Arizona National: The Phoenix Rising in Tucson

Future is bright for classic Sonoran Desert golf experience

Hole #3 – This 329-yard, par 4 doesn’t play long, but mounding in the fairway and a false-front green demand a degree of shot making. 

After the bottom fell out of the economy, Arizona National, like so many other golf facilities, ran into tough times. Luckily for the club, the upside for this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design located in some of the most stunning Sonoran Desert was just too tantalizing to be overlooked.   

Romspen, a Canadian-based mortgage firm, purchased Arizona National at a foreclosure sale in 2014, and immediately began pouring much-needed resources into restoring the golf course to the fine shape it enjoyed when it debuted in 1995. Twenty years later, Arizona National is back to where it started. Dennis Palmer, Arizona National’s general manager, commented on the club’s transformation in a story by the The Arizona Daily Star.

“The man who built the original Raven at Sabino Springs in 1995, Larry Lippon, came out to Arizona National and told me, ‘You’ve got it back very close to the way we originally set it up,’” said Palmer. “That told me we’re doing things the right way.”

Romspen hired OB Sports Golf Management to pound out the dents and dings, and they weren’t afraid to open their wallet to buy OB Sports a bitchen’ set of tools to do it. Romspen spent roughly $600,000 on new equipment and $50,000 on landscaping. That was just the beginning, they also forked out $75,000 for clubhouse necessities such as ice machines, refrigeration units and upgraded restrooms on the golf course, among other things.

After all that, Lippon wasn’t the only one to notice the difference.  Golf Channels’ Golf Advisor placed Arizona National first on its list of the “Top 25 Most Improved U.S. Golf Courses in 2014”.  It moved up from 2.5 stars (out of five) in 2013 to 3.5 stars in 2014 for the Average All-Time Rating. If one looks at the rating profile over the last six months, the numbers jump off the page: 4.6 Average Rating; 4.6 Overall Condition; 4.5 Value; 4.4 Pace of Play; 4.7 Staff Friendliness; 4.2 Food & Beverage and 4.5 for Course Conditions.

The 18-hole, par-71 golf course unfolds along the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and Coronado National Forest. Jones took full advantage of this one-of-a-kind location by following the property’s rugged natural terrain loaded with mesquite-lined arroyos, Saguaro cactus, rock outcroppings, and uniquely, nine natural springs. Along the way, the diverse 6,785-yard layout presents classic desert-golf challenges.

It starts out with a manageable “gentlemen’s” hole before reaching the par-5 second where golfers are called on to make a risk-reward decision off the tee as well as an accurate iron approach to a wide but shallow green. Interestingly, three of the four par 5s bring the heat with handicap rankings of 1, 2 and 4.   

The golf experience ambles along on the front side until running headlong into an ornery trio of holes from No. 9 to No. 11. The par-3 9th stretches to 223 yards from the back tees and plays uphill. Good news is the green is large.

Although the 10th is the No. 3 handicapped hole on the golf course, many think of it as the most difficult. At 433 yards from the back tees, solid ball striking is a must. Careful consideration of the pin sheet is also important on the approach shot, as the green is roughly 40 yards deep.

Playing a whopping 625 yards from the back tees, the par-5 11th hole is the longest on the course. It calls for as much as a 240-yard carry from the tee, a downhill second and an accurate approach to a green surrounded by gaping bunkers.

After taking on 9 through 11, golfers can breathe a sigh of relief on the 12th tee box. And just to the right of it, they’ll be amazed to find a reservoir which was constructed by the ancient Hohokam people more than 1000 years ago. Indeed, nine springs are found on the property that have been bubbling with fresh water for eons.

With such a rewarding golf experience, one might assume the greens fees would be on the high side. They’re not. The highest rate during the season is right around $100 with summer rates at a fraction of that. Plus, there’s a handful of ways to save a buck such as the club’s annual membership program – Mountain Club – and the Sonoran Card. Both offer a host of benefits to suit frequent players and weekend warriors alike.  

If you haven’t played Arizona National lately, it’s a good time to get reacquainted. It would seem that the mythical bird rising from the ashes was a bit off course and actually landed about 120 miles to the south. Close enough! 

To experience Arizona National Golf Club, make a tee time at or call 520.749.4176.