The ten story tower of Casino Del Sol opened on the memorable day of 11/11/11 on the west side of Tucson, Arizona. An archway beckons visitors and gamers to the oasis resort. This week the oasis expanded dramatically with the opening of the Sewailo Golf Course. Sewailo means “Flower World” which is the heritage of the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe of Native Americans, owners of the land, the casino and now the course.
Notah Begay was chosen by the tribal council to design the course with Ty Butler. Notah is a rock star to Native Americans as the only full blooded Native American PGA pro. He took up the sport of golf in Albuquerque, playing in women’s golf shoes and used clubs from yard sales and working for a course at age nine to be able to play. He made it on the PGA tour, is now a Golf Channel commentator and a course designer. The council decided to “give the Indian a chance as he would share their spirit.” Notah takes pride in assisting his native friends, attributing his own success to coaches along the way, both golf coaches and English teachers who helped him with his verbal skills. He is indeed an eloquent representative of the nations and a philanthropic soul, annually hosting the Notah Begay III Challenge at Turning Stone Resort and Casino. He draws upon his fellow PGA and LPGA players, including most years, his Stanford University roommate, Tiger Woods for the exhibition event. Notah reflects the honorable culture of his ancestors, devoted to his family and respectful to everyone. Of all the gifts that Tiger has received in life, Notah could very well top the list. And now, the Pasqua Yaqui tribe might place Notah at the top of their gift list as well.
The Sewailo course is an extraordinary feat of nature. This desolate appearing land on the reservation was “as flat as glass” until contoured by Landscaping Unlimited into a magical dream scape of green carpet, streams, lakes and over 30,000 hand staked plants. The course is hugged all around by mountain peaks in the distance like guardian elders of the tribe. The Tucson sun illuminated the mountains with a rainbow of hues during the grand opening ceremony. It was a spiritual occasion beginning with a prayer in Spanish. Tribal councilmen, and other dignitaries honored and thanked the elders, present and past, Jesus Christ, the Virgin of Guadalupe (Notah’s mother’s namesake), and all the workers involved in the dream and building of this desert miracle. Ty and Notah added their thanks. The Chamber of Commerce’s ribbon was cut; Notah blasted out a ceremonial first drive on the practice range and a feast was spread with crystal bowls commemorating the event followed by golf and lessons.
One of Notah’s favorite courses, St. Andrews of Scotland is evident in his approach to golf design. Well managed by Troon Golf, Sewailo has many risk/reward holes where the timid may try to play it safe or the brave can target the unforeseen and trust a shorter iron for birdie opportunities. Playing with CEO, Jim Burns in the Tucson Golf Media Classic, after being challenged by holes 4-7, he shared that the front nine is meant to build your confidence for the back nine. Sure enough, hole number ten is a ten by any standard and the score could even add up to a ten or more if the drive doesn’t hit just the right spot of the left fairway to make the creek passing possible. The right side has a lake with suctioning banksides. Notah noted as a matter of fact, “There is no where to go. You just have to hit. “ Don’t be afraid or ashamed if you make a ten. As Jim Burns says, “then take it to the game room”. The video roulette is extremely popular in the casino but there is a game machine for every personality including traditional poker, cherries, animals and the Beverly Hillbillies. Hard core gamblers head to the high stake room tables while the size of the large bingo hall reflects global participation.
Hungry? There are as many choices here as shot strategies on the course. Choose from the buffet, the Chinese/Japanese, the Steak House, or Moby’s reasonably priced menu that is available every day. Starbucks and bars are scattered throughout.
Resident mixologist, Aaron De Feo has concocted the Chi Chi Rodriguez cocktail composed of green tea, tequila, and chartreuse, garnished with a sprig of mint and a long golf tee stuck through a slice of lime as the stirrer. Make sure the tee is clean if you try it at home.
Beyond the casino, 23 miles of the best Mexican food connect historical sites, more golf and activities that can be viewed at www.visittourism.org. Stay a long spell and explore it all or just retreat at the Casino Del Sol Resort where you are greeted by warm and genuine smiles of the happy Pasqua Yaquis. Infused water also welcomes at the doorway. If that isn’t thirst sating enough, the lobby bar is straight ahead and registration is a few steps away– no need to wade through the gaming area before settling in. The layout is very comfortable, beautifully decorated and intuitively maneuverable.
To the left of the lobby is the Hiapsi Spa, not to be missed for the best of treatments. Hiapsi means “heart and soul” which is exactly what the Pasqua Yaqui tribe has shared there. Alternative medicine men have passed on their rituals involving herbs, and oils to heal in ways you might not know you needed. For further details on the experience, check out the “Spata-cular” article. It is no wonder the regular local clientele is so huge at this Forbes 4-star spa. The relaxation room doors open to the elegant, grand Oasis Pool and Patio, flanked by two very therapeutic Jacuzzis, arched fountains and desert mountains in the vista.
The Casino Del Sol Resort itself has received the Forbes 4-star and more distinctive awards. No doubt the Sewailo Golf Course will garner many in the near term, just as it has won the honor as new home to the U of A golf teams. The Pasqua Yaqui tribe has spent years bringing the course to fruition. One council member mentioned, “the Pasqua Yaqui tribe for a long time has been the greatest warrior in this region; ask the Spanish – they have never, ever been able to conquer this tribe. That will and that spirit that we have is now being transformed into working together for our communities.” From Scottsdale to Sonora and across the far lands and seas, this place will have a profound impact on economy, education and sports. As a devout Christian tribe, it will be closed 3 days for Easter celebrations. For those of other faith they wish that their faith blessed them. The mountains encircle with serenity only the desert can bring along with hope, prosperity, and peace. The peace however, may be broken at times on the golf course, for this is a target deal on every hole for every shot. Pay attention to the GPS screen on the cart, which lays out the hole and all the measurements. The only thing it doesn’t show are the subtle slopes that take a seemingly great hit into a precarious spot. The upside is that you get an intimate look at some of the plants, such as tiny purple blooms you may have otherwise missed; green flowing flora and tall standing reeds in streams that carry the water of life and golf balls to the unknown. Yes, you have an intimate encounter with the earth. One thing is sure. At the finish, you will want to try it again, see it again, and play some more all around Casino Del Sol Resort. On the game floor, in restaurants, the spa and especially at the new Sewailo Golf Course, the entire staff of Casino Del Sol meets their goal to “Raise your expectations”. Check it out at www.casinodelsol.com