Thanksgiving in Tubac, Part 2

Arizona’s Delightful Tubac Golf Resort

November 24-28, 2004 and November 23-27, 2005 (Page updated Dec. 3, 2005)


1. Memphis to Tucson, Mission San Xavier

3. Tubac Village, Nogales and Tumacacori

2. Arizona’s Delightful Tubac Golf Resort

4. Tucson Botanical Gardens and Flight Home


Index to 18 Photos - 2004

Index to 17 Photos - 2005


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By Lewis Nolan


Nov. 25, 2004 – Thursday. In Tubac, Arizona


There was heavy frost on the grounds of Tubac Golf Resort when we arose at 7 a.m. The morning sun makes some pine trees outside our
Casey, Lewis on practice green
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Casita glisten with golden light, making them look like maple trees in autumn.


After a quick-and-easy breakfast of a ham and cheese sandwich, I continued my reading of my pal John Branston’s excellent book, “Memphis Rowdy.” John and I had worked together as newspapermen 20 years ago at The Commercial Appeal before I bailed out in favor of corporate communications with Schering-Plough. He later switched to writing for Memphis Magazine and most recently the weekly Memphis Flyer.


His book is an augmented and updated collection of his articles about some of the fascinating characters our city has produced. He’s a terrific writer and a great reporter. What made his book especially good vacation reading for me was that I had interviewed or otherwise dealt with most of the rogues and heroes profiled so well. While I read, Casey slept and Betty drove a mile or so up the road to a quick stop to buy a newspaper and a few grocery items. The resort provides complimentary newspapers (even on Sunday) to guests. But this day being Thanksgiving, the usual copies of USA Today didn’t arrive.


Tubac Golf Resort is on 500 acres within the historic Otero Ranch. The ranch was established in 1789 when the Otero family received the first
Casey at Tubac range
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Spanish Land Grant in the Southwest, a grant that included several thousand acres. The resort was founded 45 years ago and was hot spot for the Hollywood set in the 1950s; Singer Bing Crosby was chairman of the board.


The crown jewel of the resort is its 18-hole golf course, which has two “bonus” holes used when the regular ones are undergoing repairs. The course and other resort property was where much of the early part of the movie “Tin Cup” was filmed several years ago. The movie starred Kevin Costner and Don Johnson, playing a fictional qualifying tournament for the U.S. Open. Much of the later part of the movie was filmed in Texas, where the famous scene of Costner’s character pumping ball-after-ball into a pond was shot.


Hole No. 15 at Tubac – a 544-yard Par 5 off the blue tees – is known as the “Tin Cup” hole. A plaque marks the filming there. A water hazard guarding the green was dug to suit the moviemakers.


Since I first played the Tubac course in the late 1990s, I’ve played no other in southern Arizona. It is simply exquisite. The fairways are lush and generally wide. The greens are generous and soft. A plentiful supply of low-cost, Mexican labor keeps the flowerbeds and sand bunkers immaculately groomed. There are many cottonwoods and mesquite trees on the course, providing shade and cover for an abundance of semi-tropical bird life. The hole layout is interesting but not overly punitive, with enough sand and water hazards guarding the greens to require some prudent shots.


The towering, desert mountains to the east make a beautiful backdrop. Views along the Santa Cruz River – today just a trickle – provide glimpses of what the raw land looked like until the resort builders came along.


Casey brought his brand-new, Big Bertha 9-degree driver. He was pretty wild with it the first time at bat on the range yesterday. So he went back to the range to get in some more practice. I held back to read and enjoy the morning views of the plantings around our Casita. I’ve found that hitting a lot of practice balls doesn’t do much for my game. It just tires me out. Besides, I’m still a little creaky from yesterday’s flight.


We met up with Curtis and Kathy Downs shortly before 11 a.m. Kathy wanted to ride with Curtis the front nine holes in order to see the
Curtis (left), Casey at Tubac
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course and to take pictures. Betty decamped in favor of shopping in the Village of Tubac. I hit a handful of balls then putted for a very few minutes, which turned out to be grossly insufficient.


The new pro gave us a friendly welcome on the first tee box. Curtis and Casey hit from the blue tees; rating is an average 68.1 but slope is a tough 121. Distance is 6,108 yards. I demurred in favor of hitting off the whites (distance is 5,480 yards with rating dropping to 65.0 and slope to 111) due to the relative shortness of my drives. I’ve seen both Casey and Curtis hit 300-yard drives; 250 is probably closer to the average for both. My drives don’t get much past 200 anymore unless there is a big tailwind or a huge bounce on the cart path. My age-shortened distance reminds me of a saying from the great golf philosopher, Lee Trevino: “The older you get the longer you used to be.”


Curtis and Casey hit the ball pretty well on this day. I was terrible on the front 9, scoring a 56 after losing 6 balls; I shamefully missed a 3-footer for birdie. Casey scored a 41 even though his driver was working only sporadically.


Casey – ever the dutiful son – spotted me a stroke a hole in match play for a dollar bet on the backside. Maybe it was having some money on the line, but my game definitely perked up. I won the bet by four holes because of the stroke-a-hole advantage. But Casey was the winner in stroke play, shooting a 47 compared to my 48. So at least I was headed the right way at the close, scoring a total 104.


Casey was scrupulously honest as always, playing the ball down, taking no opening hole mulligans and putting all the putts into the cup.
Heated pool at golf resort
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He scored an 88, not bad for somebody playing as little as his real estate development work at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia now allows. Curtis finished at 89, a good score on this course. The finishing hole has been rebuilt and is now a picture-perfect, Par 3 with an island green surrounded by water.


The course was full, being Thanksgiving. But the pace of play was good and we finished in four hours and 15 minutes even though we stopped briefly for lunch at the turn.


Watching finishing golfers plop ball after ball into the water at No. 18 is a favorite pastime from the patio of the clubhouse bar. Naturally, I didn’t disappoint the rubber-neckers at the 19th Hole.


Casey stayed at the range to work some more with his new driver. I retired to the hot tub a few steps from our Casita. I had the in-ground tub all to myself. The vigorous action from the powerful water jets considerably eased my sore and stiff muscles.


We had a delightful Thanksgiving dinner that evening with Curtis and Kathy. I had to ask for a manager to intercede after learning the set menu was a humongous feast of traditional, high-carb dishes. He was glad to accommodate my special diet by having the kitchen prepare a huge slice of roast beef, a green salad, a serving of baked squash and a dish of raspberries topped with orange liquor. 


After dinner we all repaired to our Casita to enjoy a mesquite-wood fire and a bottle of decent chardonnay from California.


November 27, 2004, Saturday – In Tubac, Arizona


I played a lot better golf after a layover day yesterday. While Betty and Casey shopped at the Village of Tubac, I spent nearly an hour this morning at the range and practice green in the hopes of recovering some semblance of touch for my sagging short game. We teed off a little past after 11 a.m. The drills and rest seemed to pay off since I shot a 44/49 for a 93, a good score for me on a course of this quality and difficulty. Casey was better yet, with an 85.


It was another beautiful day, with sunny skies, light wind and a high near 70 degrees. We were paired with a couple from Pueblo, Colorado.
Pool view of our casita
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They bought a lot here a year ago after learning that a developer they know had purchased the resort and had big plans. The couple allowed that his highly successful development of the Telluride ski resort back home had greatly appreciated prices in the area. The same run-up in values in both developed and undeveloped land was underway here.


The couple are about my age, play by the rules and are great company on the golf course. The man, a general contractor, seems to have about my skill level and approach to golf, making him an affable hacker. His wife, a recently retired grade school teacher, is a natural athlete and possibly the best woman golfer I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with. (Her husband said she shot par on their first date.)


The usual “what-if’s” had me thinking after the round that with a couple of breaks going my way I might have been able to squeak under 90. My putting on the front side was the best it’s been in a long time, one-putting four greens. I hit two balls into the water and four-putted one tricky green that broke in three or four directions right at the cup.


During our round, Casey’s girlfriend – Caroline Cardon – sent periodic text messages to his cell phone to update him on the big football game between the University of Virginia and archrival Virginia Tech. Both Casey and Caroline are UVA graduates and live in Arlington, Va. It turned out that favored-Tech got the better of the UVA Cavaliers. Caroline – watching football on TV in her apartment back home – also sent a message about the progress of another big rivalry game, Mississippi State versus Ole Miss.


Unfortunately, Ole Miss beat my alma mater like a drum on this annual Thanksgiving game. At least Ole Miss fan Curtis was happy. He and Kathy flew back to Memphis Friday so they could attend the game on the campus at Oxford, Miss., where their two children went to college.


Betty spent much of the day in the shops of Tubac Village. She took advantage of some coin-operated laundry facilities in the pool house so we wouldn’t have to pack a lot of dirty clothing into our bags for the trip home. Casey was flying out this evening so didn’t want to eat a heavy meal. Betty volunteered to pick up some takeout salad and fancy submarine sandwiches at a nearby sandwich shop in Tubac Village.


We drove the rental car with Casey and his bags on the 45-minute drive to Tucson International Airport at 6:30 p.m. He is flying back on America West via Las Vegas, where he’ll catch the red eye, overnight flight to Baltimore-Washington. Betty and I returned to our Casita, where we enjoyed yet another fire on our last night in Tubac.


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