Starr Pass Country Club - Rattler Nine Review

Texas Outside Rating: 9.3

Golf - Resort Public Course · 9 Holes · Par 36
Tucson, AZ

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Starr Pass Country Club - Rattler Nine Review

As we reflected back on our golf at Starr Pass we were awe inspired:

  • Each golf hole was  lush and plush from tee to pin
  • There were awesome panoramic vistas of Tucson, the valley, two mountain ranges, and some stunning homes dotting the hill side
  • The contrast between the desert, lush fairways, sand bunkers, and fairway rough was striking
  • The desert fauna was varied and colorful and wildlife was running wild across the course
  • Service and the facilities were top notch
  • And we played some fun, unique, memorable, and challenging holes

It just doesn’t get much better than all of that!  Starr Pass is home to three very good and first impressions could be the reason that we liked Rattler the best of the three nines at Starr Pass Country Club & Spa. 

The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa is home to three unique and excellent nine hole courses.   Bob Cupp, and PGA Tour Professional, Craig Stadler, together designed and built a first class desert golf experience that offers stunning views of Tucson and the surrounding mountains and some fun golf holes that are fair but challenging for all skill levels thanks to natural arroyos, dramatic elevation changes, and swirling winds created by the Tucson Mountains. 

The original 18 holes opened for play in 1986 and was home to the Tucson Open between 1987 and 1996.  Arnold Palmer was hired to redesign the original 18 holes and add another 9, creating a fantastic Arnold Palmer Signature golf Facility with 27 of some of the best golf holes in Tucson.  Each of the three Starr Pass courses wind up and down the Tucson mountains and  are aptly named for the ever present desert wildlife - Rattler, Roadrunner, and Coyote.  Each of the nines is different and unique and has it's own personality:

  • Rattler Course -  the Rattler nine is the most challenging and is a true test of your game with the smallest pocketed greens and this nine requires a lot of target golf - we thought it was the most scenic and seemed to be in the best condition from the tee box to the pin
  • Roadrunner Course - chiseled out of the side of the Tucson Mountains, Roadrunner starts just outside the JW Marriott Resort and this nine offers dramatic elevation changes and some very fun and challenging holes - it is also the shortest of the nines at 3217 and carries a par of 35 with three great par 3s
  • Coyote Course - the terrain on Coyote is completely different and this nine seems more natural as it traverses up and down the Tucson Mountains and it has fewer homes dotting the hillside, some very interesting holes, and more wildlife than the other two nines

Common to all three nines is a true Sonoran Desert luxury golf experience, excellent conditions, first class service, and top notch facilities including the JW Marriortt Resort and Spa and a 20,000 square foot clubhouse.  You may also find that some of the holes at Starr Pass may frustrate you, enamor you, drive you to the beverage cart, or leave you scratching your head regarding Arnold's true intent.  But one thing that is bound to happen is you'll walk off the 18th hole saying that was "awesome" and thinking when you can get back to play it again.

Rattler starts you off with a panoramic view of Tucson and the surrounding mountain ranges as this nine heads down the foothills, past some beautiful homes, and then heads back up the Tucson Mountain range and ends in front of the very impressive JW Marriott – on a hot day It would be very tempting to interrupt your game with a float down the Marriott’s lazy river or grab a margarita and soak up the sun in a comfy lounge chair by the pool. 

Rattler is true desert mountain golf at it’s best as it meanders through the natural terrain with a wide variety of desert fauna, mesquite trees, arroyos,  rocks and natural areas, and several  varieties of cactus of all sorts of shapes and forms that are very well protected with extremely sharp needles - I know, thanks to testing a number of them and leaving a blood trail the CSI would love.  If you take the time to look around, you’ll notice that there are several little plaques that tell you the names of the various forms of cactus and other fauna. 

A round on Rattler is a real nature lesson plus you’ll have an opportunity to spot a variety of wildlife including Javelina, bobcat, several species of rabbits and birds, snakes, and other creepy desert crawlers.  And when you play here, don’t forget your camera, almost every hole offers a Kodak moment.   We played in February when the rough was dormant and the fairways were over seeded, which was stunning with the contrast between the lush green fairways, light brown roughs, the greens, bunkers, and a variety of colorful desert fauna.

Rattler may be the most challenging of the nines and it is a good test of target golf.  You’ll find a lot of forced carries, elevation changes, prevailing winds, arroyos to cross, challenging green complexes, sixteen bunkers, and contoured sloping fairways.  But don’t let that discourage you, there are five sets of tee boxes to suit all skill levels, just don’t try to be to macho and bite off more than you can handle. 

Starr Pass's Rattler nine has some really fun and unique holes, for example:

  • #3 is a 485 par 5 with a good carry over the desert from a slightly elevated tee box to a dog leg left and then over a rocky ravine to an elevated and challenging green complex
  • #4 will throw a little bit of everything at you - forced carries, berms and swales, 7 strategically placed bunkers - and demand target golf all the way to the pin
  • #5 is a long uphill 510 yard par 5 along a heavily contoured and rolling somewhat tight fairway that ends with a forced carry to the green

When we played in the middle of February, the fairways at Rattler were lush and thick and in perfect condition.  The rough was dormant but very playable.  Rattler's fairways are ample and generous with plenty of slope, contour, berms, mounds, and swales. 

The greens at Rattler are large and all shapes and sizes with plenty of slope and contour and a speed of around 10 or more.  Putting was challenging.

The bunkers are a variety of sizes, fairly deep, and steep faced.  We thought the sand was gritty and heavy and a little thin compared to what we are used to playing in Texas.   

What a fun and memorable nine.  Click on the link to learn more about Starr Pass's Coyote and Roadrunner nines. 

Rating and Slope is based on playing Rattler/Roadrunner Course

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Course Slope & Ratings

Tee Box Yardage Rating Slope
Black 3,490 71.7 142
Blue 3,097 67.6 123
White 2,920 66.2 116
Gold 3,355 70.3 133
Red 2,547 68.6 120

Course Information

Course Architect:
Arnold Palmer Redesign
Greens Type:
Greens Condition
Greens Difficulty
Beware of water on 0 holes and the 18 sand traps.

Texas Outside Rating

Overall Rating:
9.3 out of 10
Fun to Play:
Front Nine Rating:
Back Nine Rating:


Approximate Weekend
$49.00 to $215.00

Service is excellent, the 20,000 square foot clubhouse is home to a well stocked pro shop, locker rooms, and an excellent bar and grill. Practice facilites are very good.



Here's How Texas Outside Determines the Scorecard Rating

The Texas Outside rating scale ranges from 1 to 10 – a perfect 10 course would be something like this:  links along a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean and bordered by tall trees; lush fairways on rolling hills with lots of natural hazards; water (which is crystal clear) on most of the holes; immaculate greens (but they are undulating and tough); lots of variety and character (each hole is completely different and includes blind shots, elevation changes, doglegs, and significant challenges); perfectly manicured traps with the whitest and prettiest sand you’ve ever seen; a nice club house with great food and a 19th hole; a GPS; plenty of beverage carts or your own cooler and ice; and it only costs $40 bucks! What this means is that you probably won’t find any 10s in Texas – try Cabo San Lucas, Pebble Beach, or some of the Hawaii courses! 
Texas Outside rates courses on the following:

  • Beauty – tall trees, rolling hills, beautiful houses, waterfalls, and similar stuff would score high; a 1 would be flat, bushes or cactus instead of trees, and some grass but mostly weeds
  • Difficulty – a straight, 300 yard par 4 with no traps or hazards, no out of bounds or water would probably get a 1; if it is a 460 yard par 4 over two ravines, with water along one side, natural hazards on the other, strategically placed traps or that dreaded tree right in the middle of the fairway, we are talking a 10. 
  • Variety – what would you give a course where all the holes looked and played exactly the same (“I thought we just played that hole!”); were side-by-side, which is good for finding or dodging other people’s balls, but not much fun; and you can see the flag from every tee box?  That’s right, it gets a 1.
  • Fun Scale – a 10 is where you walk off the course and say “now that was fun” and you can’t wait to get back, or you immediately turn around and play another 18 holes
  • Value – a 5 is $50 to $60, a 10 is $20 to $30, and 1 is $200 or so – of course all of this is dependent upon how you liked the course.  For example, if a run down, boring municipal course, with six players on each hole was only $10; it would still get a value rating of 1.
  • Condition – this one’s pretty easy – what condition are the fairways. A 10 commands very lush perfectly manicured fairways, compared to a 1, which has fire ants, weeds, and more dirt than grass!
  • Condition of Greens and Difficulty – very hard to read greens with lots of undulation and tough pin placement, rate very high on the difficulty scale.  Condition is self-explanatory.  

All of the above determines the overall score for the golf course.  In other words, we like courses that are pretty, fun, very challenging with a lot of variety, and fairways and greens in excellent condition – all for $40.  We also tend to play the courses that are affordable for the masses, which means in the $30 to $80 range. We rate hard and we haven’t found a 10 in Texas yet – don’t worry we haven’t given up and we’re still looking.