Forty Niner Country Club Strikes Gold with Impressive Layout

By Rodney Campbell, Contributor

TUCSON - There are contradictions all over Forty Niner Country Club. There's a beauty and a puzzle about the course. In its 39th year, Forty Niner is one of the oldest courses in Tucson. But it's also the one most overlooked by tourists, who come to town to play desert courses.

Forty Niner Country Club
Watch out for the water at Forty Niner Country Club.
Forty Niner Country Club
If you go

Locals like the course, especially the members who had the country club to themselves until last September. But new management had to open the track to the public to bring in more revenue.

There are many spots on the course where beautiful views of the Rincon and Santa Catalina mountains frame the fairways. But on other holes, Forty Niner could be a course in the Midwest with tree-lined, flat fairways.

Homes from the 1960s sit next to ones that were finished last week. There's not a saguaro to be found on a course smack dab in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Like the city's municipal courses, Forty Niner allows players to walk, though that's not advised in the heat of the summer. So much to enjoy. So much to wonder.

When International Real Estate Investments bought the course from a local family last September, the group had a tough task. The course needed work and members were leaving because of declining conditions, head pro Dave Simm said. The new owners gave members a choice: raise dues to pay for improvements or open the course to everyone.

Always stressing the positive, the owners took the remote location and made that a plus.

Members decided to keep rates where they were, so Forty Niner started allowing public play. "The place was falling apart," Simm said. "(The decision to open the course) was a no-brainer."

Members still maintain the prime tee times, mostly in the morning and until noon on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That helped smooth the transition to public play, Simm said. But it could also slightly delay your tee time if the club is putting on a tournament because members will continue to hold top priority. "We promised that to them." Simm said.

With the club now open to the public, management needed to let people know where the course is located. Sitting way out on the city's east side on Tanque Verde Road, Forty Niner is a long drive, especially for people who live on Tucson's bustling northwest section. In fact, even Simm lives on that side of town, much closer to Tucson National than any other course in town.

Always stressing the positive, the owners took the remote location and made that a plus.

"A lot of people really like this corner of town," Simm said. "We have a unique niche here and our price point appeals to a lot of locals. There's an ambiance here that you can't find on other courses in town."

The plan has worked so far. Down to 290 members at the end of the old ownership, Forty Niner has rebounded to 385, including 15 former members who came back when the club offered them good deals to re-join. Simm said another 10 people had joined the club just in the first half of May.

Non-members who use a coupon from the local paper pay $25 all day Mondays, $33 Tuesday through Thursday and $39 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Like the rest of the area, Forty Niner will lower its rates in the summer. Its greens fees now are in line with those in Green Valley, located about 40 miles south of Tucson. "The bidding war is ridiculous in the summer," said Simm, who added that the course might some day offer its own discount card. He added that 75 percent of the club's players during the first quarter of the year were members, but that people seem to be finding the course.

The course and Randolph North are the only two that have hosted the city's PGA and LPGA tournaments. The PGA pros came to town in the '60s and the women played here in the '70s.

Simm likes the 533-yard 15th hole. It's a flat, dogleg left than offers great views of the Rincons. "It's cool and shady there," Simm said. "It feels like it's 10 degrees cooler there than on the rest of the course."

Speaking of trees, the 415-yard fifth has mesquites lining the fairway on both sides. Avoid the left side at all costs because there are very few openings over there. Stray too far off the fairway and you'll end up in a prison of trees. "It's a little intimidating off the tee," Simm said. "A lot of people don't realize it, but the right side does open up."

Simm also likes the 423-yard 17th because it's one of the few right doglegs on the course. "It really helps if you're a right-handed player and you can hit a fade," said Simm, who added that most righties have to work more on their draw because of the proliferation of left doglegs on courses.

The other right dogleg on the layout is the 364-yard 13th. It's only 300 yards from the white tees, easily the shortest par-4 on the course. You would be well off going with an iron on the tee since a misplaced drive could go through the fairway.

Another tester is the 383-yard sixth, which measures a much shorter 334 from the whites. No matter which tee box you use, water that runs in right front of the green will come into play on your approach shot. There's just no way of avoiding it no matter how long you are off the tee.

Obviously, there's a lot to like here. The course is rising from disrepair and people are taking notice. Even most long-time members don't mind playing side-by-side with college kids. "We sell it to the locals as a course with lots of shade. It's a good way to get out of the heat," Simm said. "It really feels like you're at a country club."

Maybe this is the happy medium: a country club that's not really a country club. There's more than one way to solve a puzzle.

Rodney Campbell, Contributor

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