Tucson's best challenges for the scratch golfer

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

TUCSON, Ariz. - Got your "A" game? Tucson's got you covered. If you think resort golf out in the desert is all about elevated tee shots, wide fairways and pretty views, these courses are taunting you to try and shoot in the red.

Of course, no one facility is designed solely for the club professional - it'd be out of business before it opened. But these four courses are among the toughest in the west, and coming to the course with a glitch in the backswing may result in a long day in the toasty desert sun.

Arizona National - At just over 6,700 yards, you wouldn't think Arizona National is one of the meanest courses in Tucson. But as Eric Hoffman, Head Professional and General Manager explains, it isn't the length that's the hard part.

"I would say there's a premium on shot selection on short holes," said Hoffman. "There's a lot of good risk/reward holes that are pretty penal if you miss."

Arizona National, like all of the elite courses in the desert, has some of the most stunning views you'll find anywhere in the southwest to go with the penal design. A legend even floats around Arizona National that Tiger Woods, during a tournament hosted by the University of Arizona, was so mesmerized by the scenery on the 18th tee he sprayed his drive left into the water.

No matter how difficult the course, it's sure to have its birdie opportunity. For Hoffman, it comes early in the round at the fifth.

"It's a downhill par-5, 518 yards. Water is around the green, but if you hit a good drive, it's only a mid-iron in."

Starr Pass - The closest thing to a TPC course in Tucson is Starr Pass, which originally opened as a TPC course until the TPC bowed out in 1998. The layout remains challenging, even following a redesign this summer by the Arnold Palmer design group. Still, Director of Golf at Starr Pass Joan Fails says the course is among the hardest in Tucson.

"Starr Pass was designed with tour players in mind," notes Fails. "But it was recently made more player friendly with the redesign this summer.

Like Arizona National, it isn't the brutal length of the course that troubles golfers, but the trickiness of each shot.

"It's not long," says Fails. "It requires accuracy with every club. The greens are small and undulating. Many have several tiers."

Canoa Hills - Just 25 minutes south of Tucson in Green Valley lurks another monster, Canoa Hills. Many low rounds have been spoiled by Canoa's 535 yard 15th. The fairway is merely 25 yards across with trouble on both sides. First-time players at Canoa and regulars alike usually opt for the iron on the tee. Accuracy is the magic word in general here, as the layout is just 6,630 yards. Landing areas in the fairway tend to be narrow, but the greens are large and slippery. Canoa Hills is another one of Tucson's "classic" desert designs by Dave Bennet, opened in 1983.

Ventana Canyon - It's impossible to go wrong with the two Tom Fazio designs at Ventana Canyon, the Canyon and Mountain courses. Both are of comparable length and both are visually stunning from any point on the course. The general consensus on difficulty however goes to the Mountain course, which also has a higher slope rating of 147 compared to the Canyon's 140. Assistant Pro at Ventana Canyon Jason Smith agrees.

"I'd say the Mountain is a bit harder to break par on," says Smith. "The greens are trickier. But I do think the Canyon has the easiest (front) and hardest (back) nine at Ventana."

Along with the slippery greens, long carries over desert between 130 and 170 yards are an occurring theme on both courses. And of course, there's the third hole on the Mountain course which has quickly made a name for itself as one of the most dramatic, most photographed holes at just 125 yards.

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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