For a vacation from the vacation, go about ninety miles down Interstate 19 to the Mexican border and Nogales. Life, and the merchandise, are as various as is imaginable. I watched a white-haired Utah couple, seemingly sane, dicker over the price of a giant ceramic model of E.T. If serious about high-end shopping, go to a store called the Lazy Frog for elegant and extravagantly imagined pottery. For lunch, go to La Roca (Mexican, of course). Then head for the ninety-six-year-old Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, an old mining town (ten minutes from the Mexican border) that has turned into an artsy village. On weekends expect a street party. Bisbee gets it on.
The next morning drive twenty-five miles west to Douglas, where the copper ore from Bisbee was processed before the mines closed. Check out the art deco lobby in the Gadsden Hotel. The vaquero Southwest is still alive in the Saddle & Spur Tavern. Cattle-ranching transactions take place in Spanish. The Saddle & Spur is a transition zone, where tourist and cowhand versions of reality can intersect. If you wish.
On the eastern flank of the Chiricahua Mountains, up from the tiny town of Portal, in Cave Creek Canyon (a smaller, red-rock version of Yosemite), there's a birders' paradise. Stone domes tower into the orange sunset light. White-barked sycamores hover like ghosts in the shade. How to love this world?You're on one of the routes. Spiritually refreshed and physically rested, undergolfed again, it's time for a new glove, a dozen new balls, maybe a new pair of shoes -- nothing is too good for a pilgrim. Cholla, saguaro, ocotillo -- we can name them. We've got tee times all over town.
Seize the day.
Tuscon's Top Eight
If you have time for only two rounds, play them here. The Mountain and Canyon courses run through dramatic elevation changes in and below the spectacular canyons at the foot of the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. They play like demanding parkland courses with desert just at the fringes; rarely do the cacti have to be directly confronted. Tee shots are forced carries to contoured landing areas surrounded by mounding. Approaches tend to be straightforward, to greens not heavily trapped or severely sloped. These beautiful courses afford spectacular views and a carefully preserved world of birds, wildflowers and blossoming cacti.
Architect: Tom Fazio
Year Opened: 1984
Par & Yardage: 72, 6,819 (Canyon); 72, 6,926 (Mountain)
Signature Holes: Number three on the Mountain course, a 107-yard par three. The tee, affording an incredible view, sits high on a rocky peak; the green hangs in a canyon below huge boulders. With good reason, this is considered the most photogenic hole in the American West. Also, the Canyon course's eighteenth, a reachable par five. The green is set against a pond in front of the Loews Ventana Canyon's hotel. Go long and you're wet.
How To Get A Tee Time: Call the pro shop.
Pro: Chris Lamberti
Address: 6200 North Clubhouse Lane
Originally designed as a Tournament Players Course, Starr Pass is a tough but not radical desert-style layout on the edge of the 17,000-acre Tucson Mountain Park overlooking the city from the west. There are forced carries, but they are not long; landing areas, while sharply defined by the desert, are ample. The greens are overseeded with rye in the winter, well bunkered and challenging. Like most TPC courses, Starr Pass demands thought, shot placement and restraint. Long hitters can blaze away on the par fives, but they should leave the driver in the bag on several of the par fours.
Architect: Robert Cupp
Year Opened: 1986
Par & Yardage: 71, 6,910
Signature Holes: The fifteenth is a short par four, asking for about two hundred yards off the tee to a narrow slot (historically known as Starr Pass) between unplayable desert hills. The short-iron second is downhill to a green shaped around a front bunker; go long and you're unlikely to see your ball again. The fourth, a dogleg with a huge wall of natural stone in front of the green, was regarded as the toughest par four tour players faced all year when the Tucson Open was played at Starr Pass.
How To Get A Tee Time: Call the pro shop.
Pro: Chad Waits
Address: 3645 West Starr Pass Boulevard