Greater Tucson's Best Desert Courses This Winter

By Scott Behmer, Contributor

TUCSON, Az - Desert courses provide a real opportunity to enjoy the natural habitat while playing the game that we all love. These courses, some of Arizona's finest, incorporate Tucson's beautiful natural surroundings while challenging you with creative lay-outs crafted by some of the games best architects. Further, they are open to the public and have readily available tee times.

The Gallery Golf Club
The Gallery Golf Club is a great winter-time round in Arizona.
The Gallery Golf Club
If you go

Northwest of Tucson, The Gallery Golf Club has just recently opened, and it won't be long before the golfing public finds out about this wonderful Tom Lehman-John Fought design. Carved into the base of the Tortolita Mountains, you'll be astounded by the beautiful backdrops of both mountains and city as you play up to those mountains and then back away. Some of the widest fairways in Southern Arizona help the player prepare for this course's toughest aspect, the approach shots. Firm, fast greens are difficult to hold and even harder when chipping back down to the hole. Yet from the women's tees there's only one carry over twenty yards, allowing everyone to enjoy the round. A round at The Gallery Golf Club is $100 with range balls, mandatory cart, stunning mountain views and excellent customer service from the moment you park your car.

Just four miles down the road is Heritage Highlands Golf Club. Designed by renowned architect Arthur Hills, he utilized this magnificent site for a one-of-a-kind back nine. Much of it is built either on or around "Arthur's Hill," creating unique, unforgettable holes. The front nine serves as a warm-up for the accuracy test of the back and offers both elevation changes on the approaches and waste areas to penalize inaccurate shots. Two distinct nines may leave you wondering if they're both part of the same course. Arthur Hills uses them to display two different styles that can be utilized for a desert course: building the course into the desert and building desert obstacles into the course. It's $85 and includes friendly customer service, mandatory cart, and argueably Arizona's best three hole stretch, #12-#14.

Five miles east is one of Arizona's golfing treasures, The Golf Club at Vistoso. Designed by Tom Weiskopf, the course lay-out gives the feel of a Tour site. Fairways are wide, but miss one and you'll be looking for your drive in the ever-present cacti. Ridges divide large greens into sections, requiring sound course management plays. Tucked pins behind the many sand traps dare you to go for them, but without a perfect shot you're in the sand and struggling to make par. Beautiful landscaping around the five tee boxes adds an extra touch of desert charm. It plays tough from all tees, but from the women's, the copper, it also plays very long. At $125 with mandatory cart and range balls, you'll receive the exemplary service that one expects for that price.

On the far northeast of Tucson is The Raven Golf Club at Sabino Springs. Nestled at the base of the Catalina Mountains, $85 covers mandatory cart, eager-to-please customer service and breathtaking views of both city and mountains. Demanding on both the tees and the greens, the best holes are the ones right against the mountains. There's little sand around the huge greens. Instead, their size and speed force the player to find the correct position on the green or face a very difficult hundred-foot putt across dips and ridges. Although sixteen springs meander through this Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course, it will be the magnificent lake on the parallel par 5's, #5 and #18, that you'll remember. It guards the front of both greens and adds an exciting predicament: Should I lay up or go for the reachable green in two?

A more economical desert course for the everyday golfer is Fred Enke Municipal Golf Course, located due east of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Cost is $26.50 for green fees or $40 including optional cart. Prime tee times are always available, and usually there is little or no wait for walk-ons. The course designer did an excellent job of working the holes into natural terrain while preserving the wildlife's habitat. More wildlife will be seen on this course than on any other in Tucson. Go searching for a wayward drive and you'll see even more. The fairways are some of the tightest in Tucson, and the rough is virtually non-existent. However, it's only 6300 yards, so with accurate drives a low score is a good possibility. This course rewards accurate ball striking and is one of the most fun courses in Arizona.

Each of these five courses offers players a different glimpse into golf in the Sonoran Desert. Some show the abundance of wildlife while others focus on the beauty of the mountains. Each is uniquely styled, and offers both a fun and challenging test of golf.

Scott Behmer, Contributor

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