TUCSON, AZ - Like any other snowbird seeking warmth from the Indiana winter, Notre Dame freshman golfer Steve Colnitis came to Arizona to knock some rust off his chilly golf game during the winter holiday break.
What he found at Loews Ventana Canyon was enough challenge to keep him focused on improvement in his game.
"If I was back in South Bend right now the only thing I could do is hit balls under a domed practice area," Colnitis said. "I haven't played a round of golf in a month, so I came here to visit my uncle and try to get my game in shape for competition this spring. We won't be playing outdoors in Indiana for several months, but I know the team has trips scheduled to places like Texas before it warms up enough back in Indiana."
What Colnitis found in the Mountain and Canyon Courses at Ventana Canyon were plenty of challenges in two Tom Fazio layouts.
"From the back tees some of the landing areas seem tiny and you really have to focus to keep the ball in the fairway," Colnitis said. "But the biggest problems face you around the greens. Approach shots and chipping from off the greens present big challenges. You need plenty of skill to get the ball close because these greens are slick and there's lots of undulations."
If the hard-to-hold slick greens aren't enough to distract you, the scenery will. The Santa Catalina Mountains rise behind as the golfer stands on the tee at the world-renown par-3, 107-yard Mountain Course's signature shot. Grab your camera from the elevated perch teeing area. The rugged Arizona terrain drops to no-man's land between you and the green, where rock formations surround and hug the green, surrounding it in Sonoran desert harshness. Imagine how many dollars were spent to build this one.
The Mountain Course, opened in 1984, is ranked No. 46 on Golf Magazine's 2000 Top 100 You Can Play List.
The Canyon Course has memorable par-3 tests at Nos. 13 and 16, where you must be precise or be stymied. End your day with Ventana Canyon's other million-dollar hole, a 503-yard par-5 framed by a man-made waterfall fronting the entrance to the hotel.
"I think this was the toughest day I ever had around the greens," said Bill Hilliard of Erie, PA. "The marshal told us everything breaks away from the mountains and boy was that correct. I had lots of problems getting the ball close all day. Even when I hit the ball short of the green, many times it went to the back and then I was facing a downhill impossible putt. The scenery is worth the price and No. 3 on the Mountain Course is one of the most beautiful holes I've ever played."
Both golf courses, constructed in a forest of saguaros in the rugged Santa Catalina foothills, provide plenty of environmental sensitivity. Wildlife still thrives here with coveys of Gambel's quail, red-tailed hawks, bobcats, deer, rabbits, coyotes and roadrunners in abundance.
If your scorecard is loaded with three-putts, just enjoy the 93 acres and scenery of Esperro Canyon, the geological wonder of Whaleback Rock, the sunrises and sunsets at 3,013 feet and the comfortable surroundings, western art and amenities of the hotel.
7000 North Resort Drive
Tucson, AZ 85715
Toll Free: 800-767-3574
Green Fees: Ranges from $80 May-September to $179 during prime winter months. Call for latest fees or specials.
Directions: From Tucson International Airport, take I-19 going north, then take I-10 going west, when you come to Ina Road go east until it turns into Skyline, continue one block past Swan Road, and the course is on the left.
Dining at Loews: Take your pick from the Ventana Room, Flying V Bar and Grill, Canyon Club, Bill's Grill or the Cascade Lounge.
Awards: No. 29 on Condé Nast Traveler Magazine's Best Golf Resorts. Golf Magazine Silver Tee Award. No. 4 by Golf Magazine Silver Medal Resorts 1996. No. 5 by Golf Magazine: Silver Medal Resorts 1996. No. 47 by Golf Magazine: Top 100 Courses You Can Play In the US 1996. No. 46 in 2000.
What celebs have played Ventana Canyon? John Denver, Chevy Chase, Vince Gill, Clint Eastwood, Jack Kemp, Rick Pitino, Hank Aaron, Joe Theismann, Bart Starr, Lute Olson and many others. Politics? George Bush, Gerald Ford, Dan Quayle, Prince Andrew, Bill Bradley have all played golf here.
The hotel is nestled on 93 acres against the Catalina Mountain foothills only 18 miles from Tucson International Airport. It includes 398 rooms and 27 suites - some with fireplaces and Jacuzzis. Amenities include honor bar, sundries, three telephones (one with computer jack), oversized bath tubs, hair dryers, robes and irons and ironing boards.
Practice Facilities: A
Club House/Pro Shop: A-
Pace of Play: A
Resort Hotel: A
Overall Rating: A
February 12, 2002