Fame, if you can call it that, came fleetingly to Tubac Golf Resort. Hollywood discovered this pastoral spot thirty minutes south of Tucson a decade ago, when Tubac’s graceful eighteen served as the site of some of the fictional Roy McAvoy’s exploits in the golf film Tin Cup. But the resort received only a brief mention in the credits, and its little-known charms were in no danger of being widely discovered.
Tubac’s portrayal in the film (starring Kevin Costner as a West Texas driving-range pro) was misleading, as I was reminded on a recent visit, my first in twenty years. Far from the nondescript desert layout on screen, it’s a strategic course that sits in a verdant river valley, the centerpiece of a welcoming hacienda-style resort whose roots date back to an eighteenth-century land grant from the Spanish Crown. Taupe-colored mountains cast soft, violet shadows in the distance.
As I was hitting a few putts on the practice green before teeing off, a bull and three cows grazed in a pasture only a flip wedge away: Tubac’s ranchland character, fully intact. Yet I wondered whether the Red Lawrence-designed course, built in 1960 (and recently expanded by nine holes), remained as enjoyable as I’d remembered.
Much to my delight, it has. The original front nine, now called the Otero nine, eases you in with a succession of flattish holes framed by sycamores and cottonwoods. The greens, although benign-looking, roll surprisingly fast. The most memorable stretch begins at the par-four first on the Rancho nine, which calls for a hefty carry over the Santa Cruz River followed by a pitch to a green tucked into a mesquite grove. The narrow par-four third darts through more mesquites, and then you come to the par five over water where, in an early scene, Costner’s character goaded the cocky pro played by Don Johnson to go for the green. Breathing in the bracing air and admiring the mountains, I was transported to Montana or Colorado—a far cry from the film’s dusty (supposedly West Texas) tableau.