TUCSON, Ariz. -- The newest golf resort in the Southwest is the Casino Del Sol Resort in Tucson. Owned by the Pascua Yaqui Indian Tribe, this southwest Tucson property just opened Sewailo Golf Club. The elaborate course is certainly a shot in the arm for the local golf scene, but it also illustrates how Tucson is a viable alternative to the Scottsdale area when it comes to taking an Arizona golf vacation.
It should be noted that for the most part, Tucson's resort offerings are more economical than most of the Scottsdale experiences, and in the summer, it's actually a little cooler because of the elevation. Here's a rundown of the top golf resorts in Tucson:
Omni Tucson National Resort
There are two courses at the Omni Tucson National and they couldn't be more different. The fact that the original Catalina Course is parkland with mature trees provides a break from the typical target-style desert course. It has nice history, too, as the former home of the PGA Tour's Chrysler Classic. Omni Tucson National's Sonoran Course, is a strong Tom Lehman desert design that opened in 2005. With Mini-Verde greens, a couple of lakes, 69 bunkers, and some great views from elevated tees, this 6,600-yard course is pretty appealing.
Perhaps the best aspect of the resort, however, is that it's more intimate than most. With just a couple hundred guest rooms, getting around to the resort's various amenities, such as the sports bar, spa or Bob's Steak & Chop House (recommended, even if you aren't staying there) and golf courses isn't taxing.
The Lodge at Ventana Canyon and Loews Ventana Canyon
Two hotels and two Tom Fazio-designed golf courses are the calling cards here. Offered are two contrasting experiences -- the 50-unit Lodge at Ventana Canyon and the large Loews resort hotel. The Lodge was originally built for the club's private membership, which still has exclusive rights on one of the courses each day, meaning in order to play both, you need to spend two days at the resort.
Members and staff will tell you they like both the Mountain Course and Canyon Course equally, but the Mountain Course features one of the most photographed holes in the West, the par-3 third. Both courses are set against the backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass
Originally opened as a TPC property in 1986, the 27-hole Star Pass Golf Club at the JW Marriott once hosted the Tucson Open, where Phil Mickelson won as an amateur in 1991. Designed by Robert Cupp, Craig Stadler and Arnold Palmer, this Audubon Sanctuary course continues to host local pro and amateur events. Starr Pass's Rattler, Coyote and Roadrunner Courses are framed by the expanse of the Tucson valley and the city. Many of the holes offer risk-reward opportunities where poor shots result in lost balls in the desert.
The 540-room resort offers fine dining, water recreation and a free golf program for kids.
Casino Del Sol Resort
As Tucson's newest golf resort, there has certainly been a lot of buzz about the new course designed by Notah Begay III and veteran architect Ty Butler: Sewailo Golf Club, which is managed by Troon Golf. Opened in December, the 7,400-yard pristine golf course became the first new course to open in the Tucson area since The Golf Club at Dove Mountain five years ago. Thousands of cubic yards of dirt were removed to create a unique look around 14 acres of lakes, one mile of creeks and about 75 bunkers. The project also included the transplanting of more than 30,000 native shrubs and trees.
Sewailo Golf Club is a fitting amenity to a casino resort that continues to attract gamblers and hotel guests alike. The resort opened its tower portion of the hotel in 2011. Amenities for the award-winning resort include the Hiapsi Spa and P.Y. Steakhouse; as well as five other restaurants and bars, conference center, Oasis pool and bar and two casinos.
Tubac Golf Resort & Spa
One of the most unique retreats in America, Tubac Golf Resort & Spa is a destination unto itself. Located about 45 minutes south of downtown Tucson in the arts community of Tubac, the resort is an actual working cattle ranch, but that's just the beginning of the story. The area has been the setting for countless movies, and the resort and golf course itself are where much of the golf movie "Tin Cup" was shot (there are plaques on the course commemorating scenes from the movie).
As for the 27-hole Tubac golf course, there's nothing like it in the area. Designed by Red Lawrence, the Rancho, Otero and Anza Courses are laid out in an inspired setting. Again, bucking the trend, Tubac isn't desert golf and many of the holes are good risk-reward opportunities.
The resort itself sits at 3,200 feet, so it's not as hot in the summer as other locations. You'll also love the dining, genuine hospitality and accommodations, which include luxurious haciendas that are every bit as good or better than some of its higher-priced neighbors.
Golf Club at Dove Mountain and The Gallery
Formerly owned by the Ritz-Carlton, guests at this outstanding resort in Marana, Ariz., still have access to the Golf Club at Dove Mountain, with its Tortolita, Wild Burro and Saguaro Courses. Opened in 2009, the Golf Club at Dove Mountain is the site of the WGC-Accenture Match Play (where two of the nines can be stretched to 8,000 yards). Jack Nicklaus said he designed the course with match play in mind, but he did tweak a few of the holes after several PGA Tour players complained of the severity of some of the greens. Still, the 27-hole course is a blast to play and certainly scenic with plenty of gorgeous High Sonoran Desert scenery in the Tortolita Foothills.
Before the Golf Club at Dove Mountain had the Accenture Match Play, the event was played at The Gallery next door, which is a pretty good play as well. It, too, is mostly private, but there is limited public play allowed and there are five-star guest accommodations and some of the finest golf club dining in the Tucson area.
And finally another option is the area is Heritage Highlands, a more affordable desert design by Arthur Hills that is less than $100 even in the peak spring season.
As for accommodations, you can still stay at the Ritz-Carlton, which is one of the company's finest properties in the United States, offering fitness, exquisite dining, a world-class spa, a 235-foot water slide and biking and hiking.
Westin La Paloma & La Paloma Country Club
Before Nicklaus built the Golf Club at Dove Mountain, he built La Paloma Country Club, and it's never looked better. When it opened in 1984, it put Tucson golf on the map and the 27-hole course (comprised of the Canyon, Hill and Ridge nines) remains one of Tucson's most spectacular courses, despite being routed through a housing development. With one elevated tee after another, several spectacular par 3s, great mountain views and plenty of large deep bunkers, this well conditioned course is still one of the nicest plays in the area. It's also fairly difficult. Although the fairways aren't too narrow, missing them usually means the desert.
The Troon-managed golf course is private, but guests at the Westin La Paloma Resort have playing privileges. The resort boasts the Red Door Spa, multiple pools, shopping and fine dining.