Golf courses in Tucson: Tee it high on Old Pueblo's toughest par 5s
TUCSON, Ariz. -- If there is anything better than a birdie, it's a birdie on a golf course's signature hole.
Your best chance is on a par 5, but you'll need two or three pure shots to do so. Many of the game's best architects have laid out desert designs in Tucson, from Jack Nicklaus to Tom Fazio, and they've all built beastly par 5s.
After visited 10 of the top golf courses in Tucson in 2010, here are my top picks for par 5s that are demanding and scenic enough that they'll get your motor running for the whole year if you make birdie.
La Paloma Country Club (Hill nine) No. 7
Opened in 1984, La Paloma Country Club set out to make a splash on the Tucson golf scene, and the 27-hole Jack Nicklaus design features one dramatic tee shot after another. The best of the bunch is on the Hill nine's par-5 seventh, which many will agree is the course's signature hole.
The hole begins from an elevated tee that lets you bite off some distance if you challenge the right side, which requires a longer carry over desert to a semi-blind fairway.
Once you head down from the tee into the fairway, the hole feels entirely different. You play through a tunnel of desert on either side, toward a green set in a natural desert amphitheater, with plenty of trouble around.
Ventana Canyon Golf Club (Mountain Course), No. 18
The famous boulder par-3 third hole steals most "signature hole" votes at Ventana Canyon Golf Club's Mountain Course -- if not all of Arizona -- but architect Tom Fazio saved another show-stopping tee site for the closing hole.
To reach the tee box on the par-5 18th hole, you must walk high up winding steps to a tee set into the foothills and heading to a fairway well below. When the evening shadows creep in, it's even harder to identify from your perch high above.
Find the fairway, and you have a real chance at birdie to a vulnerable green. You should know the course's fast, tricky greens by the last hole and knock home the putt.
Arizona National Golf Club, No. 11
The 11th hole is by no means the most scenic par 5 at Arizona National Golf Club. Two of the course's par 5s are short and straight downhill (No. 5 and No. 18), leaving longer hitters with little more than short irons to the green on their second shot.
But the 11th more than makes up for those two cream puffs. It's a 625-yard monster hugging the Catalina foothills, playing from a blind tee shot over desert to an elevated green guarded by waste area in front. Every shot has real potential for disaster, especially when you're playing the hole for the first time. If you have time, drive up to the top of the hill and take a quick peek before teeing off. You'll realize there is a fairway down there, and it might take some of the uncertainty out of your swing.
Omni Tucson National Resort (Sonoran Course), No. 15
The original Catalina Course at Omni Tucson National Resort is a traditional parkland course, which makes the 15th hole on the Sonoran Course even more remarkable. Chances are you'll find the hole remarkable or downright silly. It's certainly one of the most dramatically uphill approach shots you'll play in the desert, and the flagstick is about 20 feet tall to accommodate.
The Pines Golf Club at Marana, No. 16
The Pines Golf Club at Marana is an area bargain play set in and around an old quarry. Some holes are pretty funky, while others are as dramatic as the area offers, especially given the course's low green fee.
The skinny par-5 12th hole feels about as wide as a bowling lane, which makes the 16th hole even more salivating. From an elevated tee, you can try and bite off as much as you can of the quarry off the tee -- and you'll need it, because the hole trudges uphill from there to a green area on the edge of the cliffs and overlooking the quarry.
September 14, 2010