Play Away at Turquoise Valley Golf Course and Copper Queen Hotel For A Step Back In Time and The Only Par 6 In Arizona! If you’re interested in doing something to celebrate the state of Arizona’s 100th birthday, why not tee it up at the Turquoise Valley Golf Course. It’s located in Naco (Ariz.), just southwest of the historic mining town of Bisbee. It’s only a couple of well-hit 3-woods from the Mexican border.
The Turquoise Valley Golf Course is the oldest continuously operated golf course
in the state. At least technically. It was built in the Warren Section of Bisbee in 1908. Legend has it that Pancho Villa, a leader of the Mexican Revolution, led his troops over the nine-hole course.
In 1936 the course and clubhouse were moved to Naco as part of the Works Project Administration. Just down the street from the present site are the remains of the barracks occupied by General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who chased Villa into Mexico.
For years the course was named the Bisbee Golf Course, owned and operated by that city. It was not doing well. However, in 1996 a Canadian sheep rancher, Peter Lawson, and his wife Leslie, began playing the course. They fell in love with the area, sold their 760-acre ranch in Alberta and took out a 99-year lease from the city of Bisbee to operate the course.
The course was re-named Turquoise Valley Golf Course and underwent a $2 million facelift that included a renovation of the clubhouse and the addition of a second nine holes.
Dick Atkinson, the club professional, designed the new nine located just north of the original layout across the Greenbush Draw, a 20-foot deep chasm that divides the course. Atkinson is to blame – or receive credit – for the par-6 15th hole that stretches 727 yards. That’s right, a par-6, and with a water hazard guarding the green. It’s the only par-6 in the state of Arizona and is the fifth longest hole in the United States and the tenth longest in the world.
When the new nine opened in 1999, I was invited to the ground-breaking. Atkinson made up the pairings for the shotgun start. We were paired together and guess what hole we started on? Yes, No. 15. That’s a good way to get warmed up.
The original nine (the front) is a traditional layout winding through bit eucalyptuses and weeping willows. The first green may be the most difficult to hit an approach shot to I’ve ever played. It’s really steep. Hit it at the top of the green and it rolls down and off. The same happens if you hit it near the bottom. But then you’re chipping uphill.
After golf you must spend some time in Coyote’s Hideout in the clubhouse. The restaurant/bar has a friendly atmosphere and the Mexican food there is great.
A trip to Bisbee wouldn’t be complete without a night at the famed Copper Queen Hotel, one of the great historic hotels in the country. It was started in 1898 and completed in 1902 when Bisbee was a booming mining area. In fact, at one time it was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco.
Phelps Dodge Mining Company built the hotel as a place for dignitaries and investors to relax in luxury. Construction of the hotel was so difficult that Phelps Dodge had to blast away and clear a large portion of the mountainside. In order for concrete to be mixed, water had to be pumped up the hill from the mercantile, now called the Copper Queen Plaza, on Main Street. The walls were constructed to nearly two feet thick, which helps keep the hotel cool in the summer.
The lobby is paved with tile from Italy. Behind the front desk is a unique safe once used at the copper mine. In 1944 Phelps Dodge added an elevator, and in the mid-1970s a pool was installed where the parking lot used to be. While you’re at ground level at the pool, you’re actually at the second floor of the hotel.
If you head into the bar, which you should, you might sit in the same chair once occupied by John Wayne or Lee Marvin. The restaurant has been changed to Angela’s, which specializes in Italian food. However, Bisbee has several other great restaurants.
One word of warning if you’re going to spend a night at the Copper Queen – it has three resident ghosts. It was even featured in SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters episode “Spirits of the Old West.”
One ghost is an older gentleman, tall with long hair and a beard, who is usually seen wearing a black cape and a top hat. Some residents claim they smell the aroma of a good cigar before or after seeing him. He appears in doorways or as a shadow of some rooms.
The second, and perhaps the most famous is a female in her early 30s named Julia Lowell. The story goes that she was a lady of the evening and used the rooms in her hotel for her clients.
Not to worry. I’ve spent half a dozen nights at the Copper Queen and still haven’t seen a ghost. But maybe that’s because I spent too much time in the bar.