A Tucson Treasure Turns 40: Ventana Canyon Club and Lodge Celebrates a Milestone

By Tara Kirkpatrick

This is a special place.

Kimberly Wood knew it right away when she arrived in July 2021 for an interview for the CEO and general manager of Ventana Canyon Club and Lodge. Yes, even in July, the allure of the Tucson club built thoughtfully amidst the desert splendor was unmistakable. 

“There was just a feeling that you got when you were at this property,” she recalled.

Now celebrating its 40th anniversary and 20th under member ownership, the award-winning club’s rich history shines brightly as one of the premier destinations in the Southwest.

“It’s an honor to be here for such a very important time in the history of this club,” said Wood. “Celebrating 40 years and 20 years as being member-owned is huge. I think having the opportunity to help set the vision and take all of the successes of the last 40 years and help put us on the path for the next 40, it’s an honor to be a part of that.”

Anchored by two 18-hole courses masterfully created by renowned golf architect Tom Fazio, Ventana Canyon Club and Lodge today offers a haven of healthy living for its members and guests. From its tennis and pickleball courts to its newly rejuvenated day spa, its refurbished 50-suite boutique hotel to its two swimming pools and family-centric activities, the club is consistently showered with national awards of excellence and accolades from golf and travel magazines. 

“Almost every time, when we drive in the gate and up to the club…one of us says, ‘Isn’t this amazing? Aren’t we lucky to be here?’ ” said Sylvia Pozarnsky, chair of the board of managers for the Ventana Canyon Alliance, which has owned the club for two decades. “It’s just a phenomenal, majestic place.”

Added member Dave Park, “The more time passes, Ventana becomes more central to our whole way of life. We have watched and loved the growth of the community and especially the friends we have made…” 

Desert Beginnings

In the 1920s, Ventana Canyon was home to the Flying V Dude Ranch, a collection of stone and adobe cottages that attracted visitors from across the country for horseback riding, shooting and the quintessential Western experience. 

It was in the 1980s that the Estes Company saw the land’s potential for development. With no roads at the time, Bill Estes and his team took a helicopter to survey the area. A fortuitous sighting of two deer and then, a rainbow, helped cement the decision that it was the perfect spot to build the Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club. From the beginning, the Estes team took painstaking care to ensure the new club would have minimal environmental impact, engaging consultants to preserve as much of the landscape as possible.

When the club opened in 1984, those who signed up to be members didn’t fully know what they were getting. It speaks volumes that 53 of those original members are still members today. “This was literally before anything was really here and they took that leap of faith,” Wood said. 

Member Fred Adler recalled when he first came to Ventana for a company conference six months after the golf course opened. “The moment I stepped onto the grounds, I just felt it was a magical place. The golf course was and still is amazing, and walking into the clubhouse and lodge just felt like you were somewhere special.”

Buying Back the Club

Fueled by the heyday of golf in the 1980s, the club would thrive, even hosting the Merrill Lynch PGA Shootout in 1987 and 1988 on the Mountain Course, luring talent such as Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart.

Membership would then ebb and flow through the 1990s  but by the early 2000s, the future became uncertain.

After Estes had built Ventana, the club changed ownership numerous times, last purchased by Dallas-based Wyndham International. By 2003, several members became concerned that the club would be sold again, perhaps to a company with intentions not aligned with theirs.

“A small group of members got together and said, ‘We want to own our own destiny, our own future,’ ” recalled longtime member Pozarnsky. “So, let’s form a company. They managed to get enough members to step up and purchase shares so that we could buy the property and become member-owned.”

The Alliance purchased the club for $15.5 million and named George White its first CEO and general manager. He would serve until 2021, when he retired and Wood was named his successor.

Poised for the Future

Today, the club continues to flourish under Wood and her team and the club’s twin governing bodies, a board of governors that represents the members, and the Alliance’s board of managers that operates the club’s business. 

Leadership on both boards is guided by members with impressive business acumen and experience – many of whom retired from top corporations. They have lent their expertise in hospitality, legal or risk management insurance or even cyber security technology.

Member Ernie Manuel served on the board of managers for seven years. “I’m always amazed when I meet people at a club function or a wine dinner and find out what they did in their career. They are willing to donate their time to make the club run better. We’re really lucky in that regard.”  

The club also successfully uses task forces to pursue new initiatives, such as a most recent one that will focus on new wellness programs – a future priority for the members. 

“It’s exciting because nobody’s looking to get stuck in the mundane or just keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Wood said. “There’s so many initiatives that the board and the management team have taken on together.”



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