Sewailo a true 'flower' in Tucson's high Sonoran desert

Sewailo a true 'flower' in Tucson's high Sonoran desert

Reid Nelson Columnist
image Photo courtesy of Sewailo Golf Club/Casino del Sol Resort
The par-4 18th at Sewailo is even more dramatic as sunset nears.

TUCSON, Ariz. (Dec. 26, 2014) – One of the newest additions to the already copious inventory of offerings available to golfers living in or visiting Arizona is the Sewailo Golf Club just west of downtown Tucson.

In the Yaqui language, the name means “Flower World,” which to anyone who has never experienced the high Sonoran desert in person might sound like a strange moniker for a golf course set in a land characterized by rocks, cacti and arid heat. But if you’ve been fortunate enough to spend any time in the high Sonoran Desert of Arizona, you already know that “desert” doesn’t mean “desolate.”

In fact, the desert that makes up the bulk of the youngest of our nation’s continental 48 states is home to nearly 500 flowering plants and their blooms come in literally every color of the spectrum, so Flower World seems a perfect name for a course developed by the Pascua Yaqui native American tribe as a complement to the tribe’s Casino del Sol Resort hotel and casino.

Designed by architect Ty Butler, in collaboration with Native American Notah Begay III, himself of Navajo/Pueblo ancestry, Sewailo is a golf course built on a grand scale. From the longest of its tees, the par-72 layout stretches nearly 7,300 yards. It features generous fairways, expansive greens and big, bold features – contours, bunkers and hazards included. Even the practice area is massive, with some 375 yards of target space between practice tees at either end.

But scale is only part of the story of Sewailo. Opened in 2013, Sewailo was quickly adopted by the men’s and women’s golf programs at the University of Arizona as their new home, and it’s easy to see why. The attention to detail at Sewailo is obvious at every turn, from the state-of-the-art practice facility right through to the 18th green. No expense has been spared to create a veritable oasis in the middle of the Tucson desert, much befitting the Flower World name.

Numerous lakes, streams and even waterfalls are intricate parts of the overall canvas Butler and Begay created from a site that doesn't feature a lot of elevation change. Still, the surrounding mountain ranges are close enough to provide dramatic views, complementing the Sewailo landscape if not influencing actual play to the extent the mountains and foothills do at some other courses in the area.

Five sets of tees, as well as two other “combination” sets, give golfers a choice of seven different length courses to play – from the full 7,283-yard U of A “Bear Down” tees to the far more comfortable 5,209-yard Copper course.  But, regardless of tees, the course offers a variety of risk/reward challenges throughout, none with more potential payoff than a couple of par-5s with “cape hole” characteristics off the tee.

The sixth hole, just 548 from the tips, is a 90-degree dogleg left with bunkers that must be carried if you are going to bite off any of the angle. But any tee shot that does carry the sand rewards the player with a mid-iron, or maybe even less, to a green guarded by a huge frontal bunker.

The 10th hole is a more imposing 638 yards from the back and a still hefty 581 from the Jade or middle tees. A lake guards the inside of the dogleg right, forcing all but the bolder, longer players to treat this as a three-shotter. But given the right conditions, not to mention favorable tee selection, big hitters can get home in two with a brave tee shot that carries basically all of the water and finishes near the end of the first portion of fairway. From there, you are left with an uphill second to a green tucked to the left between two bunkers.

The 10th is but one of eight holes where water is in play at Sewailo. Both nines finish with scenic par-4s with lakes framing the inside of the dogleg for the entire length of the hole, the ninth bending left and 18th bending right. And the green at the third hole, the shortest par-3 on the course at just 155 yards from the back tee, is nearly surrounded by water. Miss this peninsula green anywhere but long and your likely to be hitting “3” from the drop zone.

Overall, Sewailo is a great addition to the menu of desert offerings that attracts so many golfers to Arizona, whether it be to vacation or to live. The Yaqui are very proud of what their “brother,” Notah Begay, helped them create--and rightfully so. And they’re eager to show it off by sharing it with any and all who love golf. Their warm hospitality is evident throughout the resort, from the luxurious Casino del Sol Hotel to the staff at the golf course.

And to think, had these descendants of the ancient Uto-Aztecan people not fled their native Sonora, Mexico home to escape Mexican persecution and preserve their tribal heritage and culture, Sewailo would have never come to be. Fleeing Mexico in the 1800s, most of the Yaqui people settled in southern Arizona, but it wasn’t until 1978 that the U.S. government recognized the Yaqui as a sovereign tribal nation.  

Now, more than 30 years later, the Yaqui have given golfers everywhere a “Flower World” to enjoy.

What’s the Yaqui word for “Thank you?”

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