Tucson's Starr Pass Country Club: Follow the Coyote deep into desert golf

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Close to downtown Tucson but seemingly far from civilization, the Coyote Course at Starr Pass Country Club is true desert golf, with the blind shots, rocky carries and tee-surrounding cacti to prove it.

Starr Pass C.C. - Coyote golf course
It's golfer vs. desert at the Coyote nine at Tucson's Starr Pass Country Club.
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Starr Pass - Rattler/Coyote

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The Rattler/Coyote Course is one three courses at the Star Pass Golf Club. The club actually offers three individual nines that are played in three different 18-hole combinations. All of the courses feature dramatic elevations changes and stunning views of the nearby Tucson Mountains.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 71 | 7002 yards | Book online | ... details »

TUCSON, Ariz. -- You don't see the flag. But you sure see the mountain.

This is how it goes, hole after hole, on Starr Pass Country Club's Coyote nine. Standing on the tee, you're looking straight up a hill, the rocky form of a mountain visible over the crest of the ultra-green fairway. The pin? It's back around a bend, or down the hill.

It's a blind shot, but the view is stunning.

"Something about Coyote messes with my head," regular Tucson golfer Steve Norris said.

Either that or it will clear your head. More stunning than even all the blind-faith shots you'll take here is the course's remote feel.

Of the three Arnold Palmer nines at Starr Pass, Coyote is the most removed from the linked JW Marriott resort and golf community. Tucson golf is known for its natural desert courses, and Coyote is more natural than most.

"Coyote's my favorite of the nines because it just gives you a sense of just being out there," said Todd Howard, the club's director of golf.

In Tucson, where national parks and world-class hiking and mountain-biking trails are steps from the golf resorts, that means really out there.

You do not see the sprawling JW Marriott from Coyote, nor many of the impressive second homes fueling Starr Pass' growth. You do see plenty of towering, 150-year-old saguaro cacti - some of the back tees are surrounded by them.

It's as if Palmer's design team got lost in the desert. Ah hell, let's just stick the tee here.

Make no mistake. This is no easy, let-them-work-off-their-winter-rust resort course. You show up at Starr Pass ready to play or you get punished.

"This is a tough course," Starr Pass member Bob Sereno said.

It used to be even tougher. Before Marriott took over in 2006, desert brush towered up near the tees, making it especially painful for average golfers playing from the blue tees -- the fourth set of tees. More than a few double-digit handicappers were brought to their knees by the likes of obstacles that they'd never seen before.

The Coyote nine still possess some of that tormentor's spirit. You're going to be rethinking -- and rethinking -- how you played holes here.

There are several instances where discretion is the better part of scorecard valor. No. 6 -- at 351 yards the shortest par 4 on the course -- could be a simple par hole if golfers were content to hit a little 190-yard iron shot off the tee.

Of course, if golfers were content to do this the whole equipment industry would collapse.

Everyone wants to bomb, to go for the green, to hit the big dog farther and farther. Problem is, the green here is so tucked away in the desert, the Federal Witness Protection Program wouldn't stow someone out here.

You will not see this green on your first shot. You might not even see it on your second shot.

Welcome to true desert golf. No shaky swings allowed.

"This course will make you realize why you love this game," Swiss golfer Renee Berger said. "And it will make you realize why you can't stand this game."

Coyote is the longest of Starr Pass' three nines at 3,512 yards, but it's not pure distance that cranks up the difficulty level. The par-3 seventh is only about 200 yards, but almost all of it is desert carry.

"You're going to make some donations to the desert," Sereno said. "Everybody does."

Starr Pass Country Club's Coyote Course: The verdict

If you're playing in Tucson, you want to get out to Starr Pass, and you want to make sure Coyote is one of your nines. Not that the other options, Roadrunner and Rattler, are slouches, but Coyote provides close encounters with the desert like no other course.

This is a challenging play, almost the antithesis of your usual run of the mill resort golf course. You actually have to use your golf mind rather than just swinging away on brute rote at Starr Pass Coyote.

The desert scenery and cacti surrounded tees makes for a golf day to remember. The fairways' green make the stark desert pop out even more.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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