TUCSON, Ariz. -- Many of the top golf courses in Tucson are affiliated with top resort brands such as Westin and Ritz-Carlton.
One of Tucson's most recognized daily fees, however, is affiliated with the University of Arizona, one of the nation's most illustrious golf programs: Arizona National Golf Club .
The Wildcats have some hall-of-fame worthy names on both the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour, helping give their home course a little added street credit. Graduates include Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Jim Furyk. More recent names include Rory Sabbatini, Ricky Barnes, Natalie Gulbis and the late Erica Blasberg. A full roster of the university's best names in golf can be found at the Wall of Fame near the 18th green. These days, the course regularly hosts the Wildcat Invitational during prime desert golf season each February.
The golf course opened in 1995, originally named the Raven at Sabino Springs, and was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. When Arizona National opened, it was one of the top modern-designed, target-style desert courses in Tucson, and it has stood up well. The routing is as dramatic as Tucson can offer, tumbling up and down the Catalina Foothills. That allows for some great views, especially on the holes playing back toward the town. This part of the desert is not only scenic but especially fertile as well. There are nine natural springs, so there is plenty of wildlife and abundant flora and fauna, so much that they tend to shield the residential development that the course winds through.
Few Tucson golf courses stretch past 7,000 yards, instead relying on narrow playing corridors through desert to help defend their length. Arizona National has a pre-Tiger era yardage of 6,785 yards. By today's standards, two of Arizona National's par 5s are borderline pitch and putts for collegiate golfers, thanks to their conditioning and space metal cannons off the tee. Both the fifth hole and the finishing 18th hole are par 5s that play from high-elevated tees down toward the clubhouse and are a driver and a short iron for any long hitter. The two holes play alongside one another, and frankly, for those a bit wide off the tee, you can combine the two fairways as one large one.
But there are plenty of spots that make this golf course a beast. While Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus (both of whom have multiple Tucson-area desert resort courses) may have been more subtle with their uphill holes, Robert Trent Jones Jr. makes you earn your pars on them. Arizona National is much less "resort friendly" compared to Tucson's upscale resort plays.
It's imperative to take advantage of the two "gimme par 5s" at Arizona National, because the two others play uphill. The 575-yard second hole requires multiple carries over desert, while the 625-yard 11th hole plays along the foothills and is a blind shot off the tee, easily the golf course's most intimidating shot.
Arizona National Golf Club: The verdict
Arizona National sits comfortably in Tucson's upper-middle tier when it comes to green fees. While the golf course design and land is about as good as anything in town, course conditions are a notch below the region's most upscale resort plays, but that is reflected in the green fee. Playing the course during the peak spring months, you could tell the fall overseeding wasn't as thorough as the upscale resort properties, as there were a few more bare spots to be found.
Facilities at Arizona National are suitable for even the most swanky university booster fundraisers. Large groups can be accommodated on the patio or in the full bar and dining room area. Also on site is a full practice area, locker room facilities and pro shop.