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Tucson, Arizona's best golf courses step out of the shadows

By S. Adam Cardais,
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort - Canyon golf course - hole 18
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No. 18 on the Canyon course at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort features water in the middle of the desert. (David R. Holland/WorldGolf.com)

Living in another's shadow can be excruciating. The lofty expectations are unmanageable, the envy often completely transparent.

Such is the plight of Tucson, Arizona. As an Arizona golf destination, it will always come second to the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, arguably the nation's most revered high-end golf locale.

Indeed, when Arizona golf is mentioned, it's often done so in the same breath as Scottsdale. But Tucson shouldn't feel inferior.

Arizona's second-largest city is an excellent golf destination in its own right. From The Lodge at Ventana Canyon to Arizona National Golf Club, there are plenty of great golf options in Tucson, away from all the hype of Scottsdale.

Here are a few of the best tracks in the area to check out.

The top of Tucson golf

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort: Legendary golf course architect Tom Fazio designed both courses here: the Mountain course and Canyon course. They have played host to the likes of Chevy Chase, Vince Gill, Clint Eastwood and even former President George Bush.

"Why all the high profile guests?" Shane Sharpe asked in a review for GolfArizona.com. "Turns out recording artists, movie stars and ex-Presidents know what most savvy traveling golfers have known for years: the Lodge at Ventana Canyon's 600-acre desert playground is Tucson's one real answer to the pampered Scottsdale golf experience."

The Mountain Course is arguably the better of the two tracks. It features narrow landing areas surrounded by bunkers on the fairways and fast, undulating greens. The 6,907-yard track is considered one of the toughest in town.

Both golf courses at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort are also extremely women friendly.

Arizona National Golf Club: Considered one of the best high-end golf courses in Tucson, this track is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design. It is nearly 7,000 yards from the back tees and winds through arroyos, rock outcroppings and one heck of a lot of saguaros. The par-3 No. 4 overlooks Tucson, and views of Mexico to the South are possible on a clear day.

Omni Tucson National: This course is the site of the Chrysler Classic of Tucson. It has two tracks: the Catalina course and Sonoran course.

Tom Lehman designed the latter, which opened in 2005. It features steep elevation changes and stunning views of the surrounding terrain. Omni Tucson National's Catalina Course has been a PGA Tour host. It's known for having a traditional layout, with gentle contours and tree-lined fairways.

The Golf Club at Vistoso: This golf course has received a lot of recognition. GolfDigest voted it the best public course in Tucson, and Golf for Women magazine ranked it as one of the "Top-100 Fairways in the United States.

Playing nearly 7,000 yards from the black tees, this Tom Weiskopf design is a favorite among Tucson locals. Its greens are immaculate, lush and green, and the scenery is sunning. On a clear day, there is an amazing view of the Santa Catalina Mountains from the par-3 No. 3.

La Paloma Country Club: Golf Digest ranked this 27-hole Jack Nicklaus design one of the "Top 75 Resort Courses" in America and one of Arizona's "Top 10." Even its golf shop has been singled out for recognition as one of the best in the nation.

La Paloma's Canyon course is the toughest, but also the most scenic, of the three nines there. All three have deep bunkers, to be expected of a Nicklaus design, and mounding along the fairways.

This "gives a few holes here a bowl effect and sends many wayward shots back onto the fairway or low rough," Rodney Campbell wrote in a story for GolfArizona.com.

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Omni Tucson National's Catalina golf courseThe Golf Club at Vistoso in Tucson
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