As my playing partners and I walked off the 18th at Heritage Highlands, the sun dropped behind the Tucson Mountains, coloring the remaining daylight purple and pink, hues to which only Arizona can lay claim. It was only fitting that such a spectacular sunset conclude a rewarding round of golf on one of southern Arizona's finest new desert courses.
When Heritage Highlands Golf & Country Club opened a year ago in Marana, it proclaimed to the renowned resort courses in the Santa Catalina foothills north of Tucson that it would not go quietly into the desert night. This Arthur Hills design gracefully traces the foothills of the
Tortolita Mountains 20 miles north of Tucson, offering dramatic carries over majestic High Sonoran desert landscape and greens tucked into breathtaking ravines. But the layout's 6,904 yards also offer an element of playability that is missing from many of the higher-profile resort facilities. Golfers expecting a modern target-style course will be pleasantly surprised by fairways that run continuously from the forward tees to the greens. Hills also provides generous landing areas around each green, allowing golfers to test their mettle with every wedge in their bags.
According to Director of Golf Operations Lindsey Taft, Hills's objective when designing Heritage Highlands was to create a totally enjoyable desert golf experience that would endear the course to locals and visitors alike. Has this concept prevailed itself upon Tucson's golfers? The Arizona Daily Star recently asked area players to select the 18 best golf holes in southern Arizona. Heritage Highlands captured four of the "Dream 18" -- more than any other single course.
The layout's special characteristics are reflected in the names bestowed upon each hole. "Sunken Treasure," the 397-yard, par-four third, calls for a blind approach to a hidden green sunk well below the line of sight from the fairway. "Second Thoughts," the par-five 10th, presents the long hitter with both the tantalizing option of reaching the green in
two as well as the prudent alternative of laying up short of a series of bunkers dissecting the hole's narrow fairway. The course takes on a decidedly different character at "Arthur's Hill," the par-four 13th that rewards a well-placed uphill drive with a mere glimpse of the partially hidden green.
Beginning with the 13th, Heritage Highlands begins its ascent into the craggy foothills of the Tortolitas. Houses give way to cacti, and the feeling of being absolutely alone with the golf course enables players of all skill levels to focus on both the intricacies of their game and
the dramatic challenges that remain. This drama reaches a climax on the par-five 15th, known simply as "Mirage." This classic risk/reward hole gets its name from a lake that sits along the final 115 yards of the left side of the fairway. Most of the fairway is severely mounded,
sloping down towards the lake, and an approach shot that draws too much will find the water.
If there's a common thread that ties together the holes at Heritage Highlands, it's the flawless bentgrass greens. The swift and rolling nature of these dance floors prompted one visitor to compare the greens to those at Augusta National. Even after the first hole, it is clear that this assertion was not made after a few cold ones at the inviting
19th hole -- the greens are exceedingly well-groomed.
The facilities at Heritage Highlands are first-rate. There is a practice range in proximity to the first tee, and the clubhouse has a pro shop, sunset patio, and a grill that features some of the best grub in Tucson. Green fees range from $55 to $95 through March, $45 to $60 in April,
October, and November, and $30 to $45 May through September. Reservations: (520) 579-7000.