TUCSON, Ariz. -- Quarry Pines Golf Club is not the most glitzy golf course in this Sonoran Desert city of 34,500 (that distinction belongs to The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, where the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is staged every year).
But Quarry Pines, now using its third name, is by far the best bargain in this city just 10 minutes northwest of downtown Tucson and could be one of those courses you want to play every day.
The Brian Huntley design, formerly called The Links at Continental Ranch and then The Pines Golf Club at Marana, was closed in 2000 and renovated when Cemex Cement and the city of Marana agreed to reroute using 10 holes that descend into, climb out of and skirt the rim of an adjacent sand and gravel quarry. The architecture firm of Gilmore and Graves did the latest update.
The results are entertaining golf, some very narrow fairways and some unforgiving desert in what's called the Santa Cruz River Valley.
'We hear all the time that we have a unique golf course with the back nine quarry, that it is a bargain, and that conditioning with wall-to-wall overseeding is beautiful,' said Head Professional Steve Murphy.
Route demands attention at Quarry Pines Golf Club
Looking at the scorecard many golfers wouldn't conclude Quarry Pines is difficult. The par-71 layout is only 6,486 yards from the back, but there are just enough skinny fairways, bunkers and water to make you pay attention.
The renovation added 1,000 Mondell pines to the native salt cedars, mesquites, scrub and desert grasses, but these just make the experience a little more scenic. Wide, unrecoverable off-line drives are what will make your score soar.
Framed by Sombrero Peak, General Manager Donn Hess said No. 11, a 256-yard par 3, is one of the toughest in Arizona. From an elevated tee box you have to nail a shot over barren, thicket-covered land to a tricky green that sits on a shelf. It's easy to come up short or go long because gauging the distance demands a shot from one high point to another. Everything in between is a valley of trouble.
The 12th hole is 574 yards and very narrow as it traverses the rim of the quarry. Anything right is out of bounds and anything too far left tumbles into a quarry low area.
The next par 3, no. 15, is only 134 yards and straight downhill. Again it is a fun shot but hard to get the distance right.
Hess and Murphy both agree the 16th is the second-best hole. This 561-yard par 5 looks down on a fairway that is heading left. There are two aiming bunkers -- one guards a quarry drop-off and another will catch your ball if you go too long and through the fairway.
'If you look closely right in your line of sight the left bunker looks like the antlers of Bullwinkle and the right bunker looks like Rocky,' Hess said. Here you have to decide just how much of the quarry you want to go over.
Quarry Pines Golf Club: The verdict
Quarry golf courses are some of the most entertaining you will ever play. Quarry Pines G.C. is the only one in Arizona, but there's a growing list throughout the U.S., including Oak Quarry in Riverside, Calif.; The Quarry at Giants Ridge in upper Minnesota; San Antonio's The Quarry; Black Diamond Ranch in Florida; Brooksville Quarry Golf Course in Florida; and Crystal Springs in Maryland.
This is one of those. It's fun, challenging, you can't beat the scenery of the quarry and you won't have to pay a lot. The only drawback is a couple of holes are close to busy Interstate 10, but the back side of the quarry makes all that noise go away.
Even more good news is the tentative plan to use another quarry area that borders left of holes 4 and 5 to build another nine holes sometime in the future.
Hess and Murphy, who can also offer golf instruction, run a friendly operation and the staff continues the courtesy. There's a full golf practice area, and Putters Grill is a fairly priced place to chow down before or after your round.