Arziona Travel – Golf Along the Border
Whether it’s golf on the cliffs above Lake Powell in Page, or equally surreal golf on the bluffs above the
Colorado River near Bullhead City, or even the ricochetrabbit game off the canyon walls in Parker, there’s much to love about road trips in Arizona. One that is not to be missed is the trip from Bisbee to Nogales to Rio Rico to Tubac. Call it,“Golf on the border,” even if “Golf almost in Mexico” describes it quite
well, too. There are several reasons why this road trip to southeastern Arizona stands out more than others and it starts with the beauty and views that are tied to 4,500 feet of elevation. Ranges like the Mule,
Santa Rita and Tumacacori mountains are seemingly in every direction, and a river called the Santa Cruz runs through it. The history tied to southern Arizona also is rich. For instance, Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa once roamed these parts, as did General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who was chasing
him. Actors John Wayne and Stewart Granger owned ranches on what are now golf courses, with visitors like Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day. And an outlaw named John Dillinger once terrorized these parts, and even former Beatle Paul McCartney hung out there in a secluded canyon.
But for the most part, the lower, right-hand corner of Arizona is just a great place to get lost in and discover new things. Oh, yes, and there’s some mighty good golf to be had from classic architects like Robert Trent Jones and Red Lawrence, “the Desert Fox.”
First up on this itinerary of
stately hidden gems is Turquoise Valley Golf Course near Bisbee, down Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 90 about a three-hour drive from Phoenix (which includes a halfhour
stop at the OK Corral in Tombstone, which is right on the way). Turquoise Valley, which actually is in
Naco, a “suburb” of Bisbee located right smack dab on the border, celebrated its 100th anniversary last year.Those first nine holes are believed to be among the oldest in Arizona, and surprisingly they blend
quite nicely with the “modern” nine built in 1999 by a local professional. That new nine includes the 747-yard 15th hole, a par 6 believed to be the longest hole in Arizona. And then there is
the Greenbush Draw, a 20-foot-deep chasm that divides Turquoise Valley right
down the middle. Bisbee is a wild place to stay, like something right out of The Twilight Zone. The downtown dates back to the early 1900s, with turn of the century hotels like the venerable Copper Queen and the Bisbee Grand, and watering holes like the Stock Exchange. It’s as if the late Rod Serling should be the tour director at the Lavender Pit, an old Phelps Dodge mining remnant in the center of the city that looks like it’s dug so deep it might reach China.
Bright and early the next morning, head for Nogales, which is about a two-hour drive over the old Pony Express route (highways 82 and 92) that runs through Patagonia. Just before Interstate 19 in Nogales, however, stop in for 18 holes at Kino Springs, a quirky layout built right on the border by Lawrence.
Kino Springs is the old Yerba Buena Ranch that belonged to Granger, who lived right next door to “the Duke.” In fact, the clubhouse was once Granger’s ranch house and the old Hollywood photos are still everywhere, along with the ranch’s crest, which features the all-white cows Granger raised called Charolais at Yerba Buena (“good weed”). For the second night on the road, one solid recommendation is the Old Mexico-styled casitas of Tubac Golf Resort, just 20 miles north of the border on I-19. Tubac is where much of the movie “Tin Cup” was filmed, and not only do the lockers carry such names as Kevin
Costner, Cheech Marin, Phil Mickelson and Gary McCord (all in the cast), but an old movie poster remains that declares Costner’s character Roy McAvoy as “Golf Pro, Love Amateur.”
Start off at Tubac Golf Resort, which also was built by Lawrence and now includes 27 holes. It is staged right along the Santa Cruz River, and several offerings actually require going back and forth over water. The 15th hole, where Costner had his infamous meltdown at a fictitious U.S.Open, is memorialized with
a bronze plaque. Even more impressive, the course was built right on top of the original Anza Trail — the historic path used by the Spaniards that once ran from all the way from Culiacan, Mexico, to San Francisco. Then head back down Interstate 19 (south) about 10 miles to Rio Rico Country Club. This is Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr. at their best, with brilliant doglegs and lots of outstanding par 3s and par 5s, which is why it served as a PGA Tour qualifying site on numerous occasions. The nines are as different as night and day, and the best stretch comes early as No. 5 through No. 8 is among the best runs of great golf in the entire state.
That’s the end of a solid trip: four fun golf courses in three days and two nights — the perfect Arizona road trip. Along the way the adventurous traveler will find some incredible Mexican cantinas, such Santiago’s in Bisbee, the Outpost in Nogales, Wisdom’s near Rio Rico, and Dos Silos at Tubac. They’re equally as enjoyable as the golf.•