Tucson may be less traveled to than its Scottsdale neighbor to the north, but for anyone seeking out hidden gems, that’s a good thing. The downtown area is charming, with authentically great Mexican food, lots of historic architecture, and enough contemporary culture to call itself chic.
The place to stay and play is The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, and the adjacent La Paloma Country Club. The resort’s 487 guest rooms feature spellbinding views of the Santa Catalina Mountains and colorful sunsets to the west in the desert sky.
It’s hard to beat this destination for its beauteous location, its Southwestern Mission Revival architecture, and myriad amenities, including spa and cuisine.
Still, for many, the resort’s prime attraction is unquestionably golf. Guests have exclusive access to one of the desert’s best tracks, the on-site, 27-hole La Paloma Country Club. An early Jack Nicklaus design from 1984, La Paloma’s three nines are visually striking, with elevation change aplenty, and enough challenge to keep you high on your toes.
The Ridge and Canyon nines form the Championship 18, but the Hill nine holds its own. Each nine boasts cavernous bunkers, 1980s-style mounding, and fairways framed with saguaro cacti. Plan on losing a few golf balls — forced carries over dry ravines are numerous — and use an iron to go poking around the desert. The thorny local flora can pierce like a fishhook into the skin of the unwary. Exotic desert plants such as yucca, prickly pear, jumping cholla, catclaw acacia, and the ubiquitous saguaros frame every hole. They are a delight to behold, but do so at a respectful distance.
When the Ridge/Canyon rota debuted, it checked in with a 155 slope rating from the back tees, the highest in Arizona, which made it one of the five toughest courses in the country. Today, that number is 151. The course is more terrific than terror-inducing. Modern equipment and a proliferation of desert target courses have lessened the fear factor.
The challenge remains formidable, but these days, it’s fun-filled, as exemplified by Ridge No. 1, a 381-yard par-4 that serves as a fitting introduction to one of the most dramatic courses in the Southwest. A generous landing area and jaw-dropping vistas of the Catalinas greet your tee shot, but miss your approach left and an alarmingly deep bunker will crush your
aspirations for par. Most memorable is the 199-yard, par-3 fourth, which plunges four stories downhill over a scrub-filled canyon.
If forced to choose, I’ll pick the Canyon nine as the most distinctive of the three. It’s also the hardest, but its individual holes pulse with character. Hole 2 is a spectacularly beautiful, cactus-studded, dogleg-right par5 of 514 yards. It’s reachable with two strong shots, but any shot leaked to the right is canyon-bound.
It’s the par-4 seventh and par-3 eighth, however, that form one of the greatest tandems in Arizona. The seventh free-falls from an elevated tee to a valley fairway, then climbs 30 feet on the approach to a green benched into a hillside. The eighth is arguably just as tough and equally compelling. This bad boy once measured 244 yards, but today it’s a more manageable, if still frightening, 211 yards, one that demands an all-carry tee shot over a gigantic bunker.
TIN CUP HILL
At one time, the Hill Course was best known for hosting some of the action in the 1996 movie Tin Cup, but nowadays, it’s a valuable member of the team, replete with handsome testing holes such as the 538-yard, par-5 seventh, its green backdropped by Finger Rock in the Catalinas, and the petite but vexing 157-yard, par-3 eighth, its putting surface reworked to provide innumerable options. Hit the correct sector and you might have a kick-in birdie. Hit the wrong portion and you’ll be lucky to three-putt.
Not a single water hazard touches the La Paloma property. Nevertheless, an ocean’s worth of interest awaits, from gaping traps, massive mounds, and numerous forced carries over perpendicular hazards such as cactus-filled chasms. Helping the golfer are generous and visible landing areas and the containment mounding that brackets most fairways. Another plus is the surprisingly quick pace of play.
While La Paloma is unequivocally a rugged test, it’s a private club, open only to resort guests and club members and their guests, which keeps the masses away. Superb conditioning, superior service, and a halfway house that serves up a simple, perfect hot dog (split down the middle, grilled and nesting in a buttered, toasted bun) are added attractions. If you’re still
hungry, the outdoor patio grill at the country club dishes out a Wisconsin beer and three-cheese soup and a signature chili that are both good for whatever ails you.
It’s not easy tearing yourself away from the golf, but you’ll be filled with regret if you miss out on The Westin’s many classic standbys and completed enhancements. Rooms still deliver the famous Westin Heavenly Beds, with some including dual-sink granite vanities, HD-TVs, and expanded walk-in showers with Westin Heavenly Rain Forest Showerheads, among other upgrades.
A remodeled fitness center, complete with cardio, strength training, and classes for guests; resurfaced tennis courts (Australian Open style, using recycled tires — easy on your feet and knees); and refurbished conference/meeting space are all in full swing.
In terms of dining, be sure to try AZul Lounge, where to-go service and dine-in options include Southwest favorites in an informal setting. Contigo Latin Kitchen is another tasty option, dishing flavors from Cuba, Spain, and Mexico. A third option, Sabino’s Pool Bar & Grill serves burgers, tall sandwiches, and fresh salads poolside.
The full-service La Paloma Spa & Salon awaits those in need of rejuvenation and relaxation. Services include body wraps and massages, with the thinking that “a healthy body and mind are essential.”
With its many local charms and attractions, an unbeatable desert location, and amenities to satisfy any need, The Westin La Paloma is designed to express one simple, bold message: Come visit!