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Arizona's Tubac Golf Resort & Spa: Walk in the shadows of Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
Senior Writer
Tubac Golf Resort & Spa - Anza nine - hole 5
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No. 5 on the Anza nine at the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa has fairway bunkers and lots of water. (Courtesy of Tubac Golf Resort & Spa)

TUBAC, Ariz. -- Long before Kevin Costner played a confounded and aspiring U.S. Open participant named Roy McAvoy in the 1996 movie "Tin Cup," the land that now occupies Tubac Golf Resort & Spa -- and provided many scenes in the movie -- was a major piece of Arizona history.

Situated on 500 acres of historic Otero Ranch, just 35 miles south of Tucson, the resort is set back in time, surrounded by vistas of the Santa Rita and Tumacacori mountain ranges. Cottonwoods and cattle still roam amid Southwest decor and Spanish Colonial architecture of Old Arizona.

And Tubac sports a multimillion-dollar renovation, including a four-acre cluster of Hacienda Suites and Casitas with golf course views, along with the historic Otero House, a new clubhouse and a 17th-century replica chapel.

But Tubac is best known for recreation with 27 holes of golf, tennis, dining, a spa and year-round swimming and relaxation amid historic structures and lush natural vegetation and gardens.

Opened in 1959, Tubac's early days included visits from movie legend John Wayne, and Bing Crosby was an early lot owner. Bill Gahlberg, another early developer, enjoyed hosting hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull's family, where son Brett learned to play golf before he also became an NHL Hall of Famer.

"I think most golfers like the history that goes with this setting," said Dennis Palmer, the vice president of golf operations. "It started modestly and has been enhanced over the years, but they have kept the history and the rural feel. No one came in and built a 40-story Ritz-Carlton. I think people like that ambiance, mountain views, the river, cottonwoods, cattle and the great winter weather."

Speaking of cattle, there's a local rule: "Ball landing on cow pie: pick, lick, and place no closer to the hole!" Red Lawrence designed the original 18, but a new nine opened in 2006 with eight of the holes routed by Ken Kavanaugh.

Tubac Golf Resort & Spa: Three nines

The Rancho nine, which begins and ends with a tee shot over the Santa Cruz River, features the third hole where in the movie "Tin Cup," Costner erupts in a tizzy with caddie Cheech Marin over club selection and breaks every club but his 7-iron. Look for several plaques and signs that remember scenes from the movie.

The fifth hole, a 568-yard par 5, was the goad scene in the movie, where McAvoy, serving as Don Johnson's caddie, provokes Craig Stadler into going for the green in two from 240 yards out. A disgusted Stadler dunks the ball in the water, and the rest of the group, including Phil Mickelson and Gary McCord, get McAvoy to try the shot. He is successful and Johnson immediately fires McAvoy.

This nine also includes the Tubac Triangle, a series of holes that are very difficult from the tips. Palmer calls them "three of the best holes in southern Arizona" -- beginning with No. 6, a 464-yard par 4. The seventh is a 254-yard par 3 and the eighth is a 651-yard par 5 called "Trainwreck". First you must negotiate a towering cottonwood in the middle of the fairway, then a huge lake teases you on any approach to the green.

The Otero nine is named for the Otero family, the original settlers of the property. This routing has a parkland feel with some of the original homes skirting the fairways. Water plays a big part along the way as ponds front the greens on holes No. 5 and No. 8, and a lake runs the entire length of the fairway on No. 9.

The Anza nine is named after Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II, who was the commandant of the Tubac Presidio for 16 years in the late 18th century. Views of the Santa Rita Mountains can be seen here. The first five holes were added in 2006.

The 511-yard, par-5 fifth has fairway bunkers and lots of water.

"The green is reminiscent of the 12th at Augusta National," Palmer said. "Welcome to Tubac's Amen Corner."

The nine finishes with a 140-yard, par-3 island green, making you envision the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Players failing to reach the green risk the ridicule of fellow golfers, as well as that of the resident cows and nearby spectators enjoying the popular patio at Stables Bar.

Tubac Golf Resort & Spa: The verdict

If you are looking for a laid-back getaway, complete with a colony of artists in town, Tubac is the place for you. The three nines are fun and enjoyable, and there's an excellent, large practice area with expert instruction.

Visitors can also unwind at the Tucson Salon & Day Spa, a 4,000-square-foot desert oasis specializing in indigenous Southwest techniques and featuring six treatment rooms, indoor and outdoor lounges, hot tubs, a sauna and steam room.

Dining includes unique Mexican specialties and steaks from the Stables Ranch Grille, where you can sit on the patio and enjoy golfers playing the island green.

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Tubac Golf Resort & Spa - Anza nine - hole 9Tubac Golf Resort & Spa - Rancho nine - hole 9Tubac Golf Resort & Spa - Hacienda Suites

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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

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