GREEN VALLEY, Ariz. -- Canoa Ranch Golf Club, a rugged walk in the southern Arizona aridness, is a difficult, 6,701-yard par 71 designed by Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley that traverses downhill through arroyo-cut terrain. It has a hole that reminds you of its ranching heritage as it skirts a windmill and corral, and takes the golfer back to a high plateau where stout mesquites bend in a desert wind.
Pay attention or your next wayward drive could be unplayable.
Canoa Ranch, which was once as large as Grand Canyon National Park, was a historical compound important as far back as 900 A.D. when Hohokam Indians diverted water from the Santa Cruz River for farming.
Then came the Spanish, who ranched the San Ignacio de Canoa land grant in 1821. Anglos arrived in 1876, taking ownership.
Today, Canoa Ranch is just one of many retirement-age-type communities, about 30 miles south of Tucson, that encompass the area around Green Valley.
Since opening in 2003, the nines have been reversed, it's been changed from par 70 to 71, and the initial chaparral rye fairways (an experiment to eliminate rye over-seeding in winter) exchanged for Bermuda. GPS on the carts will help you negotiate the layout.
"I think most golfers like the layout, the views and the rolling landscape," Canoa Ranch Golf Club Assistant Professional Henry Madril said. "If you spray the ball sideways, you will have a long day, because the desert is unforgiving, and there are some forced carries that demand precision."
What you might really like or dislike are the six par 3s -- most of them very challenging and scenic.
The third is a daunting, 239-yard par 3 that is obscured by a rocky hillside to the right, but the putting surface is 7,000 square feet guarded by a bunker on the front left.
No. 13, a 208-yard par 3, requires a carry over huge rocks and brush to a green that is contoured and bunkered.
The ranching heritage can be seen on the scenic sixth, named Cole's Corral, because of the windmill and corral to the right of the fairway on this 400-yard par 4 that goes downhill and curves slightly to the left. That bunker on the right side of the green catches a lot of balls.
No. 11, a 549-yard par 5, wiggles downhill with islands of fairway surrounded by desert.
The finale, a 576-yard par 5, is the No. 1 handicap hole. Not only do you have to nail a drive downhill to a fairway that moves left, you have to be precise -- most likely into a southerly breeze to layup short of an arroyo -- or be perfect to a green that is 50 feet above you.
"It's one of the toughest par 5s I've ever played," was the sentiment I heard all day from my playing partners. As well as, "That hole gets the best of me every time."
"This is a difficult golf course," said Barry Nelson, the starter who is a lifetime resident of the area. "I think people like the views -- one can see vast distances. Also, the elevation changes add to the experience. The greens are very fast, and sometimes you can read a break that's not there, but normally they break toward the Santa Cruz River Valley."
This is a golf course I'd love to play when the Bermuda has left its dormant status and the wind is not blowing 30 miles per hour. Talk about a challenge. But you can't always have perfect weather in the desert.
Canoa Ranch has an excellent practice area and professional golf lessons are available.
But you might enjoy relaxing at The Grill on the Green's American cuisine that includes grilled salmon, filet mignon, pork tenderloin and rack of lamb, plus entree salads, sandwiches, burgers, steaks and desserts.
Elephant Head Mountain is the view from the Grill and the 2,700-square-foot clubhouse, where you can schedule corporate tournaments, meetings, banquets and parties.
The Wyndham Canoa Ranch Golf Resort is just across the street from the clubhouse and offers luxury, relaxation and a spa. Wi-fi is included, and golf packages are available, including for the nearby Torres Blancas Golf Club.
Home and condo owners in Canoa Ranch have access to many amenities including indoor and outdoor pool, fitness center, hobby rooms, library, billiards and more. Canoa Ranch residents are not limited to the amenities within their community. The collective nature of Green Valley means that members can use any of the recreational facilities and amenities throughout the valley.
March 20, 2012