The Golf Club at Vistoso: The Heart of New Tucson

By Rodney Campbell, Contributor

TUCSON - When The Golf Club at Vistoso was named by Golf Digest as the best new course in Arizona in 1996, the area around the club was only in its infancy. There were a few homes around and there were plenty of roads that led to the club, but it was nothing like the surroundings these days.

The Golf Club at Vistoso
Aim for the mountains at The Golf Club at Vistoso.
The Golf Club at Vistoso
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Now, Vistoso is a booming area with new housing developments popping up seemingly by the week. Golfers have taken more notice of the course, playing an estimated 42,000 rounds at Vistoso last year, up seven percent from 1998. In fact, many of the partners who own Vistoso have opened The Stone Canyon Club, a private course located just down the road from Vistoso.

Somehow, Vistoso manages to stay as beautiful from one visit to another. And that is one of the keys to why it's popular now and will remain one of the more played golfing sites in Southern Arizona.

A recent visit to the course further proved this point. I had gone nearly five months between rounds at the course. Last September, the course was beautiful. Last week, same thing. But don't just take my word for it.

My golfing partners on this lovely Sonoran day were Paul and Ruth Sherry, in town from Milwaukee for the next three months. They like the area so much, they decided to rent a home in one of the many Vistoso developments for the duration of their stay.

"I think it's a fantastic place," Paul Sherry said. "It's the best of all the courses I've played, better than Myrtle Beach, Callaway Gardens, and Scottsdale."

It didn't exactly hurt that we played on a day when folks in much of the country were shivering, their thoughts of warm spring days many weeks away. Under nearly cloudless blue skies and with temperatures in the low 70s, Vistoso's magnificence only sparkled more.

"We like to come to Arizona because we know we'll be able to play golf every day," Ruth Sherry said.

One of the things that keeps Vistoso's fairways so nice is the fact that the club keeps carts off them. Only players with medical reasons - including the man with the broken foot in the group ahead of us - are allowed to take carts off the paths. This does raise a slight problem, especially if a player hits a shot on the wrong side of the fairway.

Mark Oswald, Vistoso's director of golf, said the club ran tests last fall to see whether its cart rule had more effect on the pace of play. He said keeping carts on the paths didn't cost golfers any more than five or 10 minutes per round. So it's worth that small price to keep the course in tip-top condition.

"We think out course is by far the best conditioned," Oswald said. "We think (keeping carts off the fairways) helps a lot. We don't have tracks on the fairways."

Ruth Sherry said: "Play moves along well here."

There are probably some golfers out there who would like to run over some of the desert area on the course. From the back (black) tees, some holes require a 200-yard carry to reach the safety of the fairway. It doesn't get a whole lot easier from the gold tees, so the club encourages many players to hit from the silvers.

Most women drive from the copper tees, which don't need a huge shot to hit the fairway. Ruth Sherry was dangerous with her brand-new 7-wood, easily clearing the desert off most tees.

All 18 holes on the Tom Weiskopf-designed course are named, some much more appropriately than others. No. 2 tells the story. The 530-yard hole is called Double Cross, and with good reason. A tee shot from the back tees needs to travel 205 yards to reach the fairway and one from the golds needs to cover 185 yards.

From there, unless your shot hugs the right side of the fairway, even the best players will need two more shots to reach the green. Average duffers can only hope their drives went far enough to allow a carry over the second bit of fairway brush, which rests about 300 yards from the black and gold tees.

"That's a tough hole because of my age," said Paul Sherry, who's a 73-year-old retired high school basketball and baseball coach. "My distance has decreased. The rough across the middle of the fairway caused me to lay up (on the second shot)."

Double Cross is also a personal favorite of Oswald, who has been at the course since October 1998.

"You have a tough choice off the tee," he said. "The hole is a good challenge. You have to make a decision."

The Sherrys also agreed that the 16th (Side Winder) and 18th (Sunset) are two of the tougher holes on the layout. Both are par-5s and help make the end of the round more than a little challenging, especially considering the fact that the 15th (Vibora) and 17th (Javelina) can be long par-3s depending on where the course management puts the tees that day.

No. 16 is advertised as a three-shot hole for almost everyone. It measures a course-high 589 yards from the black tees and requires a carry over a wash that sits just in front of the green. A lay-up shot is in the bag for most players, especially considering the fact that the wash measures at least 50 yards long.

The finishing hole also requires a carry over a wash, but this should come on your second shot. Sunset is a little shorter, still a decent length at 529 yards. Long hitters can reach this green two and average players can get home in three with nicely placed shots.

There's plenty of fun to be had in this game, though. Oswald said Weiskopf is a big fan of risk-reward holes and nowhere is that more evident than the 14th hole, aptly named "Risky." The hole actually has two fairways, one for a medium iron lay-up that could leave you 100 yards over brush from the green and another that takes a driver or fairway wood to reach, more than 250 yards from the back tee.

There's also a third option, reserved only for the John Dalys among us. Really long hitters can shoot directly for the green, though there's a chance they'll end up in one of the four bunkers guarding the green, some 350 yards from the black tees. Oswald said one player recently did the unthinkable and managed a hole in one here.

"Hidden Green," the ninth hole, lives up to its billing. The large, two tiered-green actually sits well to the left of the fairway. You can see the elongated flagstick from the tee boxes, which sit from 268 to 415 yards away. But it takes a good carry off the tee (more than 200 yards from the black) to clear desert brush and another carry over the dreaded plant life to reach the green if you want to go for it in two. This hole carries the course's No. 1 men's handicap.

To me, the toughest hole on the layout, though, is the par-4 11th. It's called "Saguaro" because that's what sits right in the middle of the fairway as you try to approach the green. And this isn't some tiny little cactus. It's huge with massive arms just waiting to swat at shots. The hole is 465 yards from the black tees and par is an excellent score for anyone.

Another enjoyable hole is the 389-yard eighth, named "Waterfall" since it's the only hole with a water hazard. Keep your tee shot to the right and most any decent player can entertain thoughts of reaching the green in two. Hit it down the left side and deal with water on your second shot.

The greens here are large, though some have a good amount of slope. They measure anywhere from 30 to 44 feet at their longest points. The first green is the smallest (30 feet) and the 16th is the longest (44 feet).

Strategy is at a premium out here on this course, set amid the stunning Santa Catalina and Tortolita Mountains. So there's more than beauty to this place.

"There are a good half a dozen fun holes out here," Paul Sherry said. "You really have to think them out."

The Golf Club at Vistoso
955 W. Vistoso Highlands Drive
Tucson, AZ 85737
(520) 797-9900

Greens fees: Through April 23 ($135 plus tax); April 24-May 27 ($75 plus tax); May 28-Sept. 30 ($50 plus tax Monday through Thursday, $55 plus tax Friday through Sunday); Oct. 1-Dec. 31 ($85 plus tax).

A 40-play punch card is $2,500. Punch card holders are allowed to make tee times up to four days in advance and play Sunday through Thursday. The course often runs coupons in Tucson's two daily newspapers, the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen.

Yardage, rating and slope information:
Black tees (6,932 yards, 72.1 rating, 145 slope);
Gold (6,444, 70.0, 136); silver (5,962, 68.0, 124);
Copper (5,095, 68.7, 128)
Par: 36-36--72

Rodney Campbell, Contributor

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