A “gallery” elicits thoughts of viewing something beautiful and indeed The Gallery Golf Club in Tucson has many impressive desert landscapes and mountain narrows to consider. That said, if you find your way into one of the bunkers on the North course, you may not be able to see much at all. Architect John Fought, working with PGA pro Tom Lehman, use a style of bunker throughout where it’s very easy to enter from the back, while the bunker faces are steep and significant.
Two of the best holes come at the conclusion of the front nine: No. 8 is a short par four, featuring a carry across a sandy wash to the fairway. The angled fairway invites daring players to carry more sand for a better approach angle from the left, while conservatives can play it safe to the right instead.
No. 9 is less strategic, with more emphasis on pure muscle. From the back tees, this monster plays more than 725 yards; a true three-shotter for some, and a true four-shotter for many.
The No. 15 par three features multiple greens, depending on your day of play. Although the deep sand hazards are nifty, one of the coolest features will be the rope bridge to the putting surface.
This is the first of two 18-hole layouts -- the North opening in 1998 and the companion South in 2003. The North is the handiwork of architect John Fought and having former PGA Tour player Tom Lehman as a consultant.
The North is fairly standard desert course and there are really only thought-provoking holes on the outbound side. The par-4 2nd is done well -- turning left in the drive zone and then having a desert area push right next to the green on the approach.
The par-5 9th is also done well. Although I am not a fan of the extreme back tees which has the hole top out at 725 yards. That's no misprint! The hole also plays into the normal prevailing wind. The hole would be a far better challenge if played at the next tee box -- 609 yards. Why? This would then bring into play a pond on the far right for the 2nd shot and there's also a native desert area which runs perpendicular to the line of play and starts at roughly 50 yards in front of the green. When using the extreme back tees -- the two aforementioned situations really don't have a role to play.
The inward side is the better of the two nines because of the range of holes and the elevation of shotmaking to a far greater level. The par-4 10th is a first rate hole. A series of well-placed fairway bunkers occupies the center of the landing area. You just have to decide to either play to the side, go shorter or attempt a mega poke over them.
The par-5 11th that follows allows for boldness but will not yield unless the accuracy is included. The par-4 13th is especially good. The fairway tapers down the further one attempts to drive the ball and the green is placed on the other side of a native desert area.
The intersection with the desert also happens with par-4 14th. The hole bends noticeably to the right and one has to decide whether a bold drive over the desert corner is worth the risk. The green is slightly elevated and a single bunker guards the frontal pin areas like a junkyard dog.
The par-3 15th features a split green. I view the left one as the more challenging because the overall square footage is less and the landing area is pinched in by native desert to the left and three bunkers on the right.
Fought and Lehman provide a risk/reward par-5 at the 16th. After landing in the fairway you then decide if going for the green in two with a pond between you and the green is worth the effort. Smartly, the par-4 17th is a short par-4 where another key decision must be reached. The green is gettable from the tee but only with the finest of plays -- intersecting power and accuracy in one shot. Failure can mean having a problematic pitch shot to the target.
The concluding hole is a fine capper to the round. The hole turns left and it pays to come as close to the left side as one can. The green is diagonally angled from lower left to back right and two bunkers are pushed extremely close requiring a deft approach shot.
The involvement of housing does have an impact during the round -- less so on the back nine. Playability is clearly provided since a number of desert courses can be brutally hard with the slightest of miscues. From the vast array of courses I've played in AZ where desert is a big part of the presentation -- I like the North but it's clearly on the second tier when held against the highest of design criteria.
M. James Ward