Ventana Canyon

Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club, Tucson. Canyon Course by Tom Fazio, 1987.

Good holes but a very disjointed course, because the front nine here was built as part of an original 27-hole layout (with what is now the Mountain Course) and the Canyon back nine was added a few years later, starting and finishing at the resort. So you play the front nine, then go on a very long and rather confusing cart ride up the mountain to try to find the 10th tee. It has always seemed to me that the easy solution here is to create East and West courses, with the East comprising basically the current front nines and the West the back nines, but maybe they don’t like the idea of people finishing on the Canyon’s relatively lackluster ninth hole.

I like the Canyon’s 5th hole, a par 3 where the green narrows the further you hit it and desert threatens anything left of the green; the rest of the front nine is solid but unspectacular golf. The back nine, once you get there, supplies all the spectacular you want, from the great view from the 10th tee and the dramatic “whaleback” rock close behind the green, to the stunning downhill par 3 13th, to the ultimate ‘80s finishing hole with a green tucked behind a desert wash and then protected by a waterfall strewn water feature that essentially doubles as the hotel’s lobby fountain.

But even within this nine, the holes are often very separated from each other and even with a cart (there’s no way you could walk this layout) there’s just a point when you spend so much time driving between holes (and wondering where the next one is) that it takes you out of the essential golfing experience.

Arizona 2nd Decile [2005]


Ventana Canyon. Mountain Course by Tom Fazio, 1984.

The 4th hole, as seen from the 3rd tee

The star is the third hole, a tiny par 3 played from a tee perched on one high rocky point to a green perched across a canyon on another slightly larger rocky high point. This is one of the most photographed holes in golf and a real test of nerve for a 100 yard shot. Happily, the course is not a one-hole wonder. Fazio does a nice job of balancing dramatic views with some quieter holes, strong tests with chances to score, and keeping the area’s desert feel without it ever feeling like a target desert test. Mesquite trees dominate and forced carries are not common. It’s a bit like his course at Grayhawk, but built on a much more dramatic site.

There are some half par holes here, both on the plus and minus side, including the almost driveable 13th that exacts revenge on the careless player via a narrow three-tiered green, or the long par-3 6th with Redan-ish qualities. There’s not a lot of strategy, to be honest, but the course offers a ton of memorable shots, and that’s probably the right mix for a site like this.

Arizona 1st Decile [2012]

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