The 15th hole at The Stone Canyon Club in Arizona.
In the late 1980s, while working for a prominent golf course construction company, the architect Brian Curley was asked to draw up plans for an 18-hole course and residential community in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains, outside Tucson, Ariz.
Touring the site for the first time, Curley was struck by both the beauty of the backdrop and the difficulty of the terrain, about as challenging a canvas for a course as any he’d encountered. Rolling and rocky, the land was blanketed by giant saguaros and marked by significant elevation changes.
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“It was not your flattish sand-based site where you find tees and greens here and there,” Curley says. “There were a handful of decomposed granite areas. But it’s not like you could just weave a routing in and around rock formations, like you see so often in North Scottsdale. Pretty much everything underfoot was rock.”
Not long after Curley’s visit, the project faded, a casualty of the Savings and Loan Crisis. But about a decade later, Curley watched with interest as another developer pushed forward with a layout on the same land. Designed by Jay Morrish, in his first solo effort after parting ways with Tom Weiskopf, that course opened in 2000.
It was, in Curley’s view, something of a marvel.
“The same features that make the site so dramatic — the boulders, the saguaros, the elevation shifts — are also a massive impediment to good golf,” says Curley, who is also a GOLF Magazine Top 100 course rater. “When you take that all into account, as an architectural achievement, it’s pretty resounding.”
On Friday, that course — Stone Canyon — will take a nationally televised star turn when Phil Mickelson, Steph Curry, Peyton Manning and Charles Barkley compete in the latest for-charity iteration of Capital One’s The Match.
One could argue that, simply by existing, any golf course in the world has been Barkley-proofed. But Stone Canyon seems especially so. It is, not surprisingly, target golf in the desert, highly photogenic and laden with perils.
“A great match-play venue,” Curley says, where, if you knock one in the junk, you simply put it in your pocket and move on. “I would like to see the over-under on Barkley visits with boulders. Or Phil, for that matter.”
Whatever transpires, Curley says that fans at home are in for a spectacle.
“You don’t get more eye candy than what this has to offer, and it will make for great television.”
Even if some of the shot-making lacks luster, “the views certainly will not.”
A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.