Pascua Yaqui Tribe and Notah Begay III Collaborate, and Revolutionize, Golf in Arizona

Lee Allen
2/22/12

Golfers, especially those who live in cold, snowy climates --- mark your calendars for 12-12-12 in sunny Tucson, Arizona.

Marketed by Chamber of Commerce officials as having nearly 365 days of sunshine per year, Arizona is home to lots of greens and fairways that remain open year-round.  In fact, Golf Digest magazine recently announced that three of Tucson’s golf courses were ranked in The 75 Best Golf Resorts in North America and that number should increase by one this fall.

Notah Begay III at the ground breaking with Miss Pascua Yaqui

Leaders of Southern Arizona’s Pascua Yaqui tribe, the same folks who announced a new $130 million resort/casino facility on 11-11-11, have now made public plans for a state-of-the-art 18-hole, par 72 championship golf course designed by Tiger Woods old college roommate, Notah Begay III.

The not-yet-30-year-old turned pro in 1995 after graduating from Stanford University.  But his introduction to the sport came at age six when he would tag along while dad played twilight, nine-hole competition.  The half Navajo, one-quarter Sal Felipe, and one-quarter Isleta duffer took that early intro to heart by playing in over 200 events and earning four PGA Tour wins for career earnings of $5.2 million.

“This is a big day for Native Americans throughout Arizona,” says Begay.  “This lush, oasis-style PGA-quality course will revolutionize golf in this part of the country and I’m honored to have the chance to bring this dream into a creative reality that reflects the intentions --- economically and culturally --- of the Pascua Yaqui community.”

Symbolic of tribal spirituality, a deer dancer came out of nearby desert shrubbery to dance and bless the grounds.  “It is not our custom to just make speeches and ceremoniously cut a ribbon, we want to bless the land we’re building on,” says Jose “Woody” Fuentes, Casino del Sol Entertainment Director.

Respect for the land was a consistent theme at the groundbreaking.  “You cannot just come in, fire up a bunch of bulldozers and start changing the landscape, you have to be able to first talk to the land and ask for permission,” says Tribal Chairman Peter Yucupicio.  “We ask our Creator and the ground, the trees, the  rocks --- God put you here for a reason and we’re going to change you a little bit, but all the things we’re doing here are for everyone’s benefit --- the tribe, all of Tucson, all of Southern Arizona.”

This will be the third golf course designed by Begay who also walked the land and asked permission to make changes before he got down to work.  “These projects start from the standpoint of culture and it’s important we maintain and respect the culture and traditions of the communities we work with.  As with all projects I work on, based on the teachings of my mother and grandmother, I ask for guidance from our Creator as we shape these holes.”

The course, to be called Sewailo or Flower World in the Yaqui language, will wind seamlessly through gently-rolling terrain, the landscaping of lakes, flowing streams and waterfalls blending with Northern Sonoran desert topography to create an oasis effect and a unique golfing experience.

The Sewailo Golf Course

“This will be one of the top courses in Arizona,” says Begay.  “Everything I’ve seen in the course design, from the routing of the holes to the landscape architecture, will put us in strong consideration for one of the top rankings.  This will be a course that has the capability to challenge golfers of all skill levels.”

If adding another golfing mecca to Southern Arizona wasn’t enough good news, add a second announcement involving the name of perhaps the best golfer in the history of the sport, Jack Nicklaus.  The Golden Bear ended his career in 2005 before turning his sights to new challenges designing, creating, and maintaining golf courses and helping instruct other club wielders how to play better via The Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf, which will be built adjacent to the Sewailo course, will be the first business venture of its kind in Arizona.

The facility will open for business concurrent with play on the new tribal course and there are growing rumblings that the 71-year-old icon may be on hand to unlock the front door for the first time.

“Nicklaus Academies will offer comprehensive training and practice areas separate from the Sewailo Golf Course,” according to Ted Simons, Nicklaus Academies Executive Vice President.   The Academy will be staffed by professional instructors trained by Mike Malaska, recipient of this year’s PGA National Teacher of the Year Award.

“The impact of either announcement…the golf course or the academy…is significant in its own right, but the joint impact is huge,” says Makaska.  “Having access to a world class golf course --- and the availability of instruction on how to really enjoy it --- wow.”

“We’re not all going to be a Golden Bear or a Tiger Woods, but we can all go out and have fun with the game which can be made more enjoyable by knowing how to play it better,” Simons says.  “Our teaching philosophy may not be as sexy as some that grace the covers of golf magazines.  For us, it’s a golf ball and a club with the key being how those two interact.  If you can get the club face squared up to the ball, get the ball headed down a target line, and control its distance --- you’re on your way.”

The training/practice facility separate from the golf course driving range will include its own 375-yard-long dual-ended range; 2,000-square-feet of climate-controlled teaching studio; large putting/chipping/pitching greens, and multiple practice bunkers.

“The Pascua Yaqui tribe continues to shape this land and create economic opportunities --- from the initial Casino of the Sun to the Ava Amphitheatre entertainment venue to the opening of a 4-star, 4-diamond resort/spa last year and now this,” says Sol Casinos Chief Development Officer Mark Birtha.  “This unparalleled experience celebrates the beginning of yet another new chapter.”

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