Sewailo Golf Club shines a national spotlight on Tucson, Arizona
by Bill Huffman
Maybe Notah Begay III is not Bono belting out U2’s “Beautiful Day.” On the other hand, what one of golf’s rock stars has brought to Tucson in the form of his beautiful new golf course, Sewailo, has Arizona’s most southern metropolis buzzing.
Dan LaRouere, the general manager at Sewailo for Scottsdale-based Troon Golf, knows better than most why Sewailo is the hottest new golf property in the Tucson area since Jack Nicklaus built the Golf Club at Dove Mountain for the Accenture Match Play Championship back in 2008.
“This is a golf town, and we’re the new guy in town,” said LaRouere, who spent his previous 20 years running the equally spectacular Westin La Paloma, another “Golden Bear” track. “To date, the reaction and anticipation over Sewailo has been off the charts.”
Oh, yes, and there’s one other major element to Sewailo, pronounced “say-why-lo,” that also is off the charts when it comes to the pride of the Pascua Yaqui tribe. And, no, it’s not just because Begay just happens to be a rising star on the Golf Channel, LaRouere added.
“Notah Begay is a rock star to Native Americans, not just with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and deservedly so,” LaRouere pointed out. “I think when people see what we’ve brought to the table—a Notah Begay III golf course, managed by Troon—they’re going to really like it.”
Coupled with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe's other great enterprise, Casino Del Sol Resort, which rises dramatically just to the north of the golf course, the potential for the future never has looked brighter for the tribe since Begay struck the ceremonial opening shot on Dec. 12, 2013.
The story of Notah Begay the architect is a long and winding road. He grew up near Albuquerque, NM, where he was not only a standout in golf but soccer, too. That his first pair of golf shoes was of the female variety and purchased at a garage sale speaks volumes about his early life. As does his relationship with his high school golf coach, who helped Begay strengthen his vocabulary with daily “word lessons” to the point where Begay earned admission to Stanford.
“I still know a bunch of words I never use, but they got me into Stanford,” said the good-natured Begay, who is one-half Navajo, as well as one-quarter San Felipe and Isleta.
That perspective on life also has helped Begay build his third golf course following earlier efforts at Sequoyah National in Cherokee, NC, and Firekeeper in Topeka, KS. And while those courses were created for other Native American tribes, Begay said his philosophy on golf course architecture remains “traditional,” with his favorite course being St. Andrews in Scotland.
“The vast majority of the Pascua Yaqui tribe has never played golf, doesn’t really know the game, and so my role is to help them form their ideas,” said Begay, who turned 40 this year. “I’m like a facilitator in that my experiences in golf help bring things to life for them. Golf is a very tough business these days, so I want to make sure I’m going to get them a golf course that will be so good that it’s profitable.”
“Sewailo is different than anything I’ve done yet, chiefly because we had to move a lot of dirt to create the type of big-theater feel we were after,” said the four-time winner on the PGA Tour who just happened to be Tiger Woods’ roommate during that All-American career at Stanford.
"It’s a golf course that is in harmony with the desert, and that’s really the heritage of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe," says Begay. Sewailo is different than anything I’ve done yet, chiefly because we had to move a lot of dirt to create the type of big-theater feel we were after,” said the four-time winner on the PGA Tour who just happened to be Tiger Woods’ roommate during that All-American career at Stanford.
“What we came up with in working with the Pascua Yaqui tribe is a golf course that is a hybrid between a desert and parkland layout. It’s a golf course that is in harmony with the desert, and that’s really the heritage of the Pascua Yaquis, who according to their history come from the ‘Flower World,’ which is ‘Sewailo’ in their language.”
Begay built Sewailo on 100 acres of tribal land just south and west of Tucson. The course includes six large lakes and waterfalls that take up 14 acres, as well as a serene creek that runs through it. With 65 bunkers, secluded green settings, and majestic mountain backdrops in every direction, the 7,500-yard Sewailo is big and bold with at least three signature holes. That trio of gems includes No. 3, a pristine par-3 over water; No. 10, a serpentine, double-dogleg par-5 that puts a premium on course strategy; and the par-4 18th, where the trek to the island-like green brings water into play on every shot.
So what is Begay’s early assessment of the course, which is priced in the $50 to $125 range for green fees? “I think we’ve hit a home run, although we still have to see how the people take to it. But I already know it’s something really special.”
A Perfect Fit
Even though the early reviews have been glowing from several national publications, there are other ways to measure Sewailo’s success to date. Perhaps the biggest might be the fact that it has become the host course for the University of Arizona’s Wildcats. There also is talk of bringing an LPGA or Champions Tour event to Sewailo.
But most of all, Sewailo gives the Pascua Yaqui tribe yet another fabulous amenity to bolster its award-winning, 215-room resort and Las Vegas-style casino. That the casino has become such a success story in Tucson might not be a surprise, but the four-star rating for the resort certainly is a source of pride to the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, said the property’s GM, Jim Burns.
“Casino Del Sol is an extraordinary destination in itself, and with the addition of Sewailo Golf Club we’ve added the perfect complement,” said Burns. “We’re proud to now offer guests and locals alike a round of golf as part of their experience.”
Added Begay: “In the end, Sewailo was a very balanced project, and the cooperation and input we received from the tribe go a long way in explaining why Sewailo Golf Club is so phenomenal.”
-February 6, 2016
Video: Casino del Sol Resort and Casino