I had not been to Arizona since I was about 14 years old so my memory of the area was pretty limited. I was excited to be getting back out there as an adult and see what this desert living business was all about. Although the main mission of this trip was to play at Stone Canyon Club in Oro Valley outside of Tuscon, I flew into Phoenix because it was a little easier from a travel logistics standpoint. This trip would consist of a warm up game in Phoenix and then on to the Tucson area for two more games there and then the red eye back home Saturday night in order to arrive home in time for Easter Sunday festivities with family and friends.
My friend Jay from New York was joining me on this trip and would arrive in Phoenix about two hours after me. Once he landed and picked up his bags I got a call to let me know he had arrived and I proceeded to try to figure out how to find him. I started from the cell phone lot at the Phoenix airport and 20 minutes and at least two laps around the airport later we loaded his gear into the car.
As we drove through Phoenix the very first thing I noticed is that the place really is bona fide desert . . . cactus, sand, scrub brush and all the trimmings. The real deal when it comes to deserts. I would really like to know who the first person was to arrive in this spot and say “This is it. We’re stopping here. THIS is the spot where we can really make a life for ourselves.” Apparently it happened in 1868, which means that the original settlers lived there for a long time prior to modern conveniences like running water and air conditioning. That does not sound like much fun.
After a warm up game at Eagle Mountain with my fellow Top 100 golfer Larry Berle, Jay and I hopped in the car and hightailed it to the Tucson area to get ready for the Top 100 portion of this trip at Stone Canyon Club. Luckily, Jay has an uncle in Oro Valley who very generously offered for us to stay at his house which is located just 10 minutes away from Stone Canyon. After a good dinner and good nights rest we woke up the next day, knocked a few balls around at Jay’s uncle’s club Oro Valley Country Club and then headed over to Stone Canyon Club for our game.
As I’ve said before, a big part of the challenge of playing the Top 100 is the actual access to the private clubs. More than 80 of the Top 100 courses are private so it is a never ending lesson in networking. Arizona was a little intimidating for me because my contact network is VERY limited in this area. I made some calls and sent some emails to the few people I knew in the area and couldn’t really get any traction. I was on the verge of putting it on the back burner and trying another time when I decided to ask my Father if he knew anyone out there. I should have made that call first! Within about 5 days I had gotten an email from his friend Dave telling me that we had a tee time at Stone Canyon and were all set. Sometimes what you seek is right under your nose all along!
Upon arrival we met Dave and his friend George, who also happens to be the GM at his club, in the grill room for a quick lunch. Clearly, I was not in the South as there was not a pimento cheese sandwich to be found anywhere on the menu! Once we finished eating we talked to the starter and the course was virtually empty so he ended up sending us right off which suited us just fine. If I’m not mistaken this club is part of a somewhat new real estate development and the membership is still growing and therefore fairly small. It appeared on this day not to be remotely busy so that was nice. Of course it was a holiday weekend though so that may have had something to do with it.
The first thing I have to say about Stone Canyon is that is was aptly named. I’ve never seen so much stone in one place in all my life. I don’t know if the area where it is located would be considered mountains or foot hills, but i appears that the golf course was literally blasted out out rock. Note the photo below of 3rd tee and you can see the boulders all around the course. Also note how narrow the chute is to hit the tee shot. Driving the ball well here would turn out to be of the utmost importance.
The photo below was taken from the 6th tee. This is a 131 yard par 3 that is a do or die shot. There is little to no room to miss here. Also note the waterfall to the left of the green. As we are in the desert obviously this is artificial. Again, notice the boulders all over the hills here.
As an East Coaster I was not ready for desert golf at all. In a parkland course when you hit your ball off line you usually have a chance of finding it and at least chipping it back out to the fairway. With desert golf, once you are off the beaten path odds are that you are in serious trouble. It’s very difficult to find balls in the desert and if you’re not careful there is a good chance you will find something that you really don’t want to. One piece of advice I received was to never go off the grass part of the course without a club in your hand to defend yourself.
The photo below taken near the 8th tee box gives a little idea of what the “scrub” area that surrounds the area of play looks like. As you can see there is a variety of vegetation, rocks and general trouble amidst the sand.
Below is a photo taken from the 9th green looking back up to the tee boxes on the hill. This is a downhill par 3 that we played from 184 yards.
I love this photo of the 13th tee box. The stone in this photo is indicative of the size and quantity of boulders all over the course. Also note the Saguaro cactus around this tee box. As you probably noticed in the photos above this type of cactus is also all over the course. These are very interesting cacti as they can live 150 years or more and they don’t get their first arm until between 50 to 75 years. As you would expect they are covered long sharp spines so that makes another thing you don’t want to bump into if you go into the desert after a ball.
Below is a photo of the 17th green which is a 283 yard par 4 that is definitely drivable for long hitters. Jay and I both went for it and I found the bunker on the front left and Jay knocked a beauty to about 20 feet. You can see his ball up there on the green in the photo below. He slid his eagle putt just by the edge of the hole and had to settle for a birdie here.
The photo below was taken from the 18th tee box. This hole is a par 4 that we played from 420 yards. The tee box is elevated high above the fairway which makes for a fun drive as the balls fall forever before they reach the ground.
Stone Canyon Club was an interesting experience for me. I had little to no exposure to desert golf and I got a crash course. Basically my conclusion is that if the driver is not going straight it is going to make for a really long day. Mine was on and off again all day so that didn’t help much with my score. It was a unique course and while it is not necessarily my cup of tee I was glad to see the best of what the desert has to offer.