Omni Tucson National is Quiet Beacon of PGA Golf

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

TUCSON - If you've never been to Tucson, the Omni Tucson National Resort's championship golf course may be all that your know about the community otherwise known as the Old Pueblo.

The challenging combination of the Gold Nine and the Orange Nine at what locals affectionately dub as "National", has been home to the Tucson Open - in whatever name, shape, or form that it is in, for over 24 years

From its ESPN exposure, National is perhaps best known for the way its dormant bermuda rough contrasts with its dark green rye fairways, greens, and tee boxes during Tucson's "golfing season."

But among locals and a handful of savvy visitors, National is nothing less than a summertime beacon - a traditionally designed course thriving in the midst of a number of high priced, daily fee, desert target courses.

"The great thing about the course is that it was built back in the 1960's when there were no restrictions on grass and water," says Director of Golf Rick Price. "The course is irrigated with ground water, and is almost 262 acres with its three nines."

For those of you scoring at home, Arizona now limits course developers to 45 acres per nine holes - environmentally sound, yet architecturally challenging.

Tucson locals will tell you that they love playing Vistoso, Ventana, Starr Pass or the Raven. But ask them to name their favorite course in the Tucson valley, and National's name gets dropped as often as a Roy Jones Jr. opponent.

The Gold and Orange courses opened in the 1960, when Tucson was not even a blip on the golfing radar screen. These original nines were designed by Robert Bruce Harris, who according to Price held the kind of mystique that Tom Fazio, Pete Dye, and Robert Trent Jones Jr. hold today.

In 1983, the owners of National commissioned a redesign of the Gold and Orange nines in hopes of attracting a U.S. Open. While the USGA never brought their traveling show to Tucson, the redesign did lead to the construction of a new nine - the Green.

A course that hopes to attract a U.S. Open, and that currently hosts a PGA Tour event must rank high, or at the top of the local golf scene in Tucson. But according to Price, any comparisons regarding National and other local courses are like apples and oranges.

"We are a traditional style course," says Price. "We are very user friendly. People try to compare us to the Raven, or Vistoso, or Ventana, but you just can't."

Price speaks from experience, in that National is a prized "tour" stop on a career track that has seen the likes of some fine Arizona layouts. Before coming to National, Price was the Head Professional at Rio Rico for four years, and worked at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador for five years as the Resident Professional.

But even with the emergence of so many new top shelf courses in Tucson (exhibit 'A', Vistoso, the Raven, the Gallery, and Heritage Highlands), Price remains confident that National will continue to be the home of the Tucson Open. At least as long as there is a Tucson Open.

"The players love coming here, the tour loves coming here, and we have a great relationship with the Conquistadors," says Price, referring to the perennial hosts of one of the PGA's oldest tour stops.

And if you love a fair and challenging test of golf, set in the desert but as playable as a Midwestern parkland style course, then you will no doubt be following suit with the PGA and the Conquistadors. National features summer specials and reduced rates for Resort Card Holders. For info on tee times and greens fees contact the pro shop at 800-767-3574.

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 from 1997 to 2003.

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