Tucson Country Club at 75

Golf, Amenities, Camaraderie and Giving

By Jay Gonzales

In communities like Tucson that have been around for more than 200 years, there are certain aspects of them – people, places, events – that make up their fabric. 

For 75 years, Tucson Country Club is a place that has been just that to the Tucson community. It’s a place where prominent business leaders, politicians and philanthropists − some of them local pioneers such as Drachman, Boice and Amos − have been part of the club’s history on the city’s northeast side.

Over the decades, it’s been a gathering place for golfers and families, a place where kids have grown into prominent business leaders, a place that has attracted newcomers through reputation, or in the current president’s case, through a sense that the people at Tucson Country Club are important to their community and at the same time welcoming.

Retired military officer and current club president Chet Nowak moved to Tucson in 2004 and joined Tucson Country Club about 10 years later.

“Two things sealed the deal for us,” he said. “The people − everybody that I spoke to and everyone who I knew were members really enjoyed it. It’s just plain fun. The other aspect was that we have so many businesspeople or experts here, that if you have a question, you can find a member to ask, and then that helps you with whatever you’re going to do.”

After 75 years, traditions remain the foundation of the club. Members know what to expect in the amenities, in the membership and in the anchor to the club – the golf course. At the same time, the club is constantly evaluating the many trends in golf club membership to make sure new members have what they’re looking for when they’re signing on the dotted line of a membership agreement.

The golf course at Tucson Country Club is one of those historic – some will say “traditional” – golf courses that aren’t built anymore, at least not in the Tucson area or even in the state of Arizona.

It’s a walking course, comfortably fit on 160 acres of what was once a ranch far from the center of town when it was built in 1947. The distances between greens and tee boxes are measured in feet and not fractions of a mile.

Look out onto the course on any given day and the members are walking. There’s a youth caddie program so golfers can hire a caddie for their walking rounds on the weekends or during the summer.

“It’s flat. There’s very minimal elevation change,” said GM and COO Ryan Davis. “We probably have 60-plus percent of our play that walks. People really enjoy that opportunity. It’s not a desert course. It’s a true parkland-style golf course and a real, true, old-school test of golf.”

Tucson Country Club treasures its history and the generations that have been a part of it, members say. At the same time, there’s a recognition that there has to be more to a club than the elite golf. There has to be a sense of community, an attachment to the club surroundings, and amenities for everyone.

The club recently reached an agreement to be the home course for the University of Arizona’s nationally relevant men’s and women’s golf programs. The club is leasing land to UArizona where a clubhouse facility will be built. About $3.5 million in renovations to the golf course are scheduled to be completed next year, in part, to adapt the course for the young, long hitters whose parents probably weren’t a glimmer in anyone’s eye when the course was built.

A teenager at the time and now in his 90s, Fred Boice remembers that the impetus for building Tucson Country Club in 1947 was that the “country club” for Tucson at the time was El Rio Golf Course on the city’s west side where the Tucson Open originated.

“A lot of our residents, more and more, were east of town and they were looking for a country club,” said Boice, whose name can be found throughout Tucson business, philanthropy, education and, of course, at the Tucson Country Club.

His father became a founding member, Boice said, but mostly so Fred would have a place to play golf. Fred’s son, Henry, now has the family membership with Fred a senior member.

“Camaraderie” seems to be a word used often when the later generations of members discuss why Tucson Country Club has been part of their lives for so long. It may have started for them when they were kids hanging around the club, or later in life when they became members on their own.

Wanting to be a member wasn’t always about the golf, said Chris Gleason, whose father was an early member and from whom Chris bought the membership.

“I dabbled in golf a little bit but for me it was that we grew up here as little kids, little rug rats running around,” Gleason said. “It was a place where you absolutely learned respect for the older members. But it really was all about the camaraderie, the friendships that I would say that keeps me here more than anything else.”

Phil Amos and his family are literally pioneers in the history of Tucson Country Club. His grandfather, George Amos, was part of Tucson Realty and Trust from its formation in 1911, and he eventually became its president. He owned land adjacent to the club where lots were sold to finance the club. He also was a founding member. Later, Phil’s father George “Buddy” Amos, Jr., became a member. And that membership eventually passed on to Phil, who has been a member since 1993.

“I grew up here,” Phil Amos said. “It was just ingrained in us and part of what we did, just living and growing up here.

“As far as I can remember, we were coming to the club for Christmas, for Thanksgiving. Sunday nights it was the buffet with the family. There were Easter egg hunts, summers in the pool. These are lasting memories.”

Boyd Drachman is another whose family name isn’t hard to find around the community. His grandfather, Roy Drachman, had his hands on a number of important elements of the community including being a founding member at the country club. Boyd’s father was also a member. Boyd became a member when he bought Roy’s membership.

“I had the privilege of getting to use the facilities at a very young age,” Boyd said. “The Sunday night buffet at the old pavilion building was awesome. I made a point to go to that as much as I could and sign my dad’s name and number every time.”

Fast forward to today and Tucson Country Club continues its legacy as a premier − some say, THE premier − private golf club in Tucson. The estates surrounding the club continue to be the home of leaders in all facets of the Tucson community. Homeowners don’t have to be members of the country club.

With the country club’s rich history, the members and management understand there must be a balance between its legacy and the need to continue to attract new members, new families and newcomers to Tucson, not just for golf but for everything the club has to offer.

“We have to be proactive and evolve with trends,” Davis said. “But the events we do and the decisions we make, while they are focused on what’s next, have to be rooted in tradition.

“When we look at doing our golf course renovation project next summer, the architect’s approach is to make changes that are consistent with what we’re seeing in golf today, but with respect to the William Bell design, and the history and the tradition. We’re not changing it. We are enhancing the design based on today’s game.”

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