Turquoise Valley Golf Club: A True Delight in Cochise County
NACO, Ariz. - Turquoise Valley Golf Course General Manager Pete Campbell snuck out to a clandestine perch just behind the first hole and watched intently. Campbell observed the grimaces on players' faces as their tee shots faded down the dramatically left to right sloping fairway of the course's deceptively arduous opening hole.
It wasn't hard for Campbell to do the math. Slice minded golfers, combined with the current hole configuration equaled too many double and triple bogeys on a par-4 that was supposed to welcome players to the course.
This in turn, amounted to a wagonload of unhappy duffers, and unhappy is not good when you are trying to attract golfers from all over southern Arizona to your facility.
So Campbell did what any good general manager in the Wild West would do. He hunkered down at a local watering hole with one of the area's best amateur players and started rerouting the first hole of Arizona's oldest continuously operated golf course.
"We have some stuff on cocktail napkins, but I can't release any of the ideas just yet," Campbell says laughing. "We are going to reroute a couple holes so that players don't have to deal with that difficult a hole from the onset.
From hole designs on cocktail napkins to golf tournaments that feature tee shots from toilet bowls, things are done differently at the Turquoise Valley Golf Course in the border town of Naco, and it all begins with the history of the facility.
The original nine holes opened in Bisbee back in 1908 to serve as a pleasant diversion for copper miners. In the early 1930's, the course was moved to Naco and a new clubhouse was constructed via FDR's Works Progress Administration.
The course gradually deteriorated over the years while under the management of the city government. The bleeding was momentarily halted when Turquoise Valley was purchased by a private interest in 1991.
However, it was a visit from a wealthy Canadian sheep farmer in 1996 that completely altered the future of this southern Arizona golfing treasure.
Peter and Leslie Lawson had escaped the winter of Alberta, Canada for one of their annual visits to the southwestern U.S. The couple was capturing a brief reprieve from the daily grind of their Canadian sheep farming business when they happened upon the Turquoise Valley Golf Course.
"Peter fell in love with the place at first sight," says Campbell. "He negotiated to buy it, got an agreement, and then sold his sheep farm. The first thing he wanted to do was expand the course from nine holes to 18..
Lawson hired local teaching pro and former Cochise College physical education instructor, Dick Atkinson, to design the back nine.
Things are done differently at the Turquoise Valley Golf Club, remember.
So when Lawson and Atkinson devised the region's first par-6, no one in this eccentric border town gave it a second thought. The 747-yard 15th hole was dubbed the "Rattler," and instantly became one of the most talked about holes in the state.
"Peter just completely redid this place and made it into the best course in the county," Campbell says. "He is the type of guy you are lucky to meet just once in your lifetime."
Lawson's rare four shotter is neither the most difficult, nor the most scenic hole on the golf course, according to Campbell, however.
The slippery, sliding first hole that devours sliced tee shots like chimichangas is the toughest challenge on the 6778-yard layout. For sheer scenery and history, it's hard to top the 198-yard par-3 11th hole. The view of the Mule Mountains from the black and white tee boxes is jaw-dropping, and topped tees shots will find their way into an arroyo that was once the site of a prehistoric Mastodon kill.
"The 11th is a knee knocking par-3," Campbell says. "It is easily the best par-3 on this course and maybe in this region."
Having been constructed in two drastically different time periods, Turquoise Valley's front and back nines are as contrasting as the high and low Sonoran Desert. The walk out is traditional, by Naco standards, with two par-3's, two par-5's and grass running from tee to green. The back nine features more of a modern, desert target style design, and is home to the slightly less than traditional par-6 11th hole.
"The front nine is more forgiving if you miss the fairways and the back nine will punish you if you are not accurate," says Campbell.
All of this is wrapped up and delivered at a high desert altitude of over 4600 feet that keeps temperatures at Turquoise Valley comfortable year around. The course is a two-hour ride from Tucson, 30 minutes from Sierra Vista, and just 15 minutes from downtown Bisbee. And unlike most Arizona golf courses, Turquoise Valley is home free, and plans to stay that way as long as Lawson is at the helm.
"You have mountains on three sides and there are no homes at all," Campbell says. "There is an R.V. park to the south and there are just various owners of land nearby. You are really going to feel alone with the southwestern desert out here."
Alone, but not completely alone. Word of Turquoise Valley's affordable greens fees ($32 for 18 holes with a cart, or $18 to walk) and high-end daily fee course conditions has spread from Tucson to Sierra Vista.
"We have excellent bentgrass greens and a hybrid Bermuda in the fairways that is always in great condition," Campbell says. "For the money, its hard to find a better play."
Turquoise Valley Golf Club Notebook
In Naco, questions of an historical nature are typically brought before local historian Buffalo Bill - preferably over a drink at a local tavern. The harder the question, the better the drink required for information from this colorful local. Bill walks the streets of downtown Naco wearing full cowboy attire, no matter what time of year, and his knowledge of southern Arizona history is unparalleled, according to some locals.
Naco is the sight of the only bombing on American soil by a foreign country. Circa 1925, an Irish/American who was supposed to be bombing the Mexican Federales and elite mining company executives ended up dropping his artillery on downtown Naco, Arizona instead of Naco, Sonora. The bombing damaged a number of buildings, but no one was hurt.
Cup of Coffee in the bigs
Turquoise Valley's resident golf professional Dick Atkinson had a cup of coffee as a pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1950's. Atkinson went on to teach physical education and golf at Cochise College for 25 years.
Huffman was a fan
Noted golf writer and former Arizona Republic reporter Bill Huffman included Turquoise Valley in his compilation of Arizona's greatest golf courses. Turquoise Valley was the only course selected from Cochise County.
Not your typical tournament
Each July, Turquoise hosts a tournament that raises money for local charities. A donation will get you a spot in the rotation, but don't expect the traditional Captain's Choice format.
"We have players do all sorts of crazy stuff, from teeing off from sand traps, playing holes with one club, putting on cupless holes and teeing off from a toilet seat," says Campbell.
Where to Stay
Located west of the No. 7 fairway, Casa Turquoise is a furnished, two bedroom, two bath cottage that can accommodate up to four people. A golf package is available that includes complimentary greens fees and carts, and entry to nearby attractions. Call 520-432-3025 for rates and availability.
If the Casa is full, try the San Jose Lodge on the border of Naco and Bisbee (520-432-5761.
Turquoise Valley's clubhouse is home to some of the best Sonoran cooking in southern Arizona, according to locals, and a full service bar is also available.