Although the club doesn’t advertise its public access, it allows limited nonmember play on its two eighteens. If you can, arrange to play the North course, designed by John Fought and Tom Lehman and opened in 1998. With deep bunkers, forced carries and plenty of in-your-face encounters with the mountains and desert, notably on the back nine, the layout offers more drama than the South. To reach the inward nine, though, you’ll have to survive the 725-yard downhill ninth, a brute of a hole by any standard. Not only is it monstrous in length, but water challenges the second shot on the right and the slippery green is all too easy to three-putt. The Gallery’s South course, a solo Fought design, is the one that hosts the Match Play Championship. Fought modeled the greens after those at Pinehurst No. 2, with closely mown chipping areas that ring heavily sloping greens. He succeeded, as witnessed by the field’s reaction during the 2007 championship, won by Henrik Stenson.
Once you’ve relaxed and dressed for dinner, make a two-minute drive from your hotel to Terra Cotta, a celebrated locally owned restaurant. As its name suggests, this is another Southwestern place, but the atmosphere is a bit more casual and the food, though quite good, will be less ambitious than it was the night before. Terra Cotta is more of a grab-a-margarita-with-your-pals kind of establishment. Specialities of the house include the delicious wood-fired pizzas.
Have breakfast wherever you please—but make it snappy so you can squeeze in thirty-six holes at Omni Tucson National, the longtime home of the Tucson Open. Start with the tougher and older Catalina course. Opened in 1962, it’s distinguished by its parkland design, which was common in the era before target-style desert golf, when Midwestern snowbirds were thought to prefer courses that resembled those they played back home. Hence, the 7,262-yard par-seventy-three Catalina features grass from wall to wall (so to speak), fairways lined by trees not cacti, and elevated greens. The course is hardly a pushover, but you should have little trouble keeping the ball in play—that is, until you reach the fearsome eighteenth. This 443-yard par-four—which decided many a Tucson Open—demands a drive slotted between two lakes, followed by a long, uphill approach to a well-bunkered green.
Although daylight is at a premium in late fall and winter, there should be time enough to duck into Legends Bar & Grill to eat a quick lunch before heading back out for round two. A 6,552-yard par seventy, the Sonoran course is a perfect complement to the Catalina. It’s narrower, hillier and shorter than its elder sibling. Plus, the layout’s many natural washes demand strategic play. Its handsome par threes, notably the 183-yard third and the 171-yard tenth, linger in the mind’s eye long after the round.
After so much golf, you’ll be ready for a hearty meal. Drive ten minutes into town to McMahon’s Prime Steakhouse, a modern yet clubby paradise for carnivores that boasts a sophisticated wine list and a heated patio for smoking cigars.
You can’t leave Tucson without trying your hand on the ultimate hole in desert golf: the tantalizing 107-yard third on the Mountain course at Ventana Canyon Golf Club. Provided you can ignore the yawning chasm that separates tee from green, the task is rather simple: punch a wedge to a two-tiered putting surface tucked into a hillside of saguaros. The hole’s popularity unfortunately has drawn attention away from the course itself, a first-rate Tom Fazio design that opened in 1984.