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Home free: Playing golf in Tucson, Arizona without hitting into backyards

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain - Tortolita No. 6
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So far there aren't any homes on the Tortolita-Saguaro course at Dove Mountain. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)

In truth, the presence of houses on golf courses is usually a necessary evil. In many cases, it was the sale of lots and homes that paid for the golf course, especially during the building boom of the 1980s and 1990s.

So when you find a golf course without homes, it seems to be more beautiful, more memorable and more serene. There's less, if any, out of bounds, and you don't have to worry, for the most part, about injuring anyone off the golf course. That usually leads to freer swings and perhaps lower scores (okay, that's not really true, but it sure feels that way sometimes).

Here, then, are some good examples of golf courses in the Tucson area that either have no homes on them or they're barely noticeable.

Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain

As the host of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz., has received a lot of exposure on television lately. After some early tweaks by architect Jack Nicklaus, the course is gaining favor with players, golf fans and visitors to the resort.

"The feedback from the players has been outstanding," said Jeff McCormick, director of golf operations at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. "We trust that our unique setting and exceptional service continue to be the driving factor for the PGA Tour and Accenture to return in the years to come."

It's a unique setting, to be sure. And in the case of Dove Mountain's Tortolita and Saguaro nines, where the tournament is played, also home free, at least in the near future. The resort has 27 holes, and the third nine, the Wild Burro, does have a few monstrous homes. Even then, they are set back and barely noticeable, and when and if homes are built along the other nines, they will undoubtedly not come into play as well.

What really makes the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club special, though, is the Sonoran Desert scenery. Giant saguaros, wildlife and the Tortolita Mountains dominate the landscape. Couple that with Nicklaus' interesting layout, designed especially for match play, and you've got a winning combination. And staying at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain Resort and Spa only adds to the serene experience.

Municipal golf courses in Tucson

One near-sure way to find home-free golf courses is to look for a city's municipals. In many cities, that translates to run-down, but not in Tucson, which has one of the best municipal golf course systems in the country. Best of all, you won't break the bank playing these courses, even if you're from out of town.

The city has five courses, led by the original Randolph Golf Course, which has hosted both the LPGA and PGA Tours. Designed by William Bell and opened in 1933, it's the longest of the city's golf courses, measuring 7,000 yards from the tips. There's water on five holes and plenty of big trees in this parkland-style layout framed by the Catalina Mountains. Three of the holes were renovated in recent years to make the course more challenging for the professionals.

Most of all, Randolph is a great walk in the park, located in the heart of the city on valuable real estate.

"It's great for all skill levels from beginner to tour player," said Pam Drake, head professional and director of golf. "Plus there's the scenery. And the big eucalyptus trees are very nice when the temperature is 110 degrees in the summer time. Between the scenery and walkability, it's a real gem."

The other four courses in the system aren't too bad either. Silverbell Golf Course, originally designed by Jack Snyder, was redone in 2005 by Ken Kavanaugh. Laid out along the west bank of the Santa Cruz River, the course has nine lakes, wide fairways and large greens. Dell Urich Golf Course, formerly Randolph South, is a 6,600-yard, par 70 that opened in 1996 and features dramatic elevated tees. And El Rio Golf Course, which opened in the 1930s, is the original home of the Tucson Open. It's only 6,400 yards, but the greens are small and the fairways are tight.

More (mostly) home-free golf in Tucson

Another municipal golf course in Tucson is Crooked Tree Golf Course, but this one is run by Pima County, not the city. Designed by Lee Trevino and Dave Bennett, Crooked Tree has been around since 1977. Formerly known as Arthur Pack, the recently renovated course is home to the Pima County Amateur Championship.

Another good option is the Quarry Pines Golf Club at Marana. Quarry Pines is the result of a project that involved the use of an abandoned quarry and the golf course next to it. The course has 10 holes located in the old quarry plus eight from the original course, creating a look that includes dramatic elevation changes as well as thousands of pine trees.

You could also check out the Rio Rico Golf & Country Club, a resort course set at 4,000 feet in the town of Rio Rico. Originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and later redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Jr., the course stretched to more than 7,100 yards. It has hosted qualifiers for the U.S. Open and PGA Tour.

And finally, there's the Catalina course at Omni Tucson National Resort. Though there are a smattering of homes, you won't notice them on this favorite parkland layout that used to host the Tucson Open and Chrysler Open.

More photos

Randolph Golf Course - No. 7Crooked Tree Golf CourseSilverbell Golf Course - No. 16Catalina course at Omni Tucson National Resort - No. 4

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • tuscon municipal courses

    ALASTAIR KILLEN wrote on: Apr 2, 2013

    As a regular return visitor to TUSCON MUNICIPAL COURSES,this year I WAS particularly impressed by the high standard of DELL ULRICH ,SILVERBELL and RANDOLF COURSES. I played DEL RIO for first time foundthe fairwaysand greens in good condition.I understand the SUPERINTENDENTS have invested in new seedings and green were very good. So for good value for money ,and a high level of customer focus all visitors should check them out. DOWNPATRICK GOLF CLUB,CO DOWN N.IRELAND


  • Home Free

    Mike wrote on: Mar 15, 2011

    As regular visitors to Arizona for golf.. for real home free golf the best for me is WE-KO-PA just east of Scottsdale.
    After all of the (admittedly fine) 'regular' courses, (Troon Greyhawk etc), then We Ko PA is quite literally a breath of fresh air.. no houses. condos or hassle.
    And you can walk the 'new' course
    True pleasure..


  • Beautiful Courses

    Dale Samar wrote on: Mar 15, 2011

    These courses are great and make their natural beauty makes the round so much more enjoyable. Another course with homes on only a couple of holes is Rancho Manana Golf Club in Cave Creek, AZ. It is almost entirely surrounded by native desert with lots of elevation changes and is truly one of the most scenic in Arizona.