Tucson Thanksgiving, Part 2: Starr Pass & Quarry Pines

After finishing Thursday’s morning round at Sewailo, I felt very confident about squeezing in another round in the afternoon. After all, it was Thanksgiving and my experiences in previous years have shown me that most courses are very empty on Thanksgiving afternoon. At the same time, many will have a morning shotgun and then close. However, a few will stay open and I’ll be there…

Starr Pass Golf Club • Tucson, AZ • 11/26/15

I had my eyes on Starr Pass the whole time because I saw they had many afternoon tee times available and it was one of the nicer courses somewhat near Sewailo. Though not really too far as the crow flies, it did take about 20-25 minutes going on some back roads to get from one course to the other. I learned on this trip how spread out Tucson really is and there’s a lot of surface street driving to get around to different parts of town.

I booked a 2:30 time for $49 through GolfNow. The times on their site and on TeeOff.com were all listed for $75, so it paid to look at all sources. When I checked in the guy mentioned it was the best rate he had seen all day, so it seems I did well. As expected, the course was very empty. I played through one twosome on the front nine and then ultimately caught up to another couple on the back nine. I knew I would easily finish 18 before dark, so I held back and tried not to push them that much.

I was secretly hoping I might get to play all 27 holes at Starr Pass, but I realized that would not happen when I checked in. Because it was a holiday without many players on the course, they save some maintenance time and money by only having 18 holes open. That makes sense. However, because the routing is kind of spread out, they don’t just close one of the nines. Instead, they play what’s called the “Classic” course. This consists of the first seven holes of the Rattler nine and then the last two holes of the Roadrunner nine. After that, you play the full Coyote nine as normal. Just know if you do play this combination, it is officially rated, so posting a score is not a problem.

Starr Pass Golf Club is part of the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort, and it is set nicely up into the hills just west of downtown. The location is fantastic because it offers some excellent elevated views of the city and the whole valley below. That hilly terrain also makes for one really fun and challenging golf course.

Like Sewailo, Starr Pass keeps the rough dormant here for a contrasted look. The lines and contours were extra clean here, which looks cool and also provides some visual intimidation while standing on the tee. The fairways often look extra narrow because of this presentation. Plus, it showcases the zigs and zags of the Starr Pass hole designs more prominently. On all levels, the course was in great shape. These were maybe the most consistently lush fairways I played all week. The greens were very soft and maybe a tad slow/bumpy late in the day, but still fairly good overall.

Starr Pass is truly target golf with a lot of native desert areas in play and several ravines to hit over. Most of the greens are elevated and hard to get at. The greens themselves aren’t overly tricked out, but as a first time player it’s still intimidating because you don’t know exactly what’s up there when hitting an approach shot. There are some big doglegs and demanding forced carries to go along with all the natural slope and undulation.

The highlight stretch on the front of the Classic course are Rattler holes 5-7, which head deeper up into the hills. The 5th is a very interesting par-5 that offers some risk/reward options because it’s extreme dogleg left at the end and a big ravine in between the primary fairway and the green. The 6th is a stunning par-3 that plays uphill in a beautiful part of the canyon with some nice homes along the hillsides around it.

Then, the 7th has a great elevated tee and a big drop down to the fairway. Your approach shot is over another ravine to a well-protected green. It’s a fantastic hole.

I went and took a peek at the normal 8th hole of Rattler before continuing the Classic routing and playing the 8th of Roadrunner. Both are nice par-3s and I snapped a photo of each, which will explain why you’ll see back-to-back par-3 holes in the picture section.

On the Coyote nine, the signature hole is the par-4 6th, which plays along the actual Starr Pass trail that travelers used through the mountain back in the day. It’s a fun short par-4 with an uphill tee shot and a downhill approach, along with a lot of nice contour from fairway to green. It is followed by a very picturesque par-3. Unfortunately, the sun had gone behind the mountain before I played it, so the pictures don’t really show how sharp it looks.

Price-wise, Starr Pass is usually found in the higher price range with the other top tier courses in town because of its resort affiliations. I was happy to get a decent deal, and it’s another one I would certainly recommend at the right price point. The target layout, especially in the winter, may not suit everyone’s game, but the scenery and dramatic design will provide plenty of positive memories for most visitors.

Some pictures from Starr Pass Golf Club (11/26/15):

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I spent my Thanksgiving evening hanging out back at the Casino Del Sol. I intended to get the buffet there, but the line was way too long. So I ended up eating at a different diner inside. I got a Thanksgiving-themed turkey burger (with stuffing and cranberry sauce) that was actually pretty good. The service was terrible, though.

On Friday morning, I was back up early and ready to play my fourth round of the trip…

Quarry Pines Golf Club • Tucson, AZ • 11/27/15

Quarry Pines isn’t usually a course that will be on most out-of-town visitors’ wish lists with so many top-shelf tracks in town, but it was the most appealing deal I could find for a Black Friday morning round. Most everything else that had decent rates were the local muni courses, so Quarry Pines looked to be by far the most interesting in the $50 price range. I actually booked my 8:15 tee time for $47.

That was the earliest time I could find, so I was hoping they started play at 8:00 and I would be in one of the first few groups out. It turns out 7:40 is their official start time right now. However, when I checked in they informed me there was a frost delay. The clouds from the days before had completely gone away, so that meant much colder temperatures overnight here in the desert.

Ultimately, though, it worked in my favor. They were able to slot me in with the first group slated to go off around 8:30. As time went on, the frost delay lessened and we were going off right at 8:00 instead. I played with three members who knew the course very well and gave me a lot of helpful pointers. They were also quick players, which was great because I wanted to get in a second round elsewhere in the afternoon.

The course used to be known as The Links at Continental Ranch and then just The Pines Golf Club. It’s gone through some major changes over the years. The biggest happened when they purchased an old quarry next door and completely renovated the course. What is now the back nine is all built along and in that quarry, while the other parts of the course were rerouted and adjusted to work as the current front nine.

What you are left with at Quarry Pines is two very different nines. I’ve played plenty of courses where the front nine and back nine have different qualities, but this course may take the cake. The front nine is mostly very flat and basic. It’s not horrible, but it’s just not interesting as it goes through a residential area and doesn’t offer much challenge or visual appeal. The mountains in the distance do still provide some nice scenery, but then you also have a few holes right along the loud and busy I-10 Freeway. The 2nd hole does run next to the quarry and I presume is one of the newer holes, but it’s only a brief taste of what’s to come.

As you are playing the first hole, you go along the west edge of the quarry and you get a sneak preview of the much more dramatic back nine. That doesn’t help because you then just slog through the boring front nine in anticipation of the back nine ahead.

Once you get to the 10th, it is a joyride after that. Expect some extreme target golf and some interesting terrain as the rest of the course goes up and down throughout the quarry, as well as along the rims. The fairways are narrow, the holes are fun and the scores add up quickly if you miss your targets. However, if you hit your targets and stay in play, it’s a layout you can easily tear apart.

The 11th hole is the signature hole at Quarry Pines with nothing but open quarry in between the tee and the green complex. There’s a lot of room up around the green, so it’s not as intimidating as SoCal’s most famous quarry hole at Oak Quarry, but it’s still cool. The next couple of holes play along the top edge before you go back into the quarry for the very dramatic stretch of 14-16. The 14th is a beautiful par-4 with an elevated tee and a strategic landing area. The 15th is an entertaining par-3 that tops out at 134 yards and plays straight downhill with a steep drop from tee to green. The 16th is a tricky par-5 playing uphill and featuring one of the narrowest fairways you’ll ever see to make your second shot extra intimidating.

The 17th is also a nice little par-3 with the mountains in the background.

In other words, the back nine at Quarry Pines is worth the price of admission and the front nine is a fine warm-up. Just know you can get away with a lot more errant shots on the front nine, so the overall strategy and presentation are vastly different.

The course was in solid condition, but the greens were not too inspiring. The tee boxes, fairways and rough all had lush, green coverage. The rough was fairly penal as the ball would really get swallowed up. The bunkers were damp, but fine. The greens were rather slow and a bit bumpy.

Even with its cool back nine, Quarry Pines doesn’t quite belong in the conversation with the higher-end tracks in Tucson. It’s clearly a notch down, but it does seem to offer more than the munis that are in a similar price range. It’s a reasonable rate for a fairly fun golf experience (once you make that turn). One of the guys I played with mentioned that they are considering using another neighboring quarry property to build a third nine. That would certainly be great.

Some pictures from Quarry Pines Golf Club (11/27/15):

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