Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club's Mountain course in Tucson: Plenty more than the signature third hole
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Chances are, if you've booked a tee time on the Mountain course at Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club, you've heard about its signature hole: The remarkable No. 3.
Dave Simm, director of instruction at the club since 1988, has seen his share of theatrics on the third, which fits on the short list among the Sonoran Desert's best.
"Twice, I've seen aces on the third," Simm said. "And both times, they hit the rock on the right, bounced on the green and rolled into the hole."
Soak in the stunning view of No. 3, with its green set between two boulders, and marvel at the architectural ingenuity that defines Tom Fazio's creation. It's probably for the best, though, that the famous, 107-yard canyon shot comes so early in the round. The third role is a show-stopper, but also a pace-stopper.
It can slow the round, because arrival at the tee box requires a hike up boulders to stairs. Most groups then take their time at the tee. They often pose for photos and hit more than one tee shot per golfer, judging by the number of sandy ball marks on the green. The putting surface takes a real beating.
Simms said most first-timers miss long.
But once you've played the third, the Mountain course turns into a different kind of desert test. The Ventana Canyon development, established in the early 1980s when other Tucson golf, resort and residential developments like La Paloma and Starr Pass broke ground, features a golf-course design and real estate that blends into the mountainside. The resort and residential properties were built with on-site materials.
The result? Most homes blend into the desert landscape, rather than stand out, as usual, at other upscale developments.
The golf course assumes a similar, tucked-away philosophy -- sans the third hole. Thanks to its reputation, you'd think the Mountain course overflows with resort-style gimmicks. It's actually a subtle, gently rolling, pure test of desert golf that sits on land less severe, for the most part, than La Paloma Country Club or other Catalina Foothills golf courses, like nearby Arizona National Golf Club.
The championship-caliber design demands shot-making to score, plus the restraint to stay away from sucker pins. The greens here take on a life of their own. They roll lightning fast. And in typical Fazio fashion, they're large with tough pin positions and slopes that are, at times, almost too gentle to read, especially when factoring the nearby mountains that help disguise the break.
While many holes weave gracefully through the desert with enough Fazio sculpting to keep the golf course artfully displayed on every shot, the Mountain finishes with one last bang. Golfers trudge up desert stairs to the tee box of the par-5 18th hole, which plays from an elevated tee to a fairway that appears small -- and even smaller late in the day, when saguaro shadows overtake the fairway. Put a good drive in play and you'll earn a green light to aim for the green in two and walk off with a red number.
Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club's Mountain course: The verdict
The Canyon course, also a Fazio design, and the Mountain at Ventana Canyon alternate days for public play. Members and staff seem to view the golf courses as equal, even if the Canyon can't match the Mountain's signature hole. Resort-goers tend to favor the Mountain for No. 3, and rightly so. It's a hole worth seeing and conquering, even if it's not necessarily on par with Ventana Canyon's mission.
The semi-private club also features Simm's golf school, which makes full use of the club's phenomenal driving range and numerous practice greens. It offers group and individual academies tailored to each player or group's wishes. For more information, visit www.davesimmgolfschools.com.
Flying V Bar and Grill at Loews Ventana Canyon
Once you've teed it up at Ventana Canyon, head up the mountain to Flying V, across the street from the main Loews Ventana Canyon. It features magnificent sunsets that overlook the golf course and show-stopping, table-side guacamole presentation. It's handmade to the specs of your group, using fresh ingredients. If you don't fill up on chips and the signature margarita concoctions, their entrees are pretty good, too, and live music is common.
Stay and play in Tucson
Two very different accommodation options exist here: Loews Ventana Canyon, a large resort, and The Lodge at Ventana Canyon, smaller and originally built for members. It now serves as a 50-room lodge, specializing in extended-stay, condo-style accommodations with kitchens.
Ventana Canyon's two golf courses are open to the public. So to add La Paloma Country Club to the mix, you'll need to stay at the Westin La Paloma, which offers exclusive access to the 27-hole Jack Nicklaus design. It's a large resort, with 487 guest rooms and a comfortable setting, featuring private patios and oversized soaking tubs. Also, check out the Red Door Spa or one of their four pools on your day away from the golf course.
June 18, 2010