As Scottsdale readies for the “Greatest Show on Grass,” the WM Phoenix Open, Tucson prepares for the 2022 PGA Tour Champions’ Cologuard Classic. Visit Tucson hosted golf writers in style last month for the 2021 Media Classic with guests staying at the Omni Tucson National Resort, home to the Cologuard Classic. The serene driveway to the understated lobby sets the stage for a relaxing retreat. A retro style pool is front and center on the stage where a Jacuzzi has just right jets to soothe muscles while collaborating before or after a day of golf in the southern desert. Beyond the pool lie two pristine golf courses below the backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
First on the agenda was a practice round at The Views Golf Club in Oro Valley. Aptly named, The Views presents a closeup of Mt. Lemon which has a ski lift for summer hikes as well as winter sports. Tee boxes are often elevated as you maneuver the canyons and arroyos within the active Vistoso housing community. Wildlife shares the course with happy members and guests. A javelina traversed the green of hole number six, “playing through.” Fast greens and excellent conditions are matched with superior service by Rick Price’s staff.
A welcome reception at White Stallion Ranch, nestled next to the Saguaro National Park delivered the perfect atmosphere for reuniting with old and making a few new friends after the event was postponed in 2020. Picture a singing cowboy with guitar, an authentic steak cookout, prickly pear margaritas, campfire, and sunset. Owner, Russell True regaled us with the history of his parents starting the dude ranch before we all hit the dusty trail home to the Omni but what the mass didn’t see was the incredible diversity offered at the ranch. Russell and his experienced wranglers will pair their beautiful horses with guests for a variety of rides in the desert. They teach roping, falconry, line dancing and crafts. Lounging by the pool is another option or dipping in the round wooden hot tub like the water tower on Petticoat Junction – young readers may google this reference. White Stallion Ranch is the site for many ads and features including Sports Illustrated’s Swim Suits. Imagine that or check out the photos hanging in the work out facility. Rustic bungalows and evening campfires seal the deal.
Round One of the Media Classic was a shamble format played at El Conquistador. Three courses are carved through the saguaro dotted natural desert terrain and we played the Canada course. The panoramic scenery softens the challenge of this course as ever changing patterns of clouds kiss the mountains as they pass by the blue sky.
A trip to Tucson would not be complete without savoring the local flavors and the iconic El Charro has been delivering award winning gastronomy since 1922. It is the nation’s oldest family owned and operated Mexican restaurant with several bars and many rooms in colorfully eclectic Hispanic décor. The street is lined with patrons who know it is worth the wait. Full consensus is hard to come by these days, but all agreed unanimously that the Flores family makes the best Mexican food.
Round Two was a two-person scramble at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, a hidden gem of Tucson with two distinct courses, Mountain and Canyon. The Mountain Course playfully skirts the Santa Catalinas with views of downtown Tucson. The #3 par 3 is one of the most photographed holes west of the Mississippi. We played the Canyon Course which meanders through the housing community, mountainous desert and resort. Tree lined fairways and plush velvet greens were more than enough to pass the scrutiny of accomplished golfers. Number 18 is a dramatic finishing par 5, over a stream before the green with a grand waterfall behind. The hotel lobby and bar were filled with patrons admiring Christmas decorations. Loews’ outdoor fire pit and patio provided a warm spot for libations and reliving the putts and drives that got away.
Our luxurious room back at Omni Tucson National was a sanctuary after an exhausting day of competition followed by a wonderful dinner at their award winning, Bob’s Steak and Chop house. We were energized for the final round on the Tucson National Course. Memories of playing in the 2017 Jose Cuervo Pro-Am with Kenny Perry flashed to life as we navigated this PGA Tour worthy course. It pays to know the layout, especially where the lakes come into play on 9, 10 and 18. The awards luncheon capped off a memorable event with a very impressive buffet spread on the Omni patio. Danny won his flight (again) and Alice surprisingly placed second in hers but the real prize for us both was quality time spent on and off the course with all the folks we’ve missed.
Bill Huffman has professionally organized the Media Classic in Scottsdale, Palm Springs, Nevada, and Tucson for 19 years now. This year with the help of Linda Dillenbeck, it was a classic in every way. Thanks to all the sponsors of the Media Classic: Ping Golf gifting Putters and Bags for the winners, Tucson Conquistadors who are responsible for the Cologuard Classic, Troon Golf (get their Troon Card for savings and fun), Copper Tech (Love their gloves), Physician’s Choice CBD, Golf Genius Software, The Thunderbirds, USGA, Cuddle Clones, all the aforementioned venues, and Visit Tucson.
But wait, an optional bonus round at Troon Golf’s Arizona National began with a coyote on the driving range. This spectacular course was formerly the practice facility for the University of Arizona which counts Annika Sorenstam, Natalie Gulbis and Lorena Ochoa as famous alumni. The closing 18th hole is one of the best in all of Tucson. A stream flows along the fairway with waterfalls emptying into a large lake guarding the green. The mirror reflection of the clubhouse and panoramic views of Tucson distracts from the difficulty at hand. Alice made her first hole in one on number 6, making the week even more special.
Tucson embodies the Southwest lure of wide-open spaces, campfires, mountains, and the serenity of slower pace of life. Usually, mountain golf is reserved for summer, but Tucson is a haven for winter visitors who love the majesty of the surrounding Santa Catalinas. It has an abundance of superior golf courses so check it out at www.VisitTucson.org.