“Sewailo Golf Club is something really special that my team and I have accomplished,” said Notah Begay III at the press conference on the eve of the official opening of his new and greatly anticipated golf design, the first new course in Arizona to open in five years.

Begay, with the help of fellow architect Ty Butler, took the desert bordering the luxurious four-star Casino Del Sol in Tucson and turned it into one of Southwest Arizona’s most playable championship oases. Sewailo is open to Casino Del Sol guests and the general public.

The par-3 third is one of Begay's favorite holes and provides a great view of the Casino Del Sol and the mountains, too.

The par-3 third is one of Begay’s favorite holes and provides a great view of the Casino Del Sol and the mountains, too.

A Legacy for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe

The casino and the golf course belong to the Pascua Yaqui tribe with more than 17,000 members, and Begay, a full-blooded Native American ( ½ Navajo; ¼ Sand Felipe Pueblo; ¼ Isleta Pueblo) takes great pride in creating a lasting legacy for the Pascua Yaqui.

Begay said at the groundbreaking ceremony in February, 2012, “I’m delighted to see this project come to fruition and confident that the golf course will serve the Pascua Yaqui community for generations to come.” The golf course will eventually employ approximately 75 employees, most of whom will be from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Begay is also hopeful that Sewailo will promote junior golf in the tribe.

“Flower World” Work for the “Kid”

Sewailo, which means “flower world” in the Yaqui language, had its official opening on December 12. The Pascua Yaqui Elders and Council presided over the well-attended and well-publicized event. One of the Council remarked upon the planning and importance of the course to the tribe and how the tribe wanted to work within the land to honor its natural gifts and wonders. Then, with a wide smile on his face, he looked at Notah and said, “We decided, OK, why not give the kid a chance.”

At the official opening of Sewailo, Notah Begay thanks the Pascua Yaqui Elders and Council for the chance to design the course.

At the official opening of Sewailo, Notah Begay thanks the Pascua Yaqui Elders and Council for the chance to design the course.

With an equally wide smile, Begay said, “I am so grateful to the Council that they gave the kid a chance. When I walked the property, I began to envision the course that I could create. I am so appreciative that I was able to design and build this course for the Pascua Yaqui tribe.”

Sewailo’s Distinctive Design Traits

The rolling green terrain of the oasis contains water—large lakes, flowing streams, waterfalls—on 13 holes, a highly unusual component for most desert courses. And the green terrain contains 65 large and deep sand bunkers, a reminder that the desert is ever present through the green. With five sets of tees (and two “combo” tees in the making) from the tips at 7,282 yards to the forward tees at 5.209 yards, Begay has made the course “challenging, memorable, and enjoyable for players of all levels.”

The mountains surround the layout, providing scenic vistas from every angle; the wind envelops the layout, encouraging shot-making strategy to keep the ball in play; and the imposing 215-room hotel and casino can be seen from all 18 holes, reminding the golfer that the 19th hole and all manner of relaxation are only minutes away. The GPS maps on the golf carts are invaluable aids in navigating the layout.

At the press conference, Begay said, “Golf should be fair. Yes, the course should require you to hit some good shots, but the course should also allow you the chance to make a couple of birdies, too. I don’t want the course to make the golfer get down on himself.”

For an example, he cited the 3rd hole, a short par 3 over water to a huge green. “It is intimidating looking but short enough for an 8 or 9 iron. You shouldn’t hit it in the water. If you do, I won’t feel sorry for you.”

The par-5 10th hole requires an exacting three-shot strategy. "I love this hole," says the architect.

The par-5 10th hole requires an exacting three-shot strategy. “I love this hole,” says the architect.

His other example was the par-5 10th hole, a hole of tactics and not reachable in two. It demands a lay-up drive, a longer and more accurate second shot, and then a third shot of between 165-100 yards. “Here,” Begay said, “you have to hit the shots to score, but the options are many. I love this hole.”

Sewailo’s and Casino Del Sol’s Added Attractions

Sewailo will also host the first Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf in Arizona, offering programs for individuals, groups, golf schools, corporations, and the community. The course features an extensive driving range and practice areas for chipping, bunker play, and putting. In addition, Sewailo will become the home course for the University of Arizona’s boys and girls varsity teams.

Sewailo Golf Club is managed by Troon Golf, the world’s leading high-end golf development, marketing, and management company. Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Troon oversees properties in 29 states and 26 countries.

Casino Del Sol resort, by the way, which has also earned AAA’s four-diamond rating, is a small city. It includes two casinos, filled with one-armed bandits and table games, and six restaurants and bars. A state-of-the-art conference center, the Hiapsi Spa and Oasis pool and bar, and an outdoor ampitheater complete the world-class amenities. Its maxim, “Raise your expectations,” guarantees its guests a superb golfing, gaming, dining, and relaxing experience.

With SI's Gary Van Sickle as the moderator, Notah Begay participated in a press conference on the eve of Sewailo's grand opening.

With SI’s Gary Van Sickle as the moderator, Notah Begay participates in a press conference on the eve of Sewailo’s grand opening.

The Man Behind the Design

Notah Begay III, now 41 years old, was raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and attended Stanford University. Majoring in economics and minoring in golf, Begay graduated in 1995. A three-time All American, he led the 1994 team to the NCAA National Championship and befriended freshman Tiger Woods during the 1995 campaign.

Begay won two tournaments in his rookie year on the PGA TOUR, 1999, and then two more in 2000. In 2001, Begay injured his back and did not fully recover for seven years. In that time period, he started the Notah Begay III Foundation in 2005 with the mission of positively impacting the Native American community. In particular, its Health and Wellness Program battles Type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity through promoting fitness and wellness through such sports as soccer and golf.

Begay has designed two other well-received courses on Native American land, Sequoyah National in North Carolina and Firekeeper in Kansas. He is currently a full-time member of the golf broadcast team for NBC Sports and Golf Channel.

All photography by Victoria MacKay.