JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort: Arnold Palmer golf and excellent dining at a unique Tucson resort

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort is not your ordinary Tucson golf resort experience. With excellent dining, a world-class spa and three Arnold Palmer golf courses, it is an excellent choice for a Tucson golfing vacation.

JW Marriott Starr Pass - Tucson Golf Hotel
Even Starr Pass' earthtone color fits in with Tucson's natural vibe.
JW Marriott Starr Pass - Tucson Golf HotelJW Marriott Starr Pass Resort - Tucson SceneryJW Marriott Starr Pass Resort - Desert Golf
If you go

TUCSON, Ariz. - If you've ever watched "Boston Legal", the less successful spin-off of the legal drama "The Practice", the one scene you likely remember is William Shatner and James Spader sitting outside together, smoking cigars and talking junk at the end of each episode.

It's the quintessential male bonding moment of the 21st century. Or more accurately, just a great hanging out, shooting the breeze in the breeze moment. For you don't have to be a character on "Boston Legal," or a man, for that matter, to enjoy a stogie and a scotch.

At the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort, it's available every night of the week. This sprawling resort that seems like it's a world away from Tucson's college-town downtown, but is actually the closest resort to the airport, features a huge outdoor patio that turns into the chill spot at night.

Fire pits cackle with low flames, and you don't have to be a boy scout to get them lit (the staff starts them for you). Tables and chairs are pulled up around a fire or to the edge of the balcony, which looks out on a sky full of stars. Cigars are lit and the drink orders come frequently and in the exotic variety (Starr Pass has over 100 varieties of tequila alone).

"It's like being on a commune, only the people aren't crazy and the beds are much more comfortable," vacationer Mike Babel said, his feet up and a cigar in hand.

Only if your commune included a high-end spa. Starr Pass' Hashani Spa offers so many different treatments that the menu is five pages long. These aren't just the same old tired massages, either.

Starr Pass encourages its massage therapists to suggest special treatments they thought up and often adds them as an option for guests. This is why the spa has a foot and hand massage in a special foot renewal room (no joke) that includes specially designed baths and warm mitts for your hands.

Things like this help insure JW Marriott Starr Pass is no cookie-cutter resort you could find a copy of in San Diego and Orlando. Even the golf breaks the usual resort course mode. Starr Pass has three Arnold Palmer nines on site, but they were here before the hotel opened in 2005.

Which means they were designed as a golf course with bite, not some soothing easy resort play. This course isn't going to bore you.

Neither is the food. Even Starr Pass' casual restaurant - Signature Grill - features fresh and often creative cooking. The tableside guacamole, mixed by your waiter, is a can't-miss appetizer.

You can forget all those trips where the hotel food almost tasted like airplane food.

Starr Pass' Executive Chef Ryan Littman oversees a four-restaurant operation that any foodie could love. Littman has his own garden right in back of the showcase restaurant Primo, so he can pluck ingredients straight from the earth and onto the plate. For other vegetables, Littman is a regular at local farmer's markets.

Littman won the International Chef of the Year award from Marriott, but he's as down-to-earth a chef as you'll find. His personal favorite food is foie gras, but he doesn't try to force it on diners by working it into tons of dishes (still, you should order it).

Primo also offers a chef's table, right in the heart of the kitchen. You sit there, watching the chefs work, chat with Littman and often get offered wine from the sommelier that's not even on the menu. It's a popular special occasion splurge, one that you usually find in ultra high-end restaurants in places like New York and Los Angeles.

It's not the type of thing you expect to find in a Marriott resort.

A real Tucson experience

That's Starr Pass, all unique, with plenty of Tucson. The resort also offers complimentary guided hiking tours every morning. You can do that when Tucson Mountain Park and its 175-year-old towering saguaro cacti abut your resort.

"We try to have a real sense of place," General Manager John Adams said. "I think you get a great feel for Tucson and the beauty of the desert when you're staying here."

You also have a good chance of getting a really deep sleep. Starr Pass' rooms are big, and the beds are more along the line of a Westin Heavenly Bed than the typical Marriott number. It's also quiet, even if you're in the closest corridor to the lobby.

In fact, the only thing even close to an inconvenience at JW Starr Pass is the long, long walk from your room to the self-parking. After you've decompressed for a day or two, you start to think it's nice to get a little exercise, though, and to pass the spa and all the restaurants on the way to the car.

You're in Tucson. Who's in a hurry anyway?

"Our hope is that if you're on vacation here, you'll find yourself putting away the Blackberry," Adams said. "By choice. I know how hard that can be to do. But we try to make it a retreat, away-from-it-all atmosphere."

The relaxed vibe isn't limited to the fire pit, stare-gazing patio at night. Starr Pass' morning scene is as unhurried as a retiree at Starbucks. The two-level open lobby with floor-to-ceiling glass windows is full of cushiony lounge chairs. People just clomp down into one, leisurely read their paper or novel, actually talk with their spouse.

It's what a vacation should look like, but so seldom does.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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