La Paloma Country Club is a 27-hole complex routed by Jack Nicklaus through the foothills of Mt. Kimball on the north side of Tucson. The Canyon and Ridge nines are typically held as the best combination for a round. Although not “in nature” per se (the club exists within a residential community), the dramatic topography allows golfers to have a more adventurous route than many desert loops.
The Canyon nine features a number of forced carries involving the title feature. Holes nos. 4 through 7 on that side seem hellbent on one-upping the drama of the forced carry to the green from the previous hole. Beginning at No. 4, players must simply go over a large stretch of second cut to get to the putting surface. That becomes a narrow canyon on the following par five, followed by a short par four where big hitting players may consider crossing the gap in one, and finally No. 7, which features an enormous gulf from one side of the fairway to the other.
The “Ridge” is hardly lacking in natural splendor, featuring a number of elevated teeboxes playing down to the fairway.
The best piece of advice I can give those who venture to La Paloma is be sure to be playing well because the Ridge and Canyon Nines do not suffer fools gladly. Plenty of resorts have opted to "dumb down" their designs -- providing for ample fairways, with bunkers and other obstacles either out of way or minimized and with putting greens devoid of interesting contours. Frankly, how many resort courses sport a 150 slope from the tips and even 141 from the next sets of tee markers?
For better players the stark contrast between verdant closely cropped grass and the desert wilderness will provide a rush of excitement. For those who have difficulty in keeping one's ball in play -- be prepared to be under constant pressure.
The course went through a makeover a few years back but the terror provided on miscues is very much alive and well. The downside is the proliferation of off-course housing that engulfs quite a few of the holes. I remember playing the course in its early days around 1986-87 and the desert connection was truly alive and well.
On a number of the holes you will encounter tapered fairways -- securing the ideal approach angles to the greens is always an issue when playing. La Paloma insists that if you decide to pull out the driver you'd best be sure you have the wherewithal for consistent placement. Spraying the ball is a quick indicator of a very long day with corresponding high numbers of the card.
As I mentioned, better players may have a far different viewpoint than those on the higher end of the handicap ladder. Generally, a quality layout should be able to engender good feeling from the widest range of handicap types. La Paloma would work even better as a private club because as a resort layout it can be quite the brute.
M. James Ward