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The Preserve Golf Club at SaddleBrooke may be Tucson's best course you've never heard about

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- The western foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains are rugged, rocky and unforgiving and can be a harsh environment.

But golf course architect Dick Bailey tamed the land -- somewhat -- when he designed The Preserve Golf Club at SaddleBrooke.

The par-72, 7,006-yard course, sitting at 3,200 feet in elevation, may be one of the finest Tucson layouts you've never heard of. Golf course reviewers haven't exactly rushed to the site, but you should.

Looking out from the first tee you can see the wildness of the golf course. Even though this is a Robson Resort Community, a master-planned development for active adults 40 years old and up, homes haven't squeezed many fairways into a line of back yards.

'The scenery alone is worth the price of admission,' said Mike Jahaske, head professional at The Preserve. 'It has the scenery, playability and challenge of a tougher course, making it ideal for all levels of golfers. The course offers the type of challenge that makes you want to go back and play it again.'

Savor the conditioning

From your first fairway lie to your first putt on the undulating greens, you will notice pure conditioning. Sure, there are the wavy fairways, desert arroyos and unplayable wild places you don't want to find. But this golf course is pure.

When you motor up to No. 6, a 168-yard par 3, the view opens up of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the elevated tee requires you to bomb it over a deep desert valley 80 feet below and back up to a green cut in a saddle of a hillside. A lone saguaro looks down to the green from the vicinity of your next tee shot.

'It's a lot of fun to watch the ball fly against the backdrop of the mountains down to the green below,' Jahaske said.

The rest of the course is a lot of fun, too.

'I'm surprised few writers have reviewed this course before, because I had a blast,' said Morgan Zhao of Tucson. 'The course is next to a state trusted land and the views on many holes are gorgeous. Although it's a golf/community course, not many houses have been built and that leaves the wild views even better. Being a desert course, it requires accurate ball placement and the ability to negotiate wind.'

The Preserve Golf Club at SaddleBrooke: The verdict

The Preserve, which opened in 2004, seems a long way north of Tucson. Actually, it's only 25 minutes from downtown and it's worth the drive.

You will enjoy the smooth rolling greens and the numerous dry washes that cross a number of fairways, creating the strategy and demanding accurate approaches. The only water on the course comes into play down the right side of the 18th, a 435-yard par 4.

'Eighteen is a great finishing hole because of the sloping fairway and the lake that runs more than half the length of the hole,' Jahaske said. 'The green allows for some very challenging pin positions, too.'

Robson's plans call for 800 high-end luxury homes eventually filling The Preserve at SaddleBrooke, but they say even then the course will have an open feel.

More at SaddleBrooke than The Preserve

As a homeowner at The Preserve at SaddleBrooke you have access to 63 holes of golf, including MountainView Golf Club (designed by Gary Panks) and the private SaddleBrooke Country Club. Also, not far away in Oracle is SaddleBrooke Ranch Golf Club.

For those who do not play golf, the community still offers plenty of recreations. Two spacious clubhouses offer many resort-style amenities. Residents can enjoy swimming pools and whirlpools, hobby and game rooms, arts and crafts studios and state-of-the-art fitness centers. Outdoor sports courts support hobbies like tennis, bocce ball and basketball.

The DesertView Sports Club & Performing Arts Theater offers additional recreations with its own fitness center, tennis courts, swimming pool and softball field. It is also the site of SaddleBrook's 478-seat theatre and a dog park with separate areas for large and small pets.

When residents want a break from cooking in their own kitchens, they can enjoy a meal at one of SaddleBrooke's casual restaurants. The Mesquite Grill and Palo Verde Bistro feature a Southwestern atmosphere, while The Preserve Restaurant is designed to showcase spectacular mountain views.