Front Nine Highlights: Starr Pass Design is a "Modern Throwback"

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

TUCSON, Ariz - The fairways are narrow, the greens are tiny, the tee boxes sometimes point in the opposite direction of the preferred tee shot. As Todd Snider, Generation X Folk Rocker, once sang, "That's alternative to alternative." Surely Snider crooned about the TPC at Starr Pass.

Starr Pass Golf Course - Roadrunner Nine
The greens play fast at Starr Pass golf course.
Starr Pass Golf Course - Roadrunner Nine
If you go

The 1980s, when Robert Cupp and Craig Stadler laid out the holes at Starr Pass, was a decade of hair gel, Duran Duran, stonewashed jeans, and ultra modern golf course design. Pete Dye's ultra modern courses became the norm and not the exception during Reganomics.

But just as frugality and common sense are making a comeback in the 1990s, so are traditional golf course designs that feature wide fairways, greens the size of barns, and little trouble outside of the bunkers and occasional water hazard.

Unlike its Tucson upscale daily fee brethren, Starr Pass is as 80's as parachute pants. "The intent of the design of the course was to make you ease into the layout on the first few holes," says Director of Golf Joan Fails.

The tee shot off the first hole immediately drives home the fact that you will not be playing through a course with landing areas the size of baseball outfields. The landing area for the average golfer is as narrow as a ten speed tire, and the green is about as deep as a Danielle Steele novel. "If you drive the ball too far on the first hole, you will run out of fairway," adds Fails.

The second hole presents no reprieve. The fairway is extremely ample - if a 100 yard can of corn is your normal drive. Otherwise, the fairway narrows once again in the landing area for the average to long hitter. And once again, a premium is placed on approach shot accuracy as you may be gunning for the smallest green in all of Tucson.

The third hole at Starr Pass is one of the more interesting layouts on the front nine. A dog leg left presents players with a blind tee shot, and a craggy desert arroyo makes for an intimidating approach shot to a green with a tricky false front. In 1996, when the TPC at Starr Pass was still co-hosting the Tucson Open, the 3rd hole played as the toughest hole on the PGA Tour that year.

If Starr Pass does not have you digging in your bag for "experienced" balls after the 4th Hole, then enter the 5th Hole - a 506 yard uphill par-5 that utilizes fairway mounding and a rather large piece of desert in front of yet another small green. Carrying on with the tradition of the 3rd hole, the 5th Hole played as the fifth most difficult hole on the PGA Tour in 1996.

According to Fails, the 6th hole is an "add em on" par-3, as in add on at least one additional club for the uphill slope of the hole, and even one more to account for the headwind that is seldom felt from below the hole. Nary a player is ever long on this par-3.

The 7th hole is one of the more exciting holes on the front, with an elevated tee box that begs you to bring out the big dog. But the long hitter should really consider a 3-wood which will carry all you want off the elevated platform.

After a run-of-the-mill par-3 at the 8th hole, the 9th offers up a great front nine finishing hole with a blind, slightly upwardly sloping fairway that penalizes the long hitter with fairway bunkers bisecting the short stuff at about 240 yards.

"When the course was part of the Tucson Open, the nines were switched around because holes 3 through 6 on the front are four of the most challenging holes in all of Tucson," says Fails.

Survive the front nine, and scoring opportunities will begin to present themselves on the way.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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