Big budget revamp turning Omni Tucson National into a luxury golf vacation retreat

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Boasting two first rate golf courses, the Catalina and Sonoran, the Omni Tucson National Resort is set to become one of the finest golf resorts in Arizona after a nearly $100 million renovation.

Omni Tucson National Resort
Omni Tucson National is being transformed into a luxury boutique hotel.
Omni Tucson National ResortOmni Tucson National - Catalina Course 18Omni Tucson National - Sonoran Course
If you go

TUCSON, Ariz. - For a while, Omni Tucson National Resort looked like a project gone wild. Its renovation budget jumped from $40 million to $60 million to $97 million like a video-game-generation kid's score in Guitar Hero.

The last leap brought an order from Omni owner Robert Rowlings to halt construction. The big boss billionaire would be flying in to see what the heck was going on with all his George Washingtons.

"We thought he'd slash the budget, scale down the project, cut down on the number of rooms and decide we didn't really need a bunch of the little touches," Tucson National Director of Golf Pat Miller said. "He flies in and approves $92 million."

Miller laughs. He's leaning back in his chair in the trailer that's serving as the temporary clubhouse. There's a lot of dust, fenced-off areas and construction vehicles throughout the hotel grounds these days. But it looks great to Tucson National workers, who can see the resort becoming one of the finest in Arizona - a state that might as well be the unofficial capital of golf resorts.

"It's nice not working for a corporation and knowing that one guy's in control of things," Miller said. "If I was working for Troon Golf, I know there's no way we would have got some of the things we're getting here."

Those things include bamboo wood flooring to help give the new golf shop what Miller calls "the rich, traditional look" - at a cost of $80,000 for one small room. Tile has been flown in from Italy for some of the guest rooms. And every room is supposed to be outfitted with a 42-inch flat screen TV.

Already open for guests now as the renovations go on, Omni Tucson National is getting a slight head start on a brand-new Ritz-Carlton resort about 10 minutes down the road that's scheduled to open in time for the 2009 WGC Accenture Match Play Championship (the Ritz's equally new Jack Nicklaus course becomes the host of the Match Play, replacing Gallery Golf Club).

Omni Tucson National likely will not be completely finished with its overhaul until 2010, but the new pool is already open and the new golf shop should debut around April 15. Both its golf courses - the Tom Lehman-designed Sonoran Course (which opened in 2004) and the famous Catalina Course (longtime host to the PGA Tour's Chrysler Classic) - are largely unaffected by the construction.

In all, Omni expects to spend around $375,000 per guest room door in renovations.

"It's completely transforming this place," Miller said.

Right now, in the midst of the money metamorphosis, the experience is somewhat uneven.

You can see the potential. There even will be things you love about the stay. But there are a few annoyances too.

During my late February visit, the biggest annoyance was the long, awkward path to get to the rooms. There's really no direct way - yet. You're going down a long staircase, walking past the restaurant patio with people eating as you rumble by with your suitcases and twisting around a path that's being completed.

If you're touting anything bigger than a computer bag, you want to get bellhop assistance.

There's also only one restaurant open on site. A resort charging $300 per night needs to offer its guests much more self-contained variety than that. Worse, the food in the one restaurant isn't going to blow anyone away.

Room comfort saves Omni Tucson National

Once you get to your room, Tucson National's minuses start fading away. The smallest of the rooms are large and boast a couch, a lounging chair and a circular work/end table. The bathrooms have big soaking tubs and separate showers with good water pressure (no small luxury in today's often cheap hotel world).

Neither of the TVs in the two different rooms I stayed in were super big high-definition varieties - and the picture turned out to be slightly fuzzy on certain channels on both. Again, it's a work in progress.

The rooms also need another lamp or two.

The sheer coziness of the beds helps make up for that though. If you don't sleep well at Omni Tucson National, you need to look to a priest or a tax attorney because no bedding's going to save your dreams.

The rooms are very quiet too. Even with all the construction going on, once you close your door and pull your shades, you'd never know it. It's like being in your own plush cave.

Balconies and patios that look out over the golf courses or the pool add to the retreat effect.

The pool itself isn't huge, but it fits in with the boutique hotel vibe Omni Tucson National is trying to build. Banish any thoughts of a mammoth resort where you're a number. You go through a gate that covers the shared community and get announced to the front desk. Omni Tucson's entranceway itself is pretty modest, and the front desk actually consists of a few nice office desks where you get to sit down across from the receptionist as you check in.

Tucson National sometimes seems more secluded than it really is, though. It's not easily apparent, but a few turns away you'll find a shopping center with a Barnes and Noble, a movie theater, a Chipotle and a 24-hour Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart may not fit in with the luxury theme, but convenience is convenience.

"You don't want to feel like you have to drive all over the place when you're trying to relax," vacationer Sarah Kolbert said.

You do not mind if a Texas oil billionaire is flying in tile and other luxury touches from around the world though. It's good to see someone else's money flow and your experience improve.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment