Marana's Gallery Putting Tucson on Golf's Top Shelf
MARANA, Az - There was a time when golf in and around Tucson failed in comparison to golf in the Valley of the Sun. While Tucson and its environs don't' come close to offering up the shear volume of high quality, daily fee golf courses found in Arizona's largest 'burg', courses like Marana's Gallery Golf Club are ensuring that the Old Pueblo appears on every serious golfer's radar screen.
The Gallery was designed by John Fought and Tom Lehman, and at over 7400 yards from the tips, it would take a player like Lehman to tame what is quickly becoming recognized as one of Arizona's toughest tracks.
The first time you play the Gallery, the sheer beauty of the course has a tendency to take your mind away from the task at hand - putting the little white ball it the little black cup. The second time you play the Gallery, accomplishing this feat becomes no less arduous. But the astute player can't help but notice the plethora of uniquely designed holes that will have you talking (and even cursing) the Gallery for days after you play it.
At 336 yards from the blue tees, the 1st hole at the Gallery is perfectly designed and placed. It lulls first time players into thinking that they are about to meet yet another member of the new wave of "friendly desert courses you can play" club.
But make par on the first hole, because the Gallery is just getting warmed up. The par-4, 2nd hole plays only 391 yards from the blues. But with a severe dog leg left fortified by one of southern Arizona's largest waste bunkers, the hole will take par out of the hands of the fader and will challenge the bunker play of those players who hook or draw the ball.
If bunkers are the bane of your existence of as a golfer, the Gallery will chew you up and spit you out like cut grass. The par-4, 418 yard 4th hole rewards a drive piped up the middle left with a nice soft lie in a fairway bunker that sports lips the size of Mick Jagger's. Both the 4th hole and the 388 yard, par-4 5th hole boast seven bunkers apiece - and 14 out of 14 bunkers will turn the hair of the average golfer as gray as the trademark boulders around the course.
But the Gallery is not all pain, and even some of the most intimidating holes on the course are flat out fun. The 529 yard, par-5 6th hole plays down hill with a fairway that spots abruptly at one of the courses largest desert ravines.
Due to altitude and the down hill trajectory of the hole, the 6th hole is one of the only real scoring opportunities for the mid-handicapper on the front nine. With a solid drive, the green is reachable in two with a long iron or a 3-wood. A green that slopes up from front to back is very receptive of approach shots.
Every once in a while - maybe every 100 rounds or so, golfers experience a hole that is truly mythical in stature. The 9th hole at the Gallery will be this hole for any golfer that chooses to tee it up on Lehman and Fought's masterpiece.
The par-5, 9th plays 725 yards from the tips. Let's just let that sink in for a second - 725 yards. Sounds more like a runway that a golf hole. Even from the blues, the 9th weighs in at a daunting 609 yards. And with 13 bunkers, a waste bunker and water guarding the green, it is easily one of the most difficult holes in the state.
Just as Lehman never lets up when in the hunt in any golf tournament, the PGA Tour's Mr. Nice Guy doesn't let up a bit on the back nine at the Gallery. In addition to unbridled, raw golf difficulty, the back nine brings a few quirks into play.
The par-4, 430 yard 10th hole sports double fairways that are split by a consortia of pot bunkers about 257 yards out. Think of the hole at the Shoot-Out at Sherwood at which David Duval drove his ball in front of a set of boulders dividing the fairways in two.
Then there is the par-3, 15th hole that houses, among all things, two greens. Once the old bridge between the greens is improved, either green will be in play depending upon player preference. The left green is guarded by only two bunkers (actually a low number for the Gallery), but sports a postage stamp size green. The right green is much larger, but is guarded by four deep green-side bunkers.
Any great course is the sum of its parts, so take each hole at the Gallery as merely a piece of the overall puzzle. This puzzle is a golf course that hosts some of the most challenging holes in the state, greens that you would be proud to eat off of, and a setting that is second to none in Pima County.
• The Gallery is open for daily fee play on a limited basis only. Says Head Professional Paul Nolen "we want to create an atmosphere for our new members like they are the only ones out there on the course."
• The Gallery is seeing about 90 rounds per day and when the threshold of 390 members is reached, the next Lehman/Fought course will go under construction on location.
• Bill Huffman of the Arizona Republic calls the Gallery "the best new private course in the state."
March 7, 2002