Loews Ventana Canyon in Tucson: Slick Fazio greens menace scores on Sonoran beauties

By David R. Holland, Contributor

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Like any other snowbird seeking warmth from the Indiana winter, Notre Dame freshman golfer Steve Colnitis came to Arizona to knock some rust off his chilly golf game during the winter holiday break.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort - Mountain golf course - hole 3
The Mountain course at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort's signature hole is the 107-yard, par-3 third. Most agree this is the most photographed hole west of the Mississippi.
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort - Mountain golf course - hole 3Mountain golf course at Ventana Canyon - No. 4Mountain golf course - Ventana Canyon - hole 14
If you go

The Lodge at Ventana Canyon - Mountain Course

5 stars out of 5 (based on 1 reviews)
See all reviews | Submit your rating

A classic desert-style, target course, the Mountain has many changes in elevation and several elevated tees. Putting is a challenge because the greens are undulating and typically fast.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 6898 yards | Book online | ... details »

The Lodge at Ventana Canyon - Canyon Course

3.5 stars out of 5 (based on 2 reviews)
See all reviews | Submit your rating

The Canyon Golf Course winds through the inspiring beauty of Esperro Canyon and incorporates the massive rock formation known as Whaleback Rock.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 6836 yards | Book online | ... details »

What he found at Loews Ventana Canyon was enough challenge to keep him focused on improvement in his game.

"If I was back in South Bend right now the only thing I could do is hit balls under a domed practice area," Colnitis said. "I haven't played a round of golf in a month, so I came here to visit my uncle and try to get my game in shape for competition this spring. We won't be playing outdoors in Indiana for several months, but I know the team has trips scheduled to places like Texas before it warms up enough back in Indiana.".

What Colnitis found in the Mountain Course and Canyon Course at Ventana Canyon were plenty of challenges in two Tom Fazio layouts.

"From the back tees some of the landing areas seem tiny and you really have to focus to keep the ball in the fairway," Colnitis said. "But the biggest problems face you around the greens. Approach shots and chipping from off the greens present big challenges. You need plenty of skill to get the ball close because these greens are slick and there's lots of undulations."

If the hard-to-hold slick greens aren't enough to distract you, the scenery will. The Santa Catalina Mountains rise behind as the golfer stands on the tee at the world-renown par-3, 107-yard Mountain Course's signature shot. Grab your camera from the elevated perch teeing area. The rugged Arizona terrain drops to no-man's land between you and the green, where rock formations surround and hug the green, surrounding it in Sonoran desert harshness. Imagine how many dollars were spent to build this one.

The Mountain Course, opened in 1984, is ranked No. 46 on Golf Magazine's 2000 Top 100 You Can Play List.

The Canyon Course has memorable par-3 tests at Nos. 13 and 16, where you must be precise or be stymied. End your day with Ventana Canyon's other million-dollar hole, a 503-yard par-5 framed by a man-made waterfall fronting the entrance to the hotel.

"I think this was the toughest day I ever had around the greens," said Bill Hilliard of Erie, PA. "The marshal told us everything breaks away from the mountains and boy was that correct. I had lots of problems getting the ball close all day. Even when I hit the ball short of the green, many times it went to the back and then I was facing a downhill impossible putt. The scenery is worth the price and No. 3 on the Mountain Course is one of the most beautiful holes I've ever played."

Both golf courses, constructed in a forest of saguaros in the rugged Santa Catalina foothills, provide plenty of environmental sensitivity. Wildlife still thrives here with coveys of Gambel's quail, red-tailed hawks, bobcats, deer, rabbits, coyotes and roadrunners in abundance.

If your scorecard is loaded with three-putts, just enjoy the 93 acres and scenery of Esperro Canyon, the geological wonder of Whaleback Rock, the sunrises and sunsets at 3,013 feet and the comfortable surroundings, western art and amenities of the hotel.

Celebrity golfers at Loews Ventana Canyon

What celebs have played Ventana Canyon? John Denver, Chevy Chase, Vince Gill, Clint Eastwood, Jack Kemp, Rick Pitino, Hank Aaron, Joe Theismann, Bart Starr, Lute Olson and many others. Politics? George Bush, Gerald Ford, Dan Quayle, Prince Andrew, Bill Bradley have all played golf here.

The hotel is nestled on 93 acres against the Catalina Mountain foothills only 18 miles from Tucson International Airport. It includes 398 rooms and 27 suites -- some with fireplaces and Jacuzzis. Amenities include honor bar, sundries, three telephones (one with computer jack), oversized bath tubs, hair dryers, robes and irons and ironing boards.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Ventana Canyon Experience

    Peter Deering wrote on: Nov 6, 2005

    I played Lowes Ventana Canyon today Novemeber 5TH, the 6TH and final day of my vacation to Tucson. I thought I was saving the best for last and to my surprise I was disapointed from the moment I entered the property. In comparsion to several other courses Vestoso, Gallery, Arizona National the course the experience at Ventana Canyon would be rated the lowest. For starters as a non guest of the hotel I was subject to parking my car in auxilary parking with no option of a bag drop. i had to carry my bag thrrough a double parking area plus a tennis facility. The Golf shop was smaller than a shoe box and inside the golf shop I was given the impression that I was inconviencing the staff on the day of the big Arizona Wildcats football game against UCLA. Once I paid my 205.00 I was advised to find someone below to load my bag onto a cart. Well I proceded down a stair case with my golf bag over my shoulder and ended up loading my bag onto a golf cart without assistance. I was then questioned "what are you doing". I should my reciept and was advised to drive 3/4 of a mile to find the starter. The road you drive on is like a race course for golf carts. They come at you from all directions with blind turns and poorly directed signs along the 3/4 of a mile trek to the starter /practice facility. To my surprise I again found no one available at the area inwhich the starter should be present. A local member gave us direction to the first Tee which we procede to find and TEE off without any instructions. As an experienced golfer i looked at the fairways and saw no cart tracks instantly registering that we must be cart path only. After 2 holes the course came to a grinding halt and we did not see a Ranger until the 8TH Tee. By this time I was totally discouraged about my experience and my brother reminded me of the exceptional golf played previously during the trip. I then reminded him that this was suppose to be the best course certainly it was the most expensive. I did find the conditions of the golf course to be of high standards however the managment for whatever reason on this day took the day off.
    I have played other Troon Courses both in Troon North Arizona and Savanah Georgia and the experince was outstanding. I saved for the entire summer of 2005 to take this course and the final day on Ventana Canyon was a complete disapointment.


    • RE: Ventana Canyon Experience

      Barbara StJohn wrote on: Jul 19, 2012

      Thank you for your comments on the Ventana golf course. I am going to Tucson again in October and was undecided as to the courses I would like to play. I am playing Heritage Highlands where my friends belong, but I wanted one other course during my 5 days. Your article saved me from a disappointing choice.


      • RE: RE: Ventana Canyon Experience

        Dennis Moore wrote on: Aug 20, 2012

        Barbara, that was 7 years ago. Whole new ball game now. Hope you didn't miss out on one of Tucson's gems.