Sewailo Golf Club opened in December of 2013, the 3rd Signature Design Course by Notah Begay III with the help of Ty Butler and Landscapes Unlimited. Since completing Sewailo, Begay’s company, NB3 Consulting, has added three more courses to its portfolio: Twin Warriors Golf Course in Bernalillo, New Mexico, Indian Canyons Golf Course in Palm Springs, California, and Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York.
Sewailo, meaning “flower world,” is an enterprise of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and is affiliated with the neighboring Casino del Sol. It’s managed by Scottsdale-based Troon Golf and is also the home course of the University of Arizona Men’s and Women’s Golf teams.
The course itself is carved out of the high Sonoran Desert in southwest Tucson. The last time I played it was on the day before my wedding back in November of 2014. This was pre-blog (PB), which is why there’s no Course Review… until now. Even though it’s only been open for a couple of years now, Sewailo has already established itself as one of Tucson’s “must-play” golf courses. In fact, it was recently ranked No. 19 in the state Arizona by Golf.com for 2016-2017.
To get to Sewailo, you have to take I-19 South toward Nogales to Valencia Road (Exit 95). From there, it’s a little over six miles West to the golf course. I’m amazed at all the new construction springing up along Valencia in the little less than two years since I last played the course. People must be moving into the area, and it may or may not have a little something to do with the casino.
Sewailo features a modest pro shop and restaurant, but the outdoor wraparound patio is fantastic. It’s easy to see why the UofA golf programs relocated from Arizona National on the east side of town to Sewailo on the west side. Although it’s not much closer to campus, there was a time when Arizona National could no longer afford to water the course, and most of their grass died. No brainer. The teams now have their own, private practice area visible from the tee at the Par 3 16th, and it looks pretty nice.
For a desert course, there’s a lot of water out here. Sewailo Golf Club plays 7,283 yards from the Bear Down (University of Arizona) Tees to a Par of 72, a course rating of 73.5, and a slope of 138. There are five different sets of tees to accommodate golfers of all skill levels. Here are some of the highlights of the round:
Holes Worth Writing Home About
When I asked the guys in the pro shop for a few tips on playing Sewailo, Henry remarked, “Don’t hit it into the fairway bunkers.” That’s pretty good advice. Some of the bunkers out here are deep, the lips are high, and they are sharp too. While most of the holes lay out nicely in front of you, and you can see where to hit your tee shot, it’s still a good idea to take advantage of the virtual flyovers on the DSG TAG touchscreen GPS units on every cart. But generally speaking, what you see is what you get.
The dogleg right Par 4 opening hole is really pretty and shares a green with Hole No. 8 behind it. Even from the Bear Down Tees, it’s not overly long at 364 yards, but there’s a stream that cuts across the fairway inside 150 yards that you have to navigate successfully.
That’s a great hole, but my favorite hole on the front nine is the 360-yard Par 4 2nd. I love the bunkering as you approach the slightly-elevated green. The same water feature that bisects the first hole trickles onto the second hole and down the right side of the 2nd fairway. If you tend to slice the ball, the water could come into play off the tee.
The first two holes are great because they’re a little shorter, and they encourage players to get off to a good start. That’s Rule No. 1 of Golf Course Design that we learned at the Golf Academy: the starting holes should be easier and wider.
The teeth of this golf course don’t really come out until you make the turn. From the Bear Down Tees, it’s 213 yards longer than the front side, but those yardages aren’t evenly dispersed over the side, they come in huge chunks: Par 5s of 638 and 584 yards, Par 4s of 504, 430, and 455 yards, and a Par 3 of 242 yards. I’m not a bomber, and I couldn’t get home in two on any of the Par 5s.
So it should come as no surprise that my favorite hole on the back is the short Par 4 16th. At 328 yards and slightly uphill, it’s not drivable unless you get a favorable wind direction, but it’s still a chance to get a shot back if you can stick a wedge. If I was designing a golf course, I would have a drivable, risk/reward Par 4 coming home for guys to shoot at. The 16th hole is a perfect place for it.
I don’t know if it was the heat or not, but a lot of the holes started to blend together as we headed for home. The temperature was well over 100 degrees, which is not uncommon for Arizona at this time of year, but because the air was hardly moving, it felt like the sun had it out for us. It was just beating down, and I felt like an ant at the wrong end of a magnifying glass. My wife and I drank about 12, ten-ounce bottles of water between us, and still I think I got heat exhaustion.
If you’ve read any of my previous Course Reviews, here’s how I would describe Sewailo: Longbow meets Whirlwind meets Southern Dunes (if only for the swarms of flies we kept encountering on the back nine).
The greens at Sewailo don’t break any certain way because the property on which the course is situated is relatively flat, although there are some sneaky elevation changes. The greens are bentgrass, which is great, but they are slow and soft (there were footprints everywhere) because of how much water and maintenance it takes to keep them alive in Arizona’s hot summer months. They were watering the greens off-and-on while we were still out on the course.
Bentgrass is the best surface on which to putt, hands down, but with bentgrass, I always say it’s best to die the ball into the hole. If you hit the hole too hard, the edges are sharp enough to spin the ball away. Compare that to putting on bermudagrass. If you don’t hit those putts with a little pace and try to hit the back of the cup when you’re inside three feet, the grain tends to knock them offline. Not the case with bentgrass. In my opinion, that’s why it’s the purest putting surface there is.
When you arrive at the course, you’ll see signs directing you to use the Bag Drop at the end of the roundabout. This is where it can get a little hairy, especially when there are a lot of people already loading and unloading their clubs. I can’t imagine what it’s like during the peak of the golfing season. Instead of patiently waiting for the mess to clear, my wife and I decided to park and walk up to the cart staging area, which is located right there at the bag drop. It was easy to find our cart because our names printed and displayed right there! That was pretty cool. Usually, the only time you see your name on a cart placard is when there’s in a tournament. It may not seem like much, but that was a nice touch.
Sewailo is open to guests of the Casino del Sol Resort as well as the general public. The best way to book a tee time is online at sewailogolfclub.com. It’s a sharp-looking web site that’s fairly easy to navigate.
Believe it or not, my best shot of the day came on the 504-yard Par 4 11th. I had 246 yards in to a slightly uphill green, hit my 3-wood long and left, but was still able to get up and down for par. Now that was satisfying!
While We’re Young
Like all Troon-managed courses, Sewailo takes pace of play very seriously. Everywhere you look, you will see a time. At Sewailo, it’s 4:26: four hours and 26 minutes. That’s the Time Par, “the desired and resonable period of time we expect a round of golf to be played at our course.” Sewailo also offers a few friendly reminders for maintaining that pace and adds, “We always aim to be under par, but rarely over par.” They even go so far as to print 4:26 right there on all their range balls, something I’ve never seen at any other course before. That’s serious.
I like it when courses make a big deal about pace of play and then try to enforce it. Enforcing it is the hard part. Pace of play is one of the biggest issues facing the game of golf today, and in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with a course putting its expectations out there. The course and the golfer share equal responsibility in making sure it happens – the course in disclosing how long a round should take, the golfer to do his/her best to honor that time.
My wife and I teed off at around 1:35p and were back in the parking lot, exhausted, by 6:00p, right under our Time Par. That must be a time birdie! I’m pretty sure my wife played 36 holes because if felt like she hit 2-3 balls on almost every shot.
Next On the Tee
Kapalua. The Plantation Course and the Bay Course. The Plantation Course plays host to the PGA Tour’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January of each year and is essentially the Tour season opener. Only the winners of the previous year’s events get to play in the invitational.