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The Golf Club at Vistoso - 6/14/2003

From the Parvenus and Putting Pigs in Clover golf series

Piolline and I, vastly improved at the game of golf since the last time we spoke out on the subject (see the Links at Continental Ranch review), decided to take advantage of the summer deals currently being offered around Tucson and try our hand at some of the higher rated courses in the area. We had been playing mostly city courses twice a week for the last six months and were looking for a little change in scenery. We got that and more at the Golf Club at Vistoso.

Vistoso is located Northwest of Tucson off towards the town of Catalina on the far borders of the urban sprawl and housing developments that have been rapidly eroding into the desert on that side of town for the last decade or two. After we finally wound our way up there, pulled into the parking lot and were straightening our unfamiliar collars and hitching up our freshly laundered short pants, two fresh faced youths approached us from out of nowhere and offered to take our bags. Now if this happens at El Rio or Silverbell, one might assume they are being mugged and would be advised to just hand everything over, which is what we did here. The difference of course was that the youths at Vistoso called us "Sir" and asked which of us would be driving the cart. Instead of weapons, they pulled warm wet towels from their belts to give our clubs a quick scrub before securing them to the back of a cart (equipped, incidentally, with its own water cooler, ball and club washer and GPS system). We left them as they were outfitting the ride with seed dispensers, drink cups and new tees and made our way inside.

"How are we doing today gentlemen?" inquired the bloke behind the desk without a hint of sarcasm despite Piolline's distinctively ungentlemanly appearance. "What time are we teeing off?" Now over the last couple of months, we've had occasion to play at some pretty snooty places and often detected an attitude from the hired help that suggested they are under the impression that, based solely on our inexpensive sartorial choices and shaggy hairdos, we are only taking advantage of seasonal deals made possible by the unbearable heat and possibly aren't the kind of people who actually belong on the property. Whether this is true or not (Piolline could have probably bought and sold most of the smug employees and in some of my former lives I was no stranger to country clubs myself), we have often been aware of the attitude. It doesn't bother us in the least, especially since our game has improved to the point where we can hold our own on the course, but it is sort of funny to see the fear in the eyes of the clerks in some of the pro shops when we first darken the doors in our Salvation Army duds and tattered golf sandals. In any event, there was no sign of snobbery of any kind at Vistoso, which was ironic since, even though they didn't announce us each by name and welcome us to the area over the intercom as we approached the first tee like they did at Gold Mountain up in Seattle, Vistoso was, by almost all measures, the nicest place we've played so far.

"OK gentlemen, you guys are going to like this track. Just head out that way to the driving range where a pyramid of balls is included in the price. Warm up until you're ready and tee off anytime. We're not too crowded today and the starter has gone home so you're on your own and have fun. If you get hungry, you can order food from the cart by just pressing the menu button on the screen and we'll have it brought out to you."

It didn't take us many holes to realize that the course is immaculately kept in every facet. The greens were forgiving and soft to the approach shot, yet tightly shorn to be fast and true for the putter. The ball marks that a towering iron inflict on the green were like symmetrical dents in a sponge with no dirt visible and were easily fluffed up to disappear. The trap sand was soft and forgiving as if made of ground up clam shells and the tee boxes green and tight with sand and seed provided for your divots. And the fairways! Oh the fairways! It took us a few holes to get used to them because the grass is so tight and short that to hit the perfect iron you have to strike the ball on the way down instead of picking it off the gnarled surface. Each well struck shot produced a nearly identical dessert plate sized divot that fit perfectly back in the ground when we went to replace it as if it were the final piece to large green puzzle. For a couple of guys who are used to attempting to skim the ball off of all types of hard pack crab grass around town and often trying to avoid taking any divot at all lest we break a wrist or jam a shoulder, the fairways at Vistoso were a real pleasure to play. Once we got used to them.

Another thing a guy could get used to in a big hurry is the GPS system on the carts. What they have is a 12 or 15 inch flat TV monitor attached to the cart where the rearview mirror would be that gives you an exact life-like picture of the hole in front of you, complete with each tree and trap that could potentially affect your play. The screen changes as you move and is accurate to within two feet. The numbers give you the yards to trouble and truth, i.e. the pin, the sand traps, the end and beginning of the fairways and the front and back of the greens. Finally, after months of mostly guess work, we were able to ascertain exactly how far we were hitting our different clubs. Instead of admiring what you thought was a majestic drive as it sails across an expanse of desert only to watch it disappear down a ravine that you thought was a hundred yards on the outside, you can trust the technology, club down and lay it up perfectly. Since Piolline typically pays more attention to that sort of stuff then I do when we play new courses, I suddenly began skinning his ass left and right. I also found that I was leaving myself with many more long irons to the green instead of the typical hole on an open course where you blast it up near the green somewhere on the drive and end up having to chip or lob it on, which, in our case, often results in skullery. But with the greens forgiving enough to hold a five or a soft trap ready to catch an errant fairway wood and keep it out of the desert, the course seemed to play much easier than some of the lesser rated courses around. You still need your full arsenal because there is much trouble to carry and you are playing target golf in a desert environment where, because of the old growth prickly pears, the pack rats and the dense mesquite and underbrush, you aren't likely to find your ball at all, let alone have a shot if you happen to miss the green stuff. The one time I did find my ball down in a wash bottom I noticed the riverbed had been carefully raked and sifted so it played just like a trap.

Despite the 105 degree weather, we experienced nearly an ideal round. The cooler of water was perfectly chilled and tasted filtered, the cart had a windshield that you could fold down or up and, since walking isn't an option due to the vast distances between some of the holes, driving down scenic byways, through cool tunnels and enjoying the teeming wild life isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon even if you aren't in frustrating pursuit of a little white ball. Speaking of the little critters, some of the jack rabbits on that course are bigger than dogs and I actually shanked a putt when I suddenly noticed one approaching out of the corner of my eye as I was in mid-stroke. We also saw coyotes, a tortoise, a hawk, baby ducklings, a rattlesnake, two horned toads, a chuckwalla and a heron. It seems that golf courses are becoming like nature preserves in these parts, which made us feel a little better about the immense amounts of water it must take to keep them up and the chemicals they probably have to use that end up leaching into the earth and causing all sorts of other problems.

Other than that, we really have nothing bad to say about the Golf Club at Vistoso. Every employee we dealt with was pleasant, cordial, helpful and happy. Every hole was a unique challenge, perfectly sculpted out of the desert for aesthetic enjoyment, maximum scenery and challenging play. And for 29 dollars for everything, we find it hard to believe that the place can be topped. Due to our self-imposed rule of not paying more than 50 cents a stroke for a round, we are well aware that we are just gypsies in the palace while the rightful residents are away at their winter homes for the summer but we see no reason not to take advantage of the situation in the interim and enjoy ourselves. One thing's for sure and that is that we've had to dress up in collared shirts on numerous other occasions just to have a lot less fun.

The Golf Club at Vistoso is located at 
955 West Vistoso Highlands Drive
Tucson, Arizona  85737
(520) 797-9900

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