Monday, January 31, 2011

Bring the gallery back to the Gallery

The North Course at the Gallery Golf Club in rests in the shadow of the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain Resort and Golf Club. Like the Ritz, it is about 20 miles north of Tucson in Marana, Arizona. Like the Ritz, the scenery is spectacular with two hundred year old Saguaro cacti lining the fairway at the foot of the breathtaking Tortolita Mountain range. And like the Ritz, the greens, the fairways, the rough, the sand and every other little detail is spectacular.

On the surface the two courses are nearly identical: 6800 yards, wide fairways, large, fast greens and well manicured rough carved into one of America's most beautiful desert settings. Both courses will run you about $150, if you can get a tee time. Both courses will challenge you in places, but all in all they really aren’t that tough.

And for all intents and purposes, the Gallery and the Ritz are on the same piece of land- a plateau in the shade of a small but scenic mountain range in the midst of a rocky desert surrounded by a forest of cacti overlooking the Tucson valley.

As hard as I try, I can't come up with one tangible reason that that these two courses are different. I even shot the same score on both courses.

But god damnit these two courses are different because the Gallery course puts the Ritz to shame. Somehow, for all of their similarities, it’s like nothing is the same.

It begins and ends with course design. At the Gallery, the course gives players the opportunity to hit up hill, downhill, and around hills. In the fairway, side hill lies aren't uncommon. The tee boxes use the mountain slopes to provide incredible views an incredible photographs. The holes themselves are even creative, ranging from the 609 par five ninth, to the 168 par three over water. Even the practice facility is incredible.

At the end of the day, I walked away from this course feeling like I had played a fun, fulfilling round of golf whereas at the Ritz I felt like I had just hit a ball from point A to point B.

Of course a tee time at the Gallery doesn't come without its drawbacks. First and foremost the Gallery is a semi-private club, so they won't allow you on their hallowed ground until after 11 AM and they won't send you out with any of their members. While their staff is still exceedingly polite, you still feel as if you are there as a guest, not as a patron. It's not ideal, but certainly worth your money.

Without question, the most memorable hole on the course for me was the aforementioned 609 yard ninth. At 609 yards from the blues, this hole is now officially the longest hole of golf I have ever played (surpassing the 604 yard 8th at Miramar Air Station in San Diego).  From the tips the hole plays a whopping 725 yards, making it the longest par five in America.  Even though it plays downhill from start to finish, and the 3,000 foot elevation makes the ball fly about 7-10 percent further than at sea level, don’t even think about getting home in two. Traps on your right and desert on your left present even a skilled player with a visually difficult tee shot, and an undulating fairway and monstrous manmade lake present players with a challenging second shot. All but the most perfectly placed second shots (in case you were wondering, mine was not) will necessitate an approach over the lake to a wide, sloping, elevated green. If you escape with a par here, my hat is off to you.

Image: The Gallery Golf Club, Marana, Arizona
Even though I played the Ritz course twice and the Gallery only once on my trip to Tucson, there is no question in my mind that the Gallery should be the destination course in the area. That's why I can't figure out why the PGA TOUR packed up their bags and moved the Accenture Match Play from the Gallery to the Ritz? I have never run a golf tournament, and I am sure that there are a million different things for the sponsor to consider. But you'd have to think that interesting holes, which make for interesting play, would also make for an interesting tournament.

I vote that the PGA brings its gallery back to the North Course at the Gallery Golf Club.

Grizzly Golfer Rating: 9.25/10

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