There are a lot of interesting stories to be told these days about the various golf courses surrounding all of us in So AZ who play the game. Some of that seems fairly depressing at times. So when a story like what is happening at The Forty Niner CC comes along, it is welcoming news. I wont bore you with the details but suffice it to say that after a long period of neglect and a not so favorable reputation as far as course conditions, one of the resident members, Ron McKenzie, purchased the golf course. Mr. McKenzie is turning
the course around to bring it back to that wonderful old track we all know and love. And he is putting his money where his mouth is…it shows already!
The first indication to me when I arrived that something good was taking place were all the construction trucks in the parking lot and the number of workers running around. Not only is the course being rejuvenated, but the clubhouse is getting what amounts to a complete makeover. There is a refurbished pro-shop with all kinds of fun new merchandise and the aptly named Rincon Mountain Grill (great views of the mountains) is re-decorated to provide for a welcoming 19th hole. Currently serving a great breakfast and lunch for all golfers, the Grill is also open on Thursday thru Sunday nights for dinner. I am sure that the new Chef with a new kitchen at his disposal isn’t going to sit idle. That has to be welcoming news to the locals starved for someplace close and different. I knew I would be in later for the obligatory after golf cold beer and a sampling of the menu.
“The first indication to me when I arrived that something good was taking place were all the construction trucks in the parking lot and the number of workers running around. Not only is the course being rejuvenated, but the clubhouse is getting what amounts to a complete makeover. ”
Wendy Cross, the club GM and Director of Golf, paired me with three long time members of The Forty Niner. Playing with these characters was like playing with kids who just got a new toy. They were so excited (and relieved I imagine), that the course was finally getting worked on they could hardly contain themselves. They knew every inch of every fairway and made sure to point out to me along the way how much better every inch is. Speaking of measurement, this 6,681 yard, 18 hole par 72 course is a very good test of golf. Not a desert course at all, The Forty Niner is much more traditional and reminiscent of classic designs. Tree lined fairways and tightly 4 guarded doglegs pose the same challenges today that were faced by the PGA TOUR Pros that played here at the 1963 and 64 Tucson Open. Perhaps even more challenging considering the current size of those 50 year old cottonwood, eucalyptus, and weeping willows.
Trees, or as I like to call them, “aerial hazards” are an integral part of this golf course. None are perhaps more daunting than the #3 par three tee shot. Halfway to the hole there are two huge “hazards” with a very narrow gap to thread your ball through. Accomplish that and there is very little trouble around the green. Its all about the direction you launch the ball, not necessarily where it lands. I know this because after a well struck tee shot that caught an overhanging branch, I was still only halfway to the green. That theme continued on a lot of holes, giving the course a three dimensional playing surface. What could be a very wide open looking fairway off the tee had to be found first, and hopefully with an unobstructed following shot. Hole #5 is a perfect example of this, like playing down a corridor lined on both sides with green, only narrower just off the tee. Anybody who has played back in the Midwest or East will remember the distinct sound made by a drive down a tree lined fairway…I hadn’t heard that pleasing crack for a long time. The avoidance strategy is really apparent on #12, a 90 degree dogleg left. There is a corner tree to aim at and just sliding it past that massive hazard will leave a short iron in. Pull it and you’re punching out from somewhere you don’t want to be. Play it safe to the right and you have some extra distance to go.
The back nine is just as well designed as the front but with an interesting twist. You start and end the back with relatively short par 3’s and both are all carry over water. The greens at The Forty Niner, while not overly large, are wonderful to putt on. Just don’t over-read the subtle breaks, as was taught to me by my experienced companions. Like a lot of older courses they are very circular in shape and typically fronted with bunkers either right, left or on both sides. Going long on most holes can avoid trouble, just don’t go too long and end up in guess what…..you’re right, more trees.
If you have been avoiding The Forty Niner lately, I strongly suggest you return soon. The transformation is amazing and a welcome sign of good things to come. Thank you Mr. McKenzie for your passion for the game and one of the great Tucson traditions.