Tucson is the most relaxed of the desert communities that people flock to each winter. This college town is also home to great golf and dramatic desert vistas, with the Catalina Mountains always in view. On this latest visit we were lucky enough to take in Sewailo Golf Club, which has been voted the best course in a golf-rich state.
The relaxed atmosphere starts right away as you land at Tucson Airport. Nobody is in a hurry, and this state-of-the-art facility features all kinds of room. Just 15 minutes away is downtown Tucson, home to the University of Arizona. If you have not been on any of the top university campuses recently, you are in for a big surprise. You will find new buildings, dorms, and food courts, along with the best in athletic facilities. U of A was no exception after going through a billion-dollar capital project.
Many of the golf resorts are set up close to the Catalinas, and these days they stretch all the way north of Oro Valley, some 30 minutes north of downtown. Getting around is very easy here, and the desert vistas extend in all directions.
About 15 minutes west of the airport and southwest of downtown lies the new Sewailo Golf Club, a Notah Begay layout. That name probably rings a bell as you have no doubt seen him as an analyst on the Golf Channel. Begay was a standout player at Stanford and won three times on the PGA Tour before being sidelined with injuries.
Perhaps what he is best known for is being the only full-blooded Native American on the PGA Tour. He also gets a fair amount of notoriety as one of Tiger Woods’s best friends. Soon his skills as a golf course architect will be noticed, as his Sewailo creation is a southwestern treasure.
Sewailo Golf Club has an unpretentious golf clubhouse, but don’t let that fool you. As soon as you travel behind it a couple hundred yards, you will be treated to one of golf’s great facilities. Not only 18 championship holes but two double-sided grass driving ranges with so many chipping and putting greens that I lost count. All set on a rolling desert terrain with no homes in sight.
The course follows the gently sloping landscape as if it were always here. Very natural routing with numerous water hazards to keep you honest. I found it to be a very fair test with enough teeth for even the best at the back tees. Also it was in excellent shape, and the range looked like it had just opened for the first time, though it has been a couple of seasons now. If you like the desert, you will be at home here with mystifying mountains more than 50 miles away but easy to see in the clear air.
Not more than a 3 wood from the golf clubhouse sits Casino del Sol. This elegant 10-story property fits in beautifully to the desert landscape. The hotel is very upscale, especially on the top two floors which are reserved for VIPs. Our room looked out over the golf course with a massive pool area just below us.
Having a successful casino attached to the hotel allows for a wide array of dining choices. Most hotel guests will have a hard time passing up PY Steakhouse, which is just around the corner from the front desk and the signature restaurant here. They source the finest beef and seafood, and we were lucky enough to sample both. The 16 ounce rib-eye was joined by the seafood sampler, giving us the full surf 'n' turf experience.
The next evening we opted for Ume to get our sushi fix, along with some contemporary Chinese choices. The setting here will remind you of the Venetian Hotel in Vegas with the very high ceilings decorated to look like an actual sky. For more information on the hotel and restaurants visit CasinodelSol.com.
The best way to fly in is probably via LAX, and there are several nonstop options including Southwest. Yes, LAX is problematic, but Tucson Airport is so pleasant that it seems to make up for it. On the ground, Budget has the best fleet and pricing these days, and the cars are not more than 100 yards from baggage claim.