Ah, the spa, the golf and everything else at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain resort near Tucson

MARANA, Ariz. - There's a new bonus to ranking as one of the top 64 players in the world. Not only does it secure a spot in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play, but the pros can stay near the golf course in luxurious surroundings. And now you can, too.

Just in time for the second Accenture hosted by the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain in February, the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course has added a world-class resort and spa.

Opened in December 2009, the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain resort nestles into the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains north of Tucson. Giant saguaros grace the Sonoran Desert landscape as great care preserved several of the majestic plants next to the hotel.

The resort features a large spa, meeting rooms, fantastic restaurants and 250 ultra-comfortable and functional guest rooms. Guests can also enjoy an array of outdoor activities, including trail riding, biking, a jeep tour and 27 holes of Nicklaus-signature golf.

This marks the 72nd Ritz-Carlton property around worldwide, and it's probably one the Marriott-owned company's most unique.

"You can see that this is going to morph into something very, very special," said Stephen Deucker, director of sales and marketing of the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain.

Golf at the Ritz-Carlton

No matter the high quality of the spa and restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, it all starts with the golf course. The Accenture Match Play, contested nearby at the Gallery Golf Club's South Course before moving to the Ritz-Carlton last year, utilizes the Tortolita and Saguaro nines. Other golf options at the resort include the Tortolita/Wild Burro combination and the Wild Burro/Saguaro.

After the inaugural event drew criticism from players, Nicklaus' team made modifications – mostly on the severely undulating greens. Most of the holes changed, ranging from minor adjustments to more drastic measures that included the addition and relocation of bunkers.

The changes don't make the course any easier, especially for the resort golfer, but they do allow for more pin placements and higher green speeds, notably in tournament play. Nicklaus believes the course will develop into a favorite among the world's top players and resort guests. For now, though, it's in tip-top shape with plenty of interesting holes.

And lest we forget the Wild Burro nine, absent from the tournament rotation. Nicklaus describes it as his favorite layout among the three nines. At the very least, it's a great complement to the Tortolita and Saguaro. With its use of lakes and other design characteristics, it has a different look than the others, too.

An easy recovery at the Ritz-Carlton spa

The resort is about a five-minute shuttle ride from the golf course. And while walking back and forth is unreasonable, it is within the 850-acre property, which also includes residential units for sale.

Upon arrival, notice how the hotel lobby opens to a large deck, pool, and the great outdoors behind the resort. To your left sits the resort's 17,000-square foot spa, which, according to promotional material, "embraces the enchanting habitat" of the surrounding mountain desert landscape.

With one of the finest setups in the Southwest, the spa offers 14 private treatment rooms, two esthetic rooms, a hydrotherapy room, Vichy shower and two oversized suites ideal for couples therapy. You can get a massage, facial, body treatments and a number of other services, including manicures, pedicures and hair salon treatments.

The layout includes separate facilities for men and women with secluded jacuzzis, saunas and steam rooms. Outside, you'll find an outstanding co-ed area with a pool situated in front of petroglyphs that date thousands of years. You can even schedule a lunar massage near the outdoor fire pits that illuminate a terrace.

Dining at a higher level at the Ritz-Carlton

Rarely do you see a chef who enjoys his work as much as Joel Harrington, who was lured from the renowned Fearing's Restaurant in Dallas.

Easy to spot with his mohawk hairdo as he walks through the Core Kitchen and Wine Bar - the Ritz's signature restaurant - Harrington often visits with guests, getting their feedback and telling his story.

This is unlike most dining experiences. Harrington's talent involes his imagination and ability to combine unusual ingredients. Have you ever tried avocado fries? How about Vermont syrup as a base ingredient for the lacquer in a chili-lacquered New York steak?

The menu blends the best of American flavors at the Core, though it's anything but ordinary. Unless you're a vegetarian, don't pass on the filet of buffalo. You won't need a knife or any sauce.

The wine room is fully stocked and then some. Or you can check out the Ignite lobby lounge, which offers a wide array of single-malt scotch, whiskey and brews from around the world.

Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain: The verdict

If you're looking for an upscale golf and spa experience, you won't be disappointed. Being new, it may need to work out a few kinks. But largely, it's a very serene experience - important if you have a little trouble with the Nicklaus greens or fail to reach the par-4 holes in regulation. It's an 8,000-yard golf course, so make sure you play the right tees.

I've been fortunate to enjoy a few spa experiences in the past few years, and this ranked right up there with the best. First, the massage treatment I received was first rate. My therapist hit all the right spots without causing undue pain. Additionally, the jacuzzi was very therapeutic. Relaxing under the stars – in both men's and co-ed areas - just added to the ambiance.

The rooms are also spot-on. Most impressive was the giant tub, big enough to accommodate a small swim meet. The tub allows full immersion in front of a small, flat-screen TV perched near the faucet. A separate shower, plus two his and her basins make the bathroom the envy of most luxury venues.

The room itself is state of the art. You can connect your computer to the large, high-definition LCD television to preview PowerPoint presentations or simply to watch HD programming. (Yes, hotels are finally marrying the high-def TV with an HD signal.) A very comfortable bed, dimmers on every light switch, turn-down service, an honor bar, a functional work area, high-speed Internet and great views of the desert complete the picture.

Ritz Carlton golf packages

The best way to enjoy the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain? Book a golf-and-spa package. As of early 2010, the resort offered packages that started as low as $529 a night for accommodations, two rounds of golf, two spa treatments, valet parking and breakfast. For more information, visit www.ritzcarlton.com/dovemountain.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Ah, the spa, the golf and everything else at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain resort near Tucson