Heritage Highlands Golf Club: A course that is a local favorite and a solid test of golf

By Scott Behmer, Contributor

TUCSON, Az - Since opening in 1996, Heritage Highlands Golf Club has become a local favorite. Renowned designer Arthur Hills created a desert course that works as one with nature.

Heritage Highlands Golf Course
Heritage Highlands Golf Course is desert golf immersion.
Heritage Highlands Golf Course
If you go

Nestled at the base of the Tortolita Mountains, the holes present stunning views of the mountain-desert, punctuated with striking rock out-croppings and a beautiful waterfall. Customer service is just as notable. Quick, courteous, and very helpful, making sure you get started on the right foot.

On a recent visit, from the moment that I pulled my bag from my car there was as assistant directing me where to check in, where my cart would be and where I could warm-up. The friendly assistant golf pros inside provided a yardage book and a bag of balls for the range. Sure enough, walking out of the pro shop, my cart was waiting for me. It came with a jug of water, ball washer, and club cleaner. Because, the course played wet that morning, it would have been helpful if a towel had been provided. At the range, five greens with distances etched in stone lie in the sea of grass. To the side there's a very small pitching green as well.

Heritage Highlands opens with three straightforward holes designed to ease you into the round. You'll soon discover that if you can't hit the fairway, you're going to be in for a long day. Generous fairways aid the player, but narrow rough doesn't stop errant shots from bouncing into the desert. Arthur Hills designed both the fairways and the greens with a safe side and a treacherous side. If you flirt with danger, you'll be rewarded with easier approaches and shorter birdie putts. The greens are firm and fast so hitting a shorter iron is essential for good scoring chances. Find the danger, though, and par is virtually impossible. Play too cautiously to the safe side and you'll have a difficult lie in the middle of a series of berms.

Heritage Highlands' greens have been the most talked-about aspect of the course since it opened. Players have remarked at their speed, calling them the fastest in Southern Arizona. However, last week they weren't any faster than the other high-profile courses in Tucson. In fact, I was disappointed with how poorly they rolled. They were sandy, beat-up, and had various loose impediments along my putting line. Twice a birdie putt was rolling true, only to be bounced off line by the sand. To combat this, get the ball close to the hole from off the green, which is tough because the greens are very firm. Even with a wedge an approach shot will finish ten feet beyond the ball mark. Thus, I suggest you bring a 60-degree wedge for chipping. The greens generally have a collection area lower than the green, forcing a pitch up. A lob wedge can help eliminate some of the inevitable run.

The back nine is what makes this course special. Heritage Highlands has magnificent beauty along with challenging holes. In fact, the picturesque 181-yard #12 is one of the most beautiful holes in Arizona. Aptly named "Cascades" for the brilliant cascading waterfalls behind the green, it demands an accurate iron off the tee that. Because of a lake, you can't let it go left. Following it up is "Arthur's Hill," a 359-yard par 4 which is both interesting and fun to play. The fairway is up a hill and orders a wedge right down to the green. Desert separates the two tiers so accuracy off the tee is crucial. From the tee the view of the Tortolitas is astounding and kicks off the final stretch of holes, all based around "Arthur's Hill" and the beautiful, natural surroundings.

Much of the beauty of Heritage Highlands comes from the vantagepoints of the elevated Championship tees. It's unfortunate that those playing from the Copper or Rose tees, typically situated at the beginning of the fairway, aren't afforded the marvelous views. Especially during the final six-hole stretch every player should take a look from the championship tees to fully experience this beauty.

Heritage Highlands is a solid test of golf with some intriguing finishing holes. Holes 12 through 15 made Southern Arizona's dream 18, and with good shots they can be taken advantage of. Arthur Hills had great land to work with and created some excellent holes. Customer service was top-of-the-line and rounded out an especially enjoyable visit. Overall, I can see why this was named "America's best new public course in 1997" by Golf Digest.

Scott Behmer, Contributor

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