Starr Pass Still Standing After all These Years: Desert Original Hangs on as Premier Facility

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

TUCSON, Ariz - Once upon a time, there where three...three premier desert style courses in the Old Pueblo that is. Ventana Canyon anchored the northeast foothills, La Paloma was the flagship of the central foothills, and the TPC at Star Pass was the topshelf course of the Tucson Mountains to the west.

Times have changed dramatically in Tucson in terms of high quality daily fee golf, what with the addition of the Golf Club at Vistoso, the Raven at Sabino Springs, and Heritage Highlands. But despite the emergence of these new and formidable competitors, not to mention the desertion of the PGA Tour's Tucson stop from its grounds, the TPC at Starr Pass continues to offer up quality resort style desert golf.

When you ask those who have played Starr Pass to describe their overall impressions of the course, opinions vary almost as much as the terrain at the golf course. Scrolling through a list of player comments on line reveals anything from:

"It was one of the greatest golfing experiences of my life, the greens were in great shape for the summertime." to:

"This course is a ridiculous tricked up layout that shouldn't even be attempted by the average golfer."

Somewhere between these two extremes lies the golf course that is Starr Pass. For one, the course is typically in impeccable shape. But in the summertime, a shaggy blend of bentgrass and poanna have a tough time competing with the smooth rolling bentgrass greens of the other resort courses.

The layout may be perceived as being "tricked up", as there are a number of blind approach shots, oddly shaped greens, uneven stances, and abbreviated fairways that often take the driver out of the hands of the long hitter.

However if one takes Fred Couples advice and chooses not to whine about a course that presents a challenge that is outside of the norm of the everyday golfing experience, then the layout becomes intriguing rather than aggravating.

The most legitimate knock on Starr Pass may be that the surrounding desert has given way to (albeit tastefully done) custom desert housing and apartments. One becomes painfully aware of the free market principles that drive golf course development in the southwest when playing a round through this Robert Cupp/Craig Stadler designed track.

The course was designed to challenge some of the PGA Tour's great players, and a driver is an oft needed club if playing from the tips at Starr Pass. However, the average golfer who is patient and does not mind grinding through much of the course with long irons and a savvy blade will be rewarded with some par and maybe birdie opportunities.

Cupp and Stadler have made use of some very creative mounding to ensure that the 10 to 20 handicapper is not left out in the cold while trying to get up and down at Starr Pass. For example, the first hole is a relatively short par-4 that gives the deceptive appearance of almost being drive-able from the middle tees.

However, upon teeing off, a solid 250-yard drive will leave a full wedge shot into a green that looks much like a balloon being pinched in the middle (or a bow tie if the previous metaphor was hard to imagine). Typically the hole placement is right in the middle of the pinched area, which in turn provides a landing area that is about fifteen feet deep. But just in case you air mail this seemingly impossible to hit green, Cupp and Stadler have provided a steeply sloped mound directly behind the green that almost serves as a backboard for back shots.

The idiosyncrasies of Starr Pass are many, and the brief history of the course is as rich as the wildlife that surrounds this lone bastion of golf in the Tucson Mountains. This week we will be exploring the history and details of a course that presents one of the more interesting juxtapositions in Tucson golf.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Boy's/Girl's Club Golf Tournament

    Ernie Gamboa wrote on: Jun 11, 2009

    Looking to sign up for tournament, but can't find anything on your website !!