Arizona National Golf Club (formerly The Raven Golf Club at Sabino Springs): Saguaro-Huggers Nightmare Becomes Desert Golfers Rapture

By David R. Holland, Contributor

TUCSON, AZ - The saguaro-huggers (ouch!) forced this one all the way to the Supreme Court.

In a land of nine natural springs, historic Hohokam Indian ruins, a vital forest of saguaros, mesquite, palo verde trees, numerous species of cacti and desert plants, and jillions of arid-land critters, the environmentalists didn't much appreciate this pristine Sonoran-desert landscape being ruined by a golf course back in the mid-1990s.

When the environmental plan was finally approved it was a victory for The Raven at Sabino Springs and desert golf lovers everywhere.

During construction an archaeologist-horticulturist paced ahead of bulldozers as they scraped the fairways to look for indian ruins, fragile plants and to kept desert critters safe. In the process of Robert Trent Jones, Jr.'s design, they uprooted and replanted 2,500 saguaros and more than 60,000 desert plants.

The result are mind-boggling. There's 6,776 yards of keep your mind on the game or you will be penalized golf. It's a par 71, with an elevation change that begins at 2,500 feet and climbs another 500 into the base of the Santa Catalins Mountains.

When you reach the perch that is known as the 18th tee, you can see all the way to Mexico on a clear, hazy-less Arizona day. This par-5 beauty is 515 yards, with a large lake and massive trap guarding the left side and fronting a rear pin placement. The tee shot is a drop of 200 feet to the fairway.

Tiger Woods eyed the scenery at No. 18 while playing in a collegiate tournament and hooked his tee shot into the water. Many believe this is the best finishing hole in Tucson.

"It's a tough layout for the high-handicapper," said Eric Hoffman, Director of Sales and Marketing. "I think it is very fair from the Gold Tees (4,733) because there are zero forced carries, but you don't get the great views from the lower tees."

In other words, if you are a beginner, you might want to pick and old, traditional muny before trying The Raven at Sabino Springs.

"What I've realized," said Chris Sabala, another Raven marketing guy, "is that the course plays completely different from the back tees (Raven) to the tees just one step up (Silver)."

What Mr. Jones saw when he arrived for his initial site survey was the wild west. When you walk in this untamed landscape in the heat of the summer you must be aware of rattlesnakes and gila monsters as you traverse deep arroyos, admire rugged rock formations and gaze at towering saguaros hundreds of years old.

Your concentration must be 100 percent or you will be bitten trying to clear countless raw-desert forced carries, 80 bunkers, and negotiate uphill, blind, tee shots. Your motto for the day? "Be a shot-maker." Or you will be reloading time after time.

No. 11 is probably the toughest hole to play for the first time. You have a blind tee shot toward and aiming flag on this 625-yard, par-5 with two desert arroyos to clear - one on the tee shot and one on the approach to the green. There's a camera-monitor setup so you can see down the fairway and wait on any foursome ahead of you.

When you arrive at the par-3, 187-yard 12th, think of the Hohokam Indians, who built a spring-fed pond 1,000 years ago on this site. Your tee shot must clear an old mesquite tree that's just to the left of the pond. The two-tiered green, protected by three sandy beaches, was built on top of an old Hohokam dwelling.

The Raven Golf Club at Sabino Springs features an 11,000 square-foot clubhouse designed to resemble a colonial-style Spanish hacienda. You can sit on the patio in front of the clubhouse restaurant and enjoy a panoramic view of the Santa Catalina Mountain range and the golf course's fifth and 18th fairways and greens. In the solitude and warm January sun you might just forget a couple of those wayward shots you hit today.

Green Fees: Prime season, $145 weekdays, $155 weekends. All rates include green fee, GPS cart, practice balls, yardage book, ball mark repair tool and bag tag. Non-prime shoulder season rates lower. Carts equipped with mist spray to cool you off in summer. Cart-path only golf course.

Awards and Distinctions: No. 61 on Golf Magazine's 2000 Top 100 You Can Play list. Customer Service Award, No. 1 in the World, non-resort, daily-fee courses, in 1998 by Golf Digest. Top 10 All-Star course by Golf For Women. Golf Digest selected this course 7th in the category of "Best New Upscale Courses" for 1996 and 11th "Best in State" for 1997-98. Home of the University of Arizona Men's and Women's golf teams. The Raven opened January 1, 1996.

Raven Learning and Performance Center: "The Raven Learning & Performance Center's instruction program and practice facilities are where I go when I want to prepare for a big tournament" - Andrew Magee PGA Tour Professional. Check out:

Directions: From I-10 going north, turn right onto Grant Road. Once you reach Tanque Verde turn left, head over to Catalina Highway and turn left again, when you come to Houghton make another left, proceed over to Snyder and turn left again, drive down to Sabino Springs Road and turn right, drive a short distance to the course entrance.

Where To Stay

The Jeremiah Inn Bed & Breakfast, Ltd.
10921 East Snyder Road
Tucson, Arizona 85749
Telephone: 520-749-3072 or 888-750-3072.

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 Tucson 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.

Calling All Touristas

The Old Tucson Studios came to life in 1939 when Columbia Pictures chose a Pima County-owned site on which to build a replica of 1860's Tucson for the movie Arizona. The $2.5 million film, starring William Holden and Jean Arthur, set a new standard of realism for Hollywood westerns, initiating the move away from studio backdrop movies to outdoor epics.

Since then almost every single big-name western film and TV star has spent time here with a list of more than 70 films and TV shows such as "Little House on the Prairie". Check out the website:

Old Tucson Studios, 201 S. Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ 85735. Call 520-883-0100. Directions: From I-10, take Speedway west, or from I-19, take Ajo Way (Hwy. 86) west and follow the signs.

Sabino Canyon: Twelve thousand years ago a Columbian mammoth explored here, just next door to The Raven at Sabino Springs. A thousand years ago the Hohokam Indian irrigated by building dams in the creek, including the construction of a spring-fed pond on the golf course.

In the 1870s, pony soldiers from Fort Lowell enjoyed horseback excursions to an "old swimming hole" that is still in use today. In the 1930s, 180 C.C.C. workers built bridges and 3.8 miles of road up into the Santa Catalina Mountains for the locals and later, vacationers, to enjoy.

Today, hiking trails lead up to picnic areas in the canyon and to the border of the Coronado National Forest. You can also ride a shuttle bus, which operates 365 days a year. The trip is narrated and last 45 minutes. Don't forget your camera. Moonlight rides are scheduled three nights per month from April through December.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

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 @David_R_Holland.

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