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No rest at this resort course: La Paloma C.C. in Tucson, Arizona offers plenty of challenges

Scott BordowBy Scott Bordow,
La Paloma Country Club - Ridge Course - hole 3
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La Paloma Country Club is out to challenge resort guests, not pamper them. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The typical resort golf course is an engaging smile: "Come on in and play! Our fairways are wide, our greens generous and we'll take great care of you."

The idea is to pamper golfers, many of whom are guests at the resort.

Then there's La Paloma Country Club in Tucson, Ariz. It's 27 holes of frustration, wayward shots and lost balls in the desert.

That doesn't mean La Paloma, a Jack Nicklaus design, is overly penal or too difficult for the average golfer. It's just that as resort courses go, it's a far tougher test than your normal layout.
And the folks who run La Paloma don't mind that distinction one bit.

"It was one of Nicklaus' first projects," said Club Manager Kent Instefjord. "His mentality back then was this is going to be tough."

He got that part right.

La Paloma's Canyon Course, Hill Course and Ridge Course are each a visually intimidating layout. The fairways are narrow -- although mounding on the sides helps keep balls in play -- and the desert growth is so extensive that penalty strokes are as much a part of the round as scenic views of Mt. Lemmon.

La Paloma Country Club: The golf course

La Paloma's three nines all have a similar look, and they're all in terrific shape. The greens are as receptive as any you'll find in Arizona. After a gentle rain, it's a green light to fly at the pin and not worry about the ball bouncing hard and going off the green.

Like most Nicklaus courses, La Paloma features elevated greens. Players that like to have the option to bump-and-run might grow tired of having to try to hit high, accurate approach shots.

"He (Nicklaus) was a great long-iron player, and you see some of those elements on the golf course," Instefjord said.

The Nicklaus touch is particularly evident on the two par 3s on the Canyon nine. No. 4 is 185 yards from the back tees, and 180 of those yards are all carry. There's no place to land the ball short; anything five yards light drops off into a huge ravine and a bogey -- or worse -- is assured.

No. 8, 157-yard par 3, also is all carry to the green. Nicklaus didn't provide a lot of safe landing areas, so the bogey golfer could easily get frustrated.

What also stands out at La Paloma is the undulation. It's not Augusta National but rare is the hole that's flat. One hole that stands out in particular -- and arguably is the best hole among the 27 -- is No. 7 on the Canyon nine.

It's a 445-yard par 4 that drops 30 yards from the green to a ravine that sits about 250 yards off the tee. Then the hole screams upward; the incline from the ravine to the elevated green is at least 50 yards.

Any approach shot short of the green has a good chance of rolling all the way back down the hill before stopping just short of the ravine.

What also makes La Paloma so difficult is that it gets into your head. Standing on tee after tee and looking out onto a small patch of green surrounded by the unforgiving desert can challenge the most focused golfer.

Conquering the course is as much about not thinking about where your ball could go as it is making good swings.

"It is visually intimidating in some places," Instefjord said. "A lot of resort golf is about getting people around in a decent time, and the courses are easy to navigate. But this isn't your typical resort course."

No, it's not. But that's okay. Not every resort course should be a pitch and putt. And La Paloma's 650 members -- who have access to 50 percent of the tee times every month -- appreciate the fact the three nines continually challenge them, no matter how many times they play.

La Paloma Country Club: The verdict

La Paloma sits on a beautiful piece of land -- the views in every direction are spectacular -- and the resort offers a relaxing refuge after beating your brains in for a few hours. And while the cost might be a few lost golf balls and some choice words for your clubs, the reward is worth the risk.

Be forewarned, though: La Paloma isn't for the sporadic golfer who wants to see what it's like to play golf in the desert. The three nines demand accuracy and intense focus.

It also doesn't hurt to have Nicklaus' ball flight. But La Paloma does take care of its guests, with two water bottles in a cooler for each player and a GPS system to help navigate the course.

More photos

La Paloma Country Club - Hill Course - No. 7La Paloma Country Club - Ridge Course - 4th

Scott Bordow is the golf columnist for the Arizona Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @sbordow.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • I'm sleepy

    erin wrote on: Aug 22, 2011

    After reading this story.