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Stay & Play | Loews Ventana Canyon

Set at the base of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains, this 36-hole resort is a nature-lover’s—and golfer’s—delight

By: Tom Cunneff

This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of LINKS.

When you think of Arizona and golf, you usually think of Phoenix/Scottsdale. Tucson typically gets overlooked, which is a shame since there are a number of fine resorts there, including The Westin La Paloma and Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Loews Ventana Canyon is another of Tucson’s finest and definitely worth considering for your next golf trip. The stay is very good, but the play is even better. 

Located about a half-hour’s drive from Tucson International Airport, the Loews sits on 93 acres in the foothills of the stunning Santa Catalina Mountains. Looking up at the jagged, 8,000-foot peaks is as awe-inspiring as playing along any ocean. The two Tom Fazio courses, Mountain and Canyon, weave through beautiful desert topography. Giant saguaro cacti, some with balls stuck in them, stand sentry, while javelinas and other wildlife scurry past tee boxes. Adding to the visual vitality are massive rock formations. The most memorable hole is the Mountain’s 107-yard 3rd, which has sweeping views of the Tucson valley and plays across a deep ravine to a boulder-encased green. Be careful where you step on the next tee box, as well as a few others, as they’re perched precariously atop the granite, but they make for exhilarating drives whether you blast one or not.

The Mountain front and Canyon back are the members’ favorite nines, with the latter memorable for the leviathan-sized boulder bordering the 10th green, aptly named “Whale Rock,” and the risk-reward, 503-yard 18th, with its water-guarded green backed by a waterfall and the hotel. Both courses feature immaculate conditioning with nary a blade of grass out of place.

The courses are actually owned by the members of a private club that’s part of the upscale Lodge at Ventana Canyon, which has 50 large suites available to non-members (the two courses alternate daily between private and public play). The Lodge, which sits a few fairways below the Loews, is a good choice if you want a more secluded stay (it’s popular with guys on buddy trips); but for a more complete resort experience, the Loews has much to offer, starting with the Frank Lloyd Wright-like architecture. The 398-room hotel blends beautifully with its surroundings, the masonry mimicking the ribbing of the saguaro and the bricks made from local soil. The developers didn’t destroy a single saguaro or any riparian habitat during the resort’s construction, which are among the reasons Architectural Digest named it “The first environmentally conceived resort in North America” after it opened in 1984. 

Nature remains an important part of the resort. There’s a half-mile paved trail, “Window Walk,” behind the pool on the mountain side of the hotel that has a butterfly and tortoise exhibit and teaches guests about the Sonoran Desert, which has more types of flora and fauna than any other desert in the world. The trail also passes the base of an 80-foot waterfall, which flows into a koi pond behind the lobby (be sure to give the fish some food from the treasure chest by the door). Another good way to explore the desert is the mile-long fitness trail, which is adjacent to the courses and has 18 exercise stations. For really serious hikers, there’s a 2.5-mile trail into the eponymous canyon along a boulder-strewn trail with switchbacks that rises 1,000 feet. The view back across the valley from this ventana, or window, is stupendous. For most of us, however, an elevator ride to the fourth floor and a hike up a flight of steps to the hotel’s observation deck will have to do.

For those looking to luxuriate, there’s a 7,000-square-foot spa with signature treatments imbued with Native American rituals and indigenous plants. The newly renovated guest rooms also feature the biggest tubs you’ve ever seen, as well as large covered balconies on which to relax with either mountain or valley views. (About the only pet peeve is having to pay $11 a day for Internet.) 

Weekend guests should not miss the Saturday night stargazing, led by a University of Arizona astronomer, where guests peer through a powerful telescope to see such celestial revelations as Jupiter’s moons, lunar mountains, and even another galaxy, Andromeda. Loews Ventana Canyon is heavenly in more ways than one.

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