Tucson serves up the best names in golf course design

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

TUCSON, Ariz. -- When Tucson's golf scene exploded in the 1980s, nationally acclaimed golf course architects all flocked to the desert to add their names to the design stable.

Rio Rico G.C. golf course
Rio Rico Golf Course is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design located just south of Tucson.
Rio Rico G.C. golf courseMountain golf course at Ventana Canyon - hole 17The Golf Club at Vistoso in Tucson
If you go

If you have a favorite golf course architect in mind, chances are, he has a golf course in Tucson.

Tom Fazio

It shouldn't be much of a surprise that Tucson's most famous hole came at the hands of Tom Fazio: the par-3 third at Ventana Canyon Golf Club's Mountain Course. Fazio also built the Canyon Course at this upscale private club that alternates public access on its courses daily and is part of the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.

Jack Nicklaus

Nicklaus built 27-hole La Paloma Country Club in 1984, which helped usher in a new era of design in Tucson (and has since redesigned the course in 2008). He came back to build Tucson's next big thing, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, offering 27 new holes that test the world's 64 best at the WGC Accenture Match Play.

Robert Trent Jones Jr.

RTJ Jr. delivered a standout in 1996 at Arizona National Golf Club, which rolls dramatically up and down fertile Santa Catalina mountain foothills. Less resort-friendly and more built to demand shot making, it remains one of the top daily fees in the area and is host to the often future-star-studded University of Arizona golf teams.

Robert Trent Jones Sr.

Papa Jones has no flashy Tucson desert designs, but he built a gem just south, Rio Rico Golf Course, a traditional parkland course lined with tall cottonwoods and mesquite trees.

Tom Weiskopf

Weiskopf made a name for his design skills in the desert. In Tucson, his daily-fee Golf Club at Vistoso winds through the desert and offers target, positional golf at its best.

Bob Cupp

Bob Cupp and player consultant Craig Stadler designed the 27-hole TPC Starr Pass, which debuted in 1986 and hosted the PGA Tour's Northern Telecom Open. Later removed of TPC status, it was taken over by Arnold Palmer Signature Golf in 2004, redesigned and renamed Starr Pass Golf Club and is affiliated with the JW Marriott Resort.

Arthur Hills

Hills built The Highlands at Dove Mountain, a relative bargain course in the Dove Mountain development that falls under the radar compared to The Gallery and Ritz-Carlton.

Lee Schmidt-Brian Curley

Long before Schmidt-Curly took to conquer Asia's golf market, they had their hands on the desert West. Canoa Ranch Golf Club is their Tucson-area design, south of the city in the Green Valley.

Ken Kavanaugh

Arizona-based architect Kavanaugh has had a hand in redesigning and renovating several projects around Tucson, including three of the city's five municipal facilities. He rebuilt traditional parkland Dell Urich Golf Club to handle its location in a flood zone. He also renovated historic El Rio Golf Course, "de-modernizing" it in his words. "There are few opportunities to play an old-style golf course," he said. He also built five new holes at Silverbell Golf Course.

To the south, Kavanaugh added nine holes at scenic Tubac Golf Resort and enhanced the others.

Robert Von Hagge and Bruce Devlin

This design duo helped build one of the courses that put Tucson golf on the map, long before target-style desert golf become the hot commodity that it is, with the parkland-style Catalina Course at Omni Tucson National. Set through tall trees and featuring a smattering of small ponds, this course hosted the Tucson Open until 2006.

Lee Trevino

Trevino has his name on a couple southern Arizona golf courses: Crooked Tree G.C. is a traditionally-styled layout void of homes surrounding holes. To the south, his Torres Blancas serves up more than 6,900 yards in the Santa Cruz River Valley.

Tom Lehman Design

Tour pro Lehman's design firm has two area courses. The Sonoran Course at Omni Tucson National is a desert-style complement to the original Catalina. The Sonoran may have the steepest uphill shot in the desert, thanks to the uphill, par-5 15th.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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