Starr Pass

Starr Pass GC, Tucson. Bob Cupp and Arnold Palmer, 1986 and 2003.

This is the first desert course I played on my first visit to Tucson in 1993 and I’ll never forget the starter’s sage advice to take a long iron with you when hunting for balls in the desert—not for ball retrieval, but for snake defense.

This was originally a TPC course, and the holes that try to combine stadium-style features with the true desert nature of the course are pretty awkward. But the tour didn’t stay here long and over the years they’ve made significant changes, in part to make the course a bit more player friendly than it was in the tournament days and in part to accommodate the resort and other real estate concerns. For example, the old 3rd hole (now the #3 on the Rattler nine) was a beast of a long par 4, played to a green elevated above the fairway with a steep rock wall just in front of the green making it impossible to bounce a long shot in and making recoveries difficult for those who came up short in the first place. The current hole plays to the same green but with some new tees and as a par 5.

The course also added a new nine holes in 2003. There are a few nice ones back in a valley (the 4th and 5th on the Roadrunner nine, for example) but overall I thought those new holes sort of exemplified the worst side of “target golf” in the desert. They feature awkward carries over washes and desert areas—none of which are at all likely to bother a good player, who can consistently get the ball airborn and control their distance to some degree. But they’re guaranteed to gobble up golf balls from higher handicap resort guests, which seems to me to be the opposite of how golf course design should work.

Still, there’s a series of holes back in a valley on the original back nine (now the Coyote Nine) that are as good and beautiful as they ever were and they’re still the first thing I think of when I hear the words “desert golf.”

Arizona 4th Decile [2009]

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