Begay's Sewailo Golf Club brings a new look to Tucson

By Mike BaileyDecember 12, 2013, 3:27 pm

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The new Sewailo Golf Club is a championship test with a unique point of view -- one that, perhaps, could only be understood by a Native American who grew up so poor on the west side of Albuquerque that he once bought a pair of women's golf shoes in a yard sale so he could play golf in the summers.

Co-designed by former PGA Tour player-turned Golf Channel commentator Notah Begay III with veteran architect Ty Butler, Sewailo Golf Club became the first new course to open in the Tucson area since The Golf Club at Dove Mountain five years ago. And while Dove Mountain's architect, Jack Nicklaus, might have a little more experience in almost every imaginable way when it comes to golf, Begay has something Nicklaus or the rest of the architects can never understand – perspective.

It's just one aspect that makes Sewailo, which opened on Thursday, so unique.

Begay, a three-sport star in high school, earned a golf scholarship to Stanford, where he not only earned his degree in economics, but was part of a group that went from unranked before he got there to NCAA champion in 1994. And, oh by the way, he also had a pretty famous roommate named Tiger Woods, whom Begay affectionately nicknamed "Urkel" because of the Coke-bottle glasses he wore in college when he didn't have his contacts in.

But Begay has never forgotten his roots or the heritage of his people. As a Native American – Begay is half Navajo and a quarter San Felipe and Isleta – he is passionate about helping his people. His foundation, NB3F, fights childhood obesity and diabetes in the Native American community while promoting fitness and wellness. And as a Native American, he certainly had a deep appreciation for what the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, which also owns accompanying Casino del Sol resort, has been through and wanted to accomplish. In fact, you might say Begay and his NB3 Consulting Company, served as the driving force behind the project. This is Begay's third course; the other two being Sequoyah National in Cherokee, N.C., and Firekeeper Golf Club in Topeka, Kansas.

Begay's vision is evident throughout.


The 3rd hole at Sewailo Golf Club. 

Sewailo is as much about the story it tries to tell as it is about the 7,400-yard championship layout. The Yaquis, who migrated from Mexico to Arizona more than 2,500 years ago, are said to have come from the "flower land," or Sewailo as it's known in their language. The course illustrates that history.

It starts off lush and green with lakes that evolve into streams. In the second phase of the course, the desert re-emerges, then later, the streams, lakes, and flowers return, just as they did for the tribe after its arrival here, culminating with waterfalls behind the 18th green.

To create the look, Landscapes Unlimited, which has worked with Begay on his previous projects, not only moved thousands of cubic yards of dirt to shape the course and dig out the lakes, but they transplanted more than 30,000 native shrubs and trees. Among the plants are wildflowers, including brittlebush, a desert shrub in the sunflower family. It blooms yellow in the early spring. In a year or two, as the native areas fill in, the course could very well be one of the most colorful in the region.

More on Tucson: Three new happenings to the area golf scene

As for the course, well, it's a pretty good test. Just announced on Wednesday, the Troon Golf-managed facility, which will soon include a clubhouse and learning center, will serve as the home course of the University of Arizona's men's and women's golf teams and it's not out of the realm of possibility that it lands a Champions or LPGA tour event in the near future.

From the tips, it's all you can handle, but with five sets of tees, the most forward of which lose the forced carries, it's very playable. Wide open, it is, of course, susceptible to the desert winds, and water on 10 holes certainly provide plenty of trouble.

There are also about 65 bunkers on the course, but because they are so large and deep, it seems more like 165. The 14 acres of lakes and one mile of creeks, besides  helping to tell the Yaquis' story, are a key part of the strategy.

"There's a huge amount of fairway, but if you want to improve your chances of scoring, you have to take on the hazards," Begay said.

The greens are large, too, especially the first and the eighth, which combine for 23,900 square feet. Begay drew inspiration from his favorite course – the Old Course at St. Andrews – for that one. Hit it long, and you could be faced with a putt of 150 feet or more.

It's also wise to consult the GPS maps on the golf carts when playing this course for the first time. Landing areas beyond bunkers and short of water hazards aren't always evident off the tee, so driver on every par 4 and par 5 aren't recommended.

As for the memorable holes, there are plenty of them, but Begay's favorite are the par-3 third and par-5 10th.

The third is short, just 150 yards from the back tee, but there's a lake in front of and on both sides of the green, creating an intimidating look akin the 17th at the TPC Sawgrass. Add a little wind and it becomes even scarier.

The 10th is just downright nasty. While Begay and Butler provided generous fairways, some drivable par 4s and birdie opportunities on a couple of other par 5s, they took away most of the golfer's options on the 10th.

It starts with a tee shot that plays around water. The fairway gets more narrow and the water comes more into play the more right you hit it off the tee. But the farther left you hit it, where the fairway is generous, the more difficult the second shot, which much clear a water hazard and work around or over some fairly large fairway bunkers.

"I really love the 10th," Begay said. "There's nowhere to go. You have to hit a shot."

Which is why it's the No. 1 handicap hole.

Green fees, which include cart and the club's outstanding range and short-game area, are opening at $99 during the week and $125 on weekends. Better rates may be available online, and Troon Golf is offering a special three-course package call the Tucson Golf Swing ( The package also includes the mostly private Gallery Golf Club and La Paloma Resort at $299 (Jan. 1-April 14), $199 (April 16-June1) and $139 (June 2-Sept. 1).

Getty Images

McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

Getty Images

Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

Getty Images

Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

Getty Images

Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.