Tucson's golf's legendary course designers

By Scott Behmer, Contributor

TUCSON, AZ - In golf course design, there is only a handful of designers whose reputation is so strong that one knows the course will be a masterpiece before even playing it. Greater Tucson is fortunate to have five such courses, designed by the likes of Arthur Hills, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, and John Fought. Each has masterfully blended creativity and tradition into a unique layout.

Heritage Highlands Golf Course
Heritage Highlands Golf Course, an Arthur Hills design northwest of Tucson, was named "America's Best New Public Course for 1997" by Golf Digest.
Heritage Highlands Golf Course
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Heritage Highlands Golf Course, northwest of Tucson, was designed just last year by Arthur Hills. Almost immediately it was named 'America's Best New Public Course for 1997' by Golf Digest. Quite naturally it has quickly become a local favorite, and recently four holes were included in Tucson's dream eighteen. The defining aspect of Heritage Highlands is the lightning-fast greens. Putt poorly here and you'll have the yips for a month. The scenic views of the five surrounding mountain ranges and the exquisite use of water make Heritage Highlands a beautiful course.

The Raven Golf Club at Sabino Springs, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., is located in Tucson's far northeast corner. Nestled into the base of the Catalina Mountains, dramatic elevation changes present players with breathtaking views of both the city and the mountains. Sixteen springs trickle through its desert creating a truly tranquil golfing atmosphere. It's 6776 yards long with fast, bent-grass greens. These greens are huge, too, so you'll need excellent touch on long putts. If you can get the long putts close, then you'll overcome The Raven's most difficult feature.

Another very challenging desert course is La Paloma Golf Resort. A Jack Nicklaus design, it rests in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. The 27-hole course has three nine-hole layouts, Hill, Ridge and Canyon. Any combination plays with a slope of 155 and around 7000 yards. A choice of possible tee shots let you determine how much desert to carry, shortening the holes if you choose. But miss the fairway and you'll be teeing it up again. The approaches are just as difficult because the greens are typically isolated by desert. The demand for accuracy is a trademark of Nicklaus' designs just as its one of the strengths of his golf game.

Another demanding course is The Golf Club at Vistoso, located northwest of Tucson. Designed in 1996 by Tom Weiskopf, the Arizona Republic promptly named it one of Arizona's three best public courses. The holes are outlined by rugged desert. Further, many of the large multitiered greens are surrounded by desert, making them play like island greens. For any chance at birdie, you must find the proper tier on these slick, bent-grass greens. At 6925 yards, Vistoso demands both length and accuracy, truly testing all of your golfing skills.

Opening just last week was The Gallery Golf Club designed by John Fought and Tom Lehman. Carved into the Tortolita Mountains, this is another new course for Tucson's northwest. Generous off the tee, strategic bunkering is utilized to direct the player's shots. Lehman frequently flew in by helicopter to oversee the construction of his first course. Celebrities such as Albert Belle, Cindy Flom, and PGA Pro Don Pooley, who turned out for opening day, have judged it a real success.

Each of these courses, built at the base of Tucson's majestic mountain ranges, combines challenging golf with the natural beauty of mountains and desert, making for a truly enjoyable golfing experience. One can only hope that the big names in course design will continue this trend of building masterpieces in the desert.

Scott Behmer, Contributor

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