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Starr Pass - The Missing Road Trip Link
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December 31, 2014
11:13 pm
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Fourteen months after the 2013 Flagstick road trip was detoured by a multi-car pile up due to a sudden dust storm on the I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson - resulting in arguably the greatest “audible” in road trip history (click here) - the loop has finally been closed, albeit without Messrs Bauder and MacLeod in attendance for this leg.

Today, I played the vaunted Starr Pass Golf Club, formerly known as the TPC at Starr Pass, site of Phil Mickelson’s historic win as an amateur in 1991. The course has undergone a number of changes since then, including a redesign and addition of a 3rd nine in 2004 by Arnold Palmer Design. I have to mention that the primetime “rack” rate for this time of year is $139 USD + tax however, if you book through one of the popular booking websites like Golfnow or Teeoff.com, significant discounts can be had. I managed a prepaid booking within 24 hours of my time for $50, taxes in.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the golf course, I’ll say a few words about the property in general. The course is set below the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa, that rests comfortably at the foot of the Tucson mountain range, at the Western edge of Tucson Mountain Park. The holes wind their way through the Starr Pass Golf Suites vacation condos owned by Wyndham/Shell Hospitality, and parts of the Starr Pass residential community. It’s a beautiful area set in the foothills, with gorgeous views across downtown Tucson to Mount Lemmon in the East.

I arrived at 8:40 for my 9:20 tee time. The clubhouse is fairly compact (if 20,000 square feet can be considered “compact”), with a stylish Pro Shop and grill room, The Catalina BBQ. The staff were all very professional and friendly, and I was greeted by name at each meeting. I grabbed a coffee to go at the bar (free refills all day) and was off. After checking-in I was directed to the practice range near the first tee of the Rattler nine (balls are included in your green fee). Your power cart is personalized with your name and starting time. I was greeted by the starter, and informed that I was the only one registered for my time. He asked if I was ready to go, or if I needed time to hit some balls first. Those who know me know that “warming up” makes very little difference in the state of my game, so I said I was good to go, and he paired me up with another single. Thankfully, my fellow linksman Sebastian was a regular at the course and would guide me through the hills and hollows of the Starr Pass links. A pairing that would become more and more beneficial as the round progressed.

Six sets of tees, including a hybrid of black and silver with adjusted handicap allocations, allow for play by any level of golfer. My round was played on the Rattler and Roadrunner nines from the second-to-last tees (black). 6331 yards, par 71 (36-35), 70.7/135. The course conditions were excellent, with the usual ryegrass winter overseed on the fairways and tees, bentgrass greens, and dormant “golden” bermuda rough. This is target golf at its finest, with plenty of desert scrub, cacti, washes and ravines to swallow up wayward golf balls. Add to that the undulating terrain, elevation changes, forced carries and “mountain effect”, and you’re in for a fun round. Off to The Rattler…

The first hole is a relatively benign mid-length par 4 at 354 yards, that will help ease you into your round. Mission accomplished. Let the roller coaster ride begin. I’m very glad that I had my “A” game with the driver today, because the next four holes demand in-play results off the tee the further back you play, especially on a cool, breezy day. Each tee shot of the next four has a forced carry from the tee, and a couple on the approach as well. However, even with the up and down elevation changes, the lies are very fair, and large green complexes soften the blow if you miss. You finish with a stout 3-4-3-4 combination.

Next up, The Roadrunner nine. As I mentioned earlier this is the newest nine at Starr Pass, and runs in closest proximity to the hotel proper back down to the clubhouse. Seeing the name Roadrunner, I was reminded of the lovable, mischievous Warner Brothers cartoon bird from my childhood. A “cute” moniker for a sedate par-35 to finish the day. Heck, it starts with a par 3… I was wrong. This roadrunner is more like the actual bird that roams these parts. A bit sneaky, a bit surly, a bit testy. And, like the cartoon version, you pay attention and don’t turn your back on it.

The first three holes of this nine are cradled in the shadow of the peaks around the hotel, so the wind swirls. You need to choose your clubs wisely with a 3-4-3 start, especially on the 174 yard 3rd hole. The tee deck is about 70 feet above the green, and it was downwind. I airmailed the green with an 8-iron… Hole 4 is a short, downhill par 4, that begs you to go for the green. It and number 5 offer stunning views of downtown Tucson from above, from the green and fairway respectively. Number 6 is 540 yards of downhill fun. Spacious fairway, and options abound for your second shot to approach the green. The kicker here is the tee shot. From the silver, blue and red tees, the fairway is in full view. From the gold and black, this is the most visually intimidating tee shot I have ever seen in my life. If it hadn’t been for my faithful companion telling me that there was more fairway out there than the 12 yard wide strip I could see to my right, I wouldn’t have believed it. Golf’s version of a “trust fall”. I embraced the challenge, striped my drive down the middle, and knelt down to kiss the turf. The Roadrunner loosens its grip slightly on 7 and 8, allowing you to get ready for the uphill finishing par 5.

Starr Pass is a “must play” in my book. The combination of the conditions, the staff, and the challenge of the course, made for an amazing experience. I’ll be back. After all, I still have to be chased by The Coyote...

Tomorrow's just a future yesterday. - Craig Ferguson

January 1, 2015
11:59 am
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Thanks for completing what we started Rule1.  Great write-up.  Eager to get back and actually play it...finally.

Golf Geek, Golf Industry Lifer (30 seasons and counting), PGA of Canada Candidate For Membership, Titleist Certified Fitting Professional  

January 1, 2015
2:08 pm
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Flagstick Staff - SM said
Eager to get back and actually play it...finally.

You know you've got a place to stay when you do. Wink

Tomorrow's just a future yesterday. - Craig Ferguson

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