TUBAC, Ariz. -- Residents of Phoenix and Scottsdale often escape two hours south to Tucson for a low-key getaway, especially in the summertime, when temperatures dip slightly from the sweltering heat at home.
So where do Tucson residents go for a bit of the same? Just a short drive down Interstate-19 toward the border to Tubac Golf Resort and Spa, where it's usually a few degrees cooler and always quieter than their big city.
You'll find Tubac in a bit of no-man's land, halfway between the Mexican border town of Nogales, Ariz., and Tucson. This stretch of I-19 marks the only highway in America on which the exits and markers are labeled in kilometers. Additionally, the road back to Tucson requires a brief stop for border patrol officers.
Much more fertile in comparison to neighboring parts of the desert, sleepy Tubac got its name from the Pima Native Americans, the first known inhabitants of the land. It meant "where the water comes out," named after the Santa Cruz River that runs through Tubac. The area was the first European settlement in Arizona. The Spanish cultivated fruit orchards, which later became a 500-acre Otero Ranch.
When a group of businessmen that included Bing Crosby purchased the land in the 1950s, the resort was born.
Today, the nearby village is home to an artists colony, and the resort has become a popular wedding spot. When Tucson residents Kelly and Matt Herrington chose to tie the knot, they picked this shady, postcard spot with an old chapel, plenty to eat and do and spacious, quiet villas for their guests.
"About 40 of our friends came down a day early," Matt Herington said. "And we had a Friday golf tournament before the wedding."
When the movie "Tin Cup" was released in 1996, it renewed interest in Tubac's golf course, where several scenes from the film were filmed. And in recent years, the resort and golf facilities received many improvements.
A new clubhouse and pro shop was added in 2004. The resort includes a full driving range and practice greens. Architect Ken Kavenaugh added a new nine holes in 2006 and renovated the existing 18, here since 1959.
But Tubac isn't so much a professional-style venue, where Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy and David Simms duked it out, as a relaxing walk through a mix of cottonwood trees, villas and ranch land.
Though a couple holes from the Otero nine earned a spot in golf lore for their use in the movie, the best holes at Tubac are elsewhere. On the east side of the river sits a trio of long, intimidating new holes, nicknamed the Tubac Triangle. It's home to a 464-yard par 4, 254-yard par 3 and 651-yard par 5.
The Anza nine begins with five new holes and finishes with a sixth, the island-green par 3 that sits in front of the clubhouse and dining patios so onlookers can catch a glimpse of the action. The hole offers a little taste of Sawgrass, though the TPC venue in Florida can't count grazing cattle among its spectators.
Another addition to the resort, Tubac's spa is small, at 3,000 square feet, compared to those at many Tucson resorts, but it's full of hacienda-style charm and offers a full menu of services. It's the first spa I've seen with board games like Yahtzee in the relaxation area. Some small groups must have a hankering for dice games after a rubdown.
The spa includes six treatment rooms, and the masseuses know their stuff. My personal relaxation massage, in particular, turned into a borderline therapy-chiropractic session -- the result of a golf-heavy stretch of several days in Tucson. It did wonders.
The spa also offers a variety of special body treatments, facials, waxing, manicures and pedicures.
With so many of their own desert golf courses from which to choose, visitors pick Tubac over Tucson for the remote, sleepy western vibe more than the 27-hole layout. But Tubac can also serve as a good base to visit some of southern Arizona's more traditional, low-key golf clubs. Between the border and Tubac sits Rio Rico Golf Course, a classic Robert Trent Jones Sr. design. Between Tucson and Tubac in Green Valley are Canoa Ranch Golf Club, Canoa Hills Golf Course, Torres Blancas Golf Club and San Ignacio Golf Club.
November 12, 2010