Gabriel Hjertstedt.
2000 Jim Carter.
2001 Garrett Willis.

Calling All Touristas

The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum is a renowned zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden, all in one place. Explore our desert paths and you're sure to encounter gila monsters, hummingbirds, boojums, and much more amidst the beautiful Tucson Mountains. Check out: http://www.desertmuseum.org. It's just minutes away from Old Tucson Studios.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Senior Writer

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter at @David_R_Holland.


Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment