It is not often in my columns that I write about private golf courses and gated communities. On rare occasions, such as Stone Canyon in Tucson, it is necessary to make an exception.
Typically my travels take me to the better resorts and public or semi-private links that are open to all golf and travel connoisseurs. Many of you have read my stories on Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Puerto Vallarta and the like. Well here is your chance to get inside the gates at one of Arizona’s premier golf communities. It features a stunning and award winning Jay Morrish designed desert masterpiece.
My host for this trip was Todd Huizinga (PGA Professional) who is Director of Club Operations and one hell of a nice guy. Todd leads perhaps the best trained staff I have encountered anywhere during my golf travels. From the moment we arrived at the fortress like iron gates to the time we left the property, we were welcomed like family.
Pulling into Stone Canyon involved driving up a scenic entry road leading to a stone gate-house from which emerged a friendly gent in dress shirt and tie. After giving him my name and tee time we were welcomed with “Nice to meet you Mr. Ginsberg and Mrs. Ginsberg, enjoy your day at Stone Canyon”. And off we went.
Next up was Dennis. He met us at the entrance to the parking lot and amazingly, greeted us by name, showed us to a parking spot and once parked, welcomed us and took my clubs. I went inside the clubhouse to meet Todd who offered me a brief history of the club as well as an overview of the course, the facilities and the community as a whole. More about that later.
As I headed out to the range there was Dennis. He showed us to our cart and led us to one of the most beautiful practice sites you can imagine. With Titleist golf balls and giant iron cauldrons for cleaning your clubs, this seemed more like a driving range for Roman nobles than mere mortals.
Dennis stayed with us on the range giving us tips on the course, saying hello to members by name, cleaning my clubs as I finished hitting each one, offering putting tips on the practice green (the greens here are bentgrass, very fast and break away from the mountains) and eventually leading me out to the first tee. While this may not be an everyday occurrence, it certainly was a level of service I will never forget. Dennis, you are the best!
The course is very simply a masterpiece of design. It is set on a piece of land like no other desert layout I have seen and I have played quite a few. In Morrish’s own words he says of Stone Canyon “It’s the most remarkable desert site I’ve ever seen. It has everything but an ocean – changes of elevation, beautiful rock formations, desert flora. It’s an awesome piece of land.”
The course starts innocently enough with a 390 yard Par 4 dogleg left that is fairly flat with minimal trouble off the tee and a generous green. It ends with a heroic 420 yard (503 from the tips) Par 4 that starts with a tee box perched in the heavens with an endless view of the Tucson area valley and a distant green at the end of a narrow ribbon of fairway too pretty to be believed.
In between are a mix of long and short, straightforward and deceptive, dry and water guarded holes of every imaginable shape and design. Yet there are some startling and consistent features to this layout. First and foremost, the views. Many of the holes are played from elevated tees that offer superb vistas not only of the hole at hand but of the entire surrounds as well. Second, nearly all of the interior holes are lined with hills seemingly made up from nothing but gigantic boulders. It looks as if some kid piled rock on top of rock on top of rock until a mountain was made. Spectacular, weird, eerie and the reason no doubt for the name…Stone Canyon.
The Par 3 6th is only 131 yards but plays across a desert ravine to a smallish green with a steep false front with trouble left, right and behind. Did I mention the 80’ tall waterfall cascading over a field of boulders just short and left? Just a minor distraction.
The Par 5 10th is a demanding risk/reward hole like few others. A good tee shot brings you near the edge of a lake across which lies the green; a mere 200+ yard carry over water. A small peninsula extends from the green into the lake and offers about the only safe landing spot should you go for it in two. For the timid and/or shorter hitter, a crescent moon shaped layup area skirts the entire left side of the lake. While this is dry ground it is also very narrow and quite difficult to hit in its own right. Par here…amazing!
I could on to describe every hole but this is somewhere that must be seen to be appreciated.
As I mentioned, Stone Canyon is a premier gated community in Tucson, Arizona and is only open to play for property owners and their guests. Being from Minnesota, it was nice to find so many of my home state snowbirds living part or full time in Stone Canyon. Owners do not need to join the golf club and those who choose not to still have full access to the community’s Health and Fitness Facility. Here they can take advantage of state of the art fitness equipment, swimming pools, tennis courts, yoga, Pilates as well as specially trained health and wellness instructors.
For those seeking a retirement location or second home I highly recommend you check in to all that is Stone Canyon. They have an excellent website describing the golf, community and real estate options. If you are fortunate enough to visit, be sure to say hello to Todd, Dennis and the rest of the staff and tell them that Mr. and Mrs. Ginsberg say hello.