The Buzz: Built along the west bank of the Santa Cruz River in the northwest corner of Tucson, Silverbell opened in 1979 and underwent a major renovation in 2004 turning it into the most popular of the five courses in the city’s recreation system. Originally built on an uncapped landfill, the land began to sink prompting a total makeover directed by hometown course architect Ken Kavanagh, who also oversaw renovation of city courses Randolph Park and El Rio. Holes 7-10 are the only ones that remain from the original design by Arthur “Jack” Snyder and three of those were lengthened by adding extra tees. The course is a traditional design, defined by open fairways, large greens and relatively flat terrain. At nearly 7,000 yards, it is now the longest of Tucson’s five “munies” and has surpassed even Randolph in the number of annual rounds played.
“It took a few years for the grow-in to be complete and there were some rough spots during that time, but it turned out absolutely beautiful,” said city golf director Mike Hayes. “It’s hard to explain if you’re not familiar with the old course, but the transformation is pretty impressive. Ken did a wonderful job with the design.”
Along with the new holes, many of Silverbell’s nine lakes were enlarged, bringing water into play on 10 holes. Adding to the challenge are 40 bunkers strategically placed around the greens. The course was changed from par 72 to par 70 and there are four sets of tees at 6,936, 6,391, 5,843 and 5,285 yards, with a rating of 71.7 and slope of 126 from the back tees.
The course has three par-5 holes and five par-3s, and if you play from the tips, only one of those – the par-3 third at 152 yards — can be considered an easy par. The par 5s, which measure 555, 559 and 595 yards, are ranked as the hardest three holes on the course and the other par 3s are set at 195, 200, 220 and 237 yards. With its traditional design, errant drives often remain in play from adjacent fairways and greens are open in front, allowing golfers to run shots up to the putting surface.
The back nine is a fun challenge with several good holes, starting with the 11th, a 395-yard par 4, where the green is separated from the end of the fairway and positioned at a 90-degree angle. Then comes a par 3 over water, followed by a pair of par 4s with sharp doglegs left and right.
No. 16, a par-3 at 237 yards over a lake, is the new signature hole. The same lake comes into play on the 17th, a 410-yard par 4. The 18th, formerly a par 4, is a slight dogleg right par 5 that is rated as the No. 2 handicap hole at 555 yards with bunkers guarding both sides of the green, and the Tucson Mountains providing a distant but scenic background.
Practice facilities here include a driving range, large putting green, chipping and bunker areas and a 100-yard wedge practice area. Combined with its low green fees, many locals think Silverbell now ranks as the best value play in the Tucson area.