Arizona desert delights: Five must-play (and stay) Tucson golf resorts

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's good to be a golfer in Tucson. Both private and public options are plentiful, with a course for every budget -- from municipals such as Dell Urich at Randolph Golf Course to exclusive privates such as The Gallery.

La Paloma golf course in Tucson - Hill nine - hole 7
La Paloma Country Club is Tucson's original Jack Nicklaus design.
La Paloma golf course in Tucson - Hill nine - hole 7Omni Tucson National Golf ResortMountain golf course at Ventana Canyon - hole 13Ritz-Carlton G.C. at Dove Mountain - Tortolita - hole 9Starr Pass Tucson Golf Club - Coyote - hole 6
If you go

But if only the best will do during your golf vacation, we've narrowed the lot down to five Tucson golf resorts that will ensure you receive a taste of tour-worthy golf design -- plus accommodations and amenities from a collection of the world's finest hotel brands to match.

And here's some good news: The best Tucson golf courses rival that of anywhere in Arizona but all check in less than $200 even in the peak spring season, something Scottsdale can't claim. Tucson does high-end properties with the best of them, even if they don't do swank to the extent of some of Scottsdale's trendier properties.

Here are five resorts in Tucson that will offer the best in golf and accommodations:

Omni Tucson National Resort

Despite 36 holes of championship-caliber golf, the Omni Tucson National Resort's smaller, intimate size is the main allure, as you're just footsteps from everything the resort has to offer, including spa, practice facility, sports bar and Bob's Steak & Chop House.

Between the two golf courses at Omni Tucson National, the resort also boasts the most diverse golf offerings at any of these resorts. The original Catalina Course is an escape from modern, target-style desert golf. Rather, it's a (relatively) historic, parkland-style course full of mature, shady trees (remember that during the summer months) and ponds that hosted the PGA Tour's Chrysler Classic for decades.

The Sonoran Course was completed in 2005 and boasts your showy, target-style desert golf. A Tom Lehman design, some holes play on rolling landscape alongside the Catina, while most others trudge up and down desert hillsides, sometimes severely, like the must-see-to-believe par-5 15th hole.

Westin La Paloma and La Paloma Country Club

Before Jack Nicklaus built the Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain, he built La Paloma Country Club in 1984.

At the time, it was one of the showiest desert courses on record and built with the intention of drawing a national audience to Tucson, which flew under the radar compared to the Valley of the Sun.

A quarter-century later, it still holds its own as a Tucson must-play, thanks in part to recent renovations by Jack to the course's green complexes, which are now updated and feature more pin positions. Three nines weave dramatically through foothills, and golfers tip-toe along fairways lined with trouble.

La Paloma C.C. is a private, Troon Golf-managed course that can be played by guests of the Westin La Paloma Resort, which is within walking distance of your guest room, each of which comes with a private balcony.

The resort boasts the Red Door Spa, multiple pools and shopping, plus dining from one of Tucson's signature chefs, Janos Wilder at Janos and the more casual J Bar. Or dine ultra-casual at Sabino's Swim-up Bar & Grill.

The Lodge at Ventana Canyon and Loews Ventana Canyon

Ventana Canyon boasts two very different hotels, the large Loews resort, and the smaller, 50-unit Lodge that was originally built for the golf club's membership and features condo-style units with full kitchens, catering to extended stays.

For golf, two Tom Fazio designs from 1984 flip-flop and are open to the public, so stay here at least two nights to play both the Canyon and Mountain course. Members and staff who play both Ventana Canyon courses regularly downplay the Mountain course compared to the Canyon course, citing both Fazio designs are equals.

But you're a tourist in town and want to see the best holes of the Sonoran Desert. And for that, Mountain gets the edge thanks to the spectacular, signature par-3 third hole, as well as a collection of desert holes that provide for plenty of drama. The par 5s are especially salivating for big-tee ballers, none more so than the 18th hole played from a sky high, elevated tee box.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain

One of the PGA Tour's standout events has moved to the new Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain, the WGC Accenture Match Play Championships.

Opened in 2009, the 27-hole course has been built to tour standards and can play a combination up to 8,000 yards for the tour pros, which is more than enough for mere mortals.

The highest end within the huge development north of Tucson, Dove Mountain boasts more than just the holes at Ritz-Carlton, as you can also play Heritage Highlands, a more affordable desert design by Arthur Hills that is less than $100 even in the peak spring season.

JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa

Starr Pass Golf Club originally opened as a TPC property in 1986, and Phil Mickelson won here as an amateur at the Tucson in 1991.

Today, the TPC name is gone, but the Bobb Cupp design (with player consultant Craig Stadler) remains a 27-hole centerpiece of the JW Marriott Resort that rumbles up and down the foothills.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. 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.


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