Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starr
There are a number of traits that place a golf course in a certain category or pedigree. Being the host course for a PGA Tour event is one of them. Now when your course hosted a PGA tour event like the Tucson Open for over a decade; you are in rarified air. The three 9 hole courses are part of the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa and the entire facility oozes quality and luxury.
With 27 holes of supreme golf, this a unique and enticing challenge and a must on any golf trip to this beautiful destination. Oddly enough, before even seeing the course one local working member of the Tucson golf community told me that the PGA Tour players insisted the event be moved from Starr Pass as it was too tricked up.
He said he looked forward to seeing my review and reading my opinions of Starr Pass. I left our discussion there. Knowing a number of PGA Tour players as I do, I could have told him that if the fruit at the breakfast buffet in the clubhouse isn’t cut properly then half of them would walk.
Only a short 15-minute drive from where we are based, we pulled up to this sprawling Marriott property and were met by Landon at the bag drop. This fit, strapping young man was on the ball right from the start. I left Myra with him as I headed back to park the Golfmobile conveniently close to the clubhouse. Upon my return the power cart was all loaded up and ready to go. Then, Landon gave me all the instructions needed; directions to the practice range and first tee, pro shop and washrooms inside.
I checked into the pro shop and met Wynne and Chico at the pro shop counter where we shared a few pleasantries. Then, I headed out to warm up. The clubhouse and surrounding paddock was very well laid out and organized, bustling with activity. As Director of Golf, Todd Howard, was busy on the phone, my plan was to catch up with him later. The practice range and putting green were unusually crowded and I realized it was as a result of mother nature’s influence; frost had painted the desert floor and the golf course overnight putting us 45 minutes behind due to a frost delay.
With more than ample time, we decided after our warm up to drive back up to the clubhouse and say hello to Mr. Howard. Although he was off the phone, he had but a minute to greet me as he approached me hand-held radio in hand. From his office he was communicating instructions, organizing and rearranging golfers affected by the frost delay.
Back down to the practice range our twosome grew to a foursome and that was key to the enjoyment of our day. Part of our enjoyment in conducting golf reviews is meeting golfers and establishing new relationships. Today we met Chad, who was a single, and his wife, Courtenay, from Myra’s home state of Michigan. Then Stewart from greater Phoenix was added to the group and 5 of us, 4 golfing and one cheerleading, headed off to tackle the Rattler and Roadrunner Courses.
I opted to play the black tees and the guys who hadn’t played for a long while moved up a little and tackled the blues with Myra finishing off each hole from the forward red tees. The day was spectacular; bright, warm and sunny with little or no breeze. This far from home the last thing we expected playing this close to the Mexican border was the non-golfing conversation to be dominated by hockey. Here we were 5 strangers dodging cacti while admiring roadrunners and it was all about Canada’s national sport.
The landscape and terrain of Starr Pass is absolutely stunning and untouched. If we were in Canada, between Myra and me, we could probably name and describe 90% of the trees and bushes. Down here it’s a myriad of native cacti, shrubs, flowers and bushes we are not akin to. A Canadian might say there were those tall cacti like you see in western movies, the ones with lots of round discs and thorns on them and the fuzzy ones that look really prickly.
Never the less the 2 nines we played were carved out of the natural terrain. Off the fairway no ball was playable and barely retrievable especially if you had bare legs. There were many holes that might be appreciated more if played a second time. This was target golf in its truest form and a few of the landing areas of the tee looked to be the size of huge greens. Perhaps back when the PGA Tour hosted the Tucson Open here, the players didn’t like having driver taken out of their hands.
That’s golf though! You select the club that puts you in position to advance the ball towards the green and not all courses are wide open grip and rip it tracks. The Arnold Palmer design was tricky to be sure, but in excellent condition. The over-seeded fairways common to this time of year, bent grass greens that held well and the surrounding vegetation painted a marvellous masterpiece of desert golf.
Our round, like a Clint Eastwood movie, was a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. Myra’s driving was so consistent Chad nicknamed her “Golf Channel” and Courtenay chimed in with many “You go girl” which had Myra beaming. Stewart with his colorful Loud Mouth golf outfit ripped a few approach irons from 160ish straight at the flag and Chad had the shot of the day and only birdie. His 56-degree wedge on the stunning downhill Par 3 3rd on the Roadrunner nine spinning back to 10 feet and then boom – in went the birdie putt.
Humbly my contribution was a 39 on the second nine and more than a few pretty special shots. I finished with a respectable 84 after a slow start. Our second nine on the Roadrunner course we all agreed was the more rewarding of the two as it came back to more level ground. Holes 4-9 had a more traditional desert look and less of the target golf of the Rattler course.
Many of the holes had forced carries which meant if you didn’t elevate the ball it was a goner in one of the many small desert areas that were between you and the green. Those of you who know the phrases Myra and use to describe courses will know what, “ We need to play it a second time”, means.
Perhaps our return next year will see us play Roadrunner and add the Coyote nine to our day, but without a doubt I’ve got to take on the Rattler once again. My 45 score just doesn’t sit well in my gut. After a round of high fives, oh no’s and oh my god’s we finished up a great day. Perhaps in this case, we were all as thankful that 5 hockey fans got to meet in the desert and play golf together at the challenging Starr Pass Golf Club.