Sewailo GC, Tucson. Ty Butler and Notah Begay III, 2013.

#9 green

Created from a flat desert site, this isn’t really a desert course and isn’t really trying to feel natural in any sense—as the any waterfalls, lakes, and flowers attest. Fake lakes and waterfalls are not my architectural sweet spot, generally, but there are enough fun holes here that I’ll admit I enjoy the course.

The course is full of big wide holes with very obvious choices to make—the strategy isn’t subtle here, though sometimes it is confusing. At the 5th a nest of centerline bunkers with the green to the left suggests that a drive to the narrow left portion of the fairway is the play. But actually almost any drive left of those bunkers simply rolls down a hill into the desert. The aggressive play, if you’re long enough, is over the bunkers. Otherwise, you just need to play out to the right. But what was the point of building and maintaining fairway to the left there that only serves to punish someone who has never seen the course before?

It seems like a drive to the left of the centerline bunkers on #5 is a good idea, but beware.

I’ll admit that after playing it my feeling was that this is the sort of course that beats up high handicappers but gets town apart by collegiate golfers. Looking at results from the intercollegiate tournaments here belies this, though—in fact it seems the course generally beats up college players, too. No doubt there’s plenty of trouble to find here. This desert course has water prominently in play on ten holes and no shortage of big, deep bunkers. But the greens tend to be big and while they have some slope and movement, I haven’t found them too punishing.

The main reason I thought this course would favor the collegiate set is the sheer number of holes where a big drive allows a player to cut a corner and reap not just a huge distance reward but a better angle, too. For example, the 6th is a long, tough S-shaped par 5 between huge bunkers—unless you can carry a drive 260+, in which case you can reach it in two with a short iron. It’s a similar story at #12, which is 430 yards and requires a second shot over an ocean of sand. But a big drive over the corner leaves just a flip wedge in from a good angle. There’s really nothing strategic about these holes—they’re heroic. If you can make the carry, you get a reward, but there’s no other test of nerve at play, no element of being asked to pick a line like you might at a Cape hole.

A creek threatens on #14

Nonetheless, the numbers suggest the course provides a challenge. Maybe the “Bear Down” tees make those carries too long even for the bombers on campus. I’ve been lucky to play the course on a relatively calm days—if the wind gets up, there’s not much to block it, and all those hazards no doubt look even bigger.

I wouldn’t want to play here all the time, but it’s a pretty spot with a lot of fun and dramatic shots—the kind of place where you might have fun even as you lose two sleeves of balls. Some people are way more into that than I am, but those people will appreciate the waterfalls here more than I do, too.

Arizona 3rd Decile [2016]

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