Tucson golfers can expect big changes

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

TUCSON, Ariz - Changes are shaking up Tucson. The airport is expanding to handle double its current flights; the city is redoing its downtown area, and even the golf and travel scene continues to grow and improve.

Biggest resort in town in the works

Perhaps the biggest impact on the Tucson golf world will be the building of a world-class golf resort in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains. The Starr Pass Marriott Resort & Spa will open in fall 2004 and will be the largest resort in Tucson. The hotel, adjacent to the existing Starr Pass Golf Club, will have 575 rooms, more than 60,000 square feet of meeting facilities, and several restaurants.

In preparation for the debut of the hotel, the existing 18 holes at Starr Pass were closed all summer for renovation; another nine holes are also being added to the golf club. The new nine and the renovations were done by the Arnold Palmer design firm; the existing 18 was designed by Robert Cupp and PGA player Craig Stadler.

Splash down at El Conquistador

Changes are also in the works at El Conquistador Resort and Country Club in the Oro Valley area in the shadow of Pusch Ridge. Sheraton recently sold the El Conquistador to Hilton. The new owners have invested $3 million in building a spectacular new fantasy pool for its guests. What is called The Springs features a 143-foot water slide and a children's fish-shaped pool with interactive water features.

While the kids splash away, Mom and Dad can take on the 45 holes of golf on courses that have been renovated over the past few years by their original architect Greg Nash. The two 18-hole courses, the Conquistador and the Canada, are located off the resort property, a few miles away. But right next to the resort is the beautiful nine-hole Pusch Ridge course.

Lush Lodge changes owners

In the Ventana Canyon area, members of the Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club have recently bought the golf club and the adjacent Lodge at Ventana Canyon, a resort owned until recently by Wyndham Resorts. Immediately after the sale, there were rumors that perhaps the new owners, known as the Ventana Canyon Alliance, might change the Lodge or make the course completely private. But Donald Robinson of the marketing department at the plush and popular Lodge says that the property will remain as elegant as always. As before, guests at the Lodge and at the nearby Loews Ventana Canyon Resort can get tee times on the two Ventana Canyon courses; there is no walk-on public play on these spectacular fairways laid out by Tom Fazio. Troon Golf will manage the courses.

Make the college course scene

Another change on the golf scene in the past couple of years is the renaming of the famous Raven at Sabino Springs, one of the most scenic courses in Tucson. The course is now known as Arizona National, a tribute to the fact that the University of Arizona Wildcats train on its fairways.

When the course was sold about a year ago by Intrawest to the IRI Golf Group, the new owners changed the name and decided to capitalize more on the ties to the local school. According to staff at the course, the affiliation has benefited the course, even though the school doesn't pay rent to use the facilities.

The use of the course is a donation that IRI makes to the school, but it has paid off in terms of the corporate tours and fundraisers that use the course because of the Wildcat connection. Even if you have no interest in the university affiliation, you're going to love playing a round at this course laid out by Robert Trent Jones Jr.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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