It was classic Tucson at dusk, a gorgeous November day that highlighted two beautiful golf courses, both at The Lodge. Arizona in the fall is mild days, a breath-taking sunset, and golf that is ' quite simply - a must-do before one leaves this earth.
The Lodge is very small ' only 50 rooms. It is also very golf-friendly ' two magnificent courses, shared with the adjacent Loews Hotel. Named the Mountain and the Canyon courses, their rugged beauty is breath-taking. Designed by Tom Fazio, the 36 holes fit in with the natural landscape like they have been there for thousands of years.
Basically, Mother Nature did 90-95 percent of Tom Fazios job for him, said Dave Schneider, Ventana Canyons director of golf. He did not have to do a lot of earth-moving, did not have to do a lot replanting. He added a few moguls to the fairways to create his style of golf course, but Mother Nature really did the rest.
The courses are nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalinas with the Sonoran Desert off in the immediate distance. However, Tucson sits at 3,000 feet of elevation, meaning a 40-degree temperature change in night and day is not at all uncommon. The Coronado National Forest squats on the border of Ventana Canyon, and the city enjoys 350 days of sunshine annually ' postponed due to rain is seldom heard around the Lodge.
The two courses give the golfer different feels ' both are distinctly different in terms of playability.
The Mountain Course ' the first golf course constructed in the mid-80s' is more of a typical-style desert golf course, said Schneider. Thats where there are a lot of forced carries ' you cant top your ball and hope for it to be OK. Youre going to have to carry your ball over some ravines or some washes.
The Canyon Course, which was constructed roughly a year later, is a little bit more friendly, a little bit more of a Midwest-style course. Theres more turf off the teeing areas. It just gives it a feel of a little different playability from that standpoint for all types of golfers.
Fazio, of course, is known for tempting the players with at least one risk-reward hole. The 14th on the Canyon is just such a design, begging the player to launch a howitzer toward the green, while his more conservative self pleads for caution. The par-4 is just 303 yards downhill from the championship tees, only 276 where the average golfer plays, but danger lucks at every turn.
'You are tempted to just blast a driver down there and try to reach it, said Schneider. But the penalty for missing is awfully severe.
The problem is, there are so many tiers in the green and if you happen to reach the wrong plateau, youre dead. Couple that with the strategic bunkering - you can be right next to the flag but have an impossible shot ' and you have a challenge that can be very difficult. That really is a great match-play hole.
Perhaps the most unusual hole, though, is No. 3 on the Mountain Course ' a par-3 which requires a player to tee off on a cliff to reach the green built on a foothill over a 100-foot drop.
The yardage is only 107 yards from the back, 104 from the normal tees. The climb up to the teeing area, though is significant ' steps are made of rock and you almost get dizzy as you clamber up the side of the steep elevation.
As far as the elevation from where youre hitting the ball to where it should land, the elevation change is insignificant, said Schneider. However, the land between you and the hole ' you can go down 100 feet. Then you go back up 100 feet to get to the green.
The hole is in one large canyon with two very large mountains, I guess you would say. And you have to be very precise with your shot - the green is 50-60 percent surrounded by a ledge. If you do not make the putting surface, anywhere from short right to long left, youll go down a 30-40 foot ravine ' hit it off the edge of the planet!
The hole was reputed to have cost $1.5 million to build, making it at the time one of the most expensive ever built. And the green was a break-through in technology back in the 80s. Due to the fact that the hole is in a canyon and does not receive sunlight in the winter months, the construction superintendent placed heating coils within the green. That alone keeps the turf from freezing.
Private balconies at the 50-room Lodge offer incredible views of the courses and the surrounding mountains. Conde Nast magazine makes the Lodge at Ventana Canyon one of its top 75 golf resorts in America.
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