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The El Conquistador Golf is one of those best-kept secrets right in front of us. It’s a gorgeous public golf facility that offers a fun and challenging experience for everyone, from PGA pros to children. With its additional commitment to holding charity events for the community, El Conquistador Golf is a local gem.
“What’s really special about us is the experience you receive,” says General Manager Darryl Janisse. “It’s the minute you arrive and meet the staff. It’s the joy that people feel that work here.”
Many residents of Oro Valley believe that this 45-hole golf complex is part of the high-end El Conquistador Resort. As it turns out, it was formerly part of the resort…until 1981, when it was purchased by the City of OV for $1 million dollars.
The El Conquistador has been a popular golf course – especially in recent years. Darryl explains: “during the Covid lockdowns, golf exploded. It was the catalyst that many people needed to come play.” Even today, the number of players is still 11% above the 10-year average before Covid.
El Conquistador offers 45 holes over 3 different courses.
At the facility itself, there are two 18-hole golf courses: The Conquistador (par 72) and Canada (par 71) courses were designed by renowned golf course architect Greg Nash. The longest hole is #6 on Canada at 568 yards.
Far from a stuffy country club, everyone is welcome at El Conquistador Golf. To make sure that veteran golfers and newcomers alike have access, one of the courses is dedicated to club members, while the other is open to the general public. All are welcome: all you need to do is make a tee time, pay for green fees, and enjoy the course and its beautiful views.
A third option that anyone can play on is the 9-hole Pusch Ridge course. Darryl touts it as “fast, fun and affordable”. The 9-hole Pusch Ridge is a par 35 “regulation course” which allows for your golf round to be completed in 2 hours or less (as compared to 4+ hours for 18 holes). You could play 9 holes on an extended lunch break.
Darryl also notes that the views of Pusch Ridge are “gorgeous.”
At the El Conquistador, there are always people out on the course even when the summer temperature goes into triple digits. “We’ll never close the golf course because of the heat,” says Darryl.
One of the things that makes the desert environment so intense is the lack of shade. The designers of the El Conquistador golf course were smart in including many trees, which provide welcome shade elements. The covered golf cars also help (“this is not an easy walking course,” says Darryl.)
There is also ice-water water thoughtfully placed at every other hole, and rangers that circulate around the course to make sure that everyone is safely and comfortably enjoying their 18 holes.
When asked if golfers really go out when the temperature is well over 100 degrees, Darryl chuckles: “Golf can be kind of an addiction!”
When we say that someone is a PGA golfer, that does not necessarily mean that they are competing for the title at Pebble Beach. The PGA is the 29,000-member Professional Golfer’s Association of America, which is dedicated to advancing the sport. The PGA Tour is a separate – but intrinsically-related – entity.
El Conquistador Golf has 3-4 PGA golf pros at any given time. They are considered part of the “working PGA.” They play an important role in promoting and teaching the game, making golf exciting and accessible to all.
“We do a lot of teaching here,” says Darryl. He goes on to explain that they teach everyone from kids to empty-nesters looking for a new outlet. “This is a game that you can play with your spouse”.
One of Darryl’s favorite things about the sport is: “This is one sport you can play for life.” Darryl’s father – age 98 – plays golf three times a week.
At the same time, there is a learning curve to the sport.
“We have a lot of teachers and lessons,” says Darryl. “If it’s your first time and you’re not familiar with the game, you don’t want to just walk out on the golf course. We show you how to hit the ball, and the etiquette of the sport – while providing a fun and inviting atmosphere. We want to keep people from feeling intimidated. ”
The City of OV has contracted with a management group to run the course. Darryl and his staff work for Indigo Sports, part of the Troon family – the largest golf management company in the world, with 825+ properties.
El Conquistador Golf has 80 employees, making it a relatively large employer in OV. Darryl says that 20-25% of staff carry out the constant maintenance required by a golf course. The course also offers a pro shop, restaurant and members have access to the Community Center which has a fitness center, pool, tennis and pickleball courts and many programs.
Darryl explains that there are advantages to being part of a larger entity like Troon. For example, all of the products that the course needs – from fertilizers and chemicals, to merchandise and food – are purchased at lower cost by Troon because of the high volume of its orders. One of the largest advantages being part of Troon, he explains, is the wealth of knowledge at your fingertips in all aspects of running a professional and efficient golf course operation.
The rangers – who circulate around the course — play an important role in maintaining the pace of play. “The most frustrating thing for any golfer is to be stuck behind players that are going really slowly,” says Darryl.
There is also a “Starter” at each of the first tees, making sure that each new group is teeing off every eight minutes.
Part of the way that El Conquistador aims to keep the smooth flow is through its dedicated phone app, which helps players make tee times. The app also allows players to access specials, connect with other players, and share their photos.
El Conquistador runs many charity events throughout the year. These include Patriot Golf Days (which provides educational scholarships to survivors of fallen servicemen and women), the Susan G. Komen breast cancer benefit, a fundraiser for cheer camp, and many more.
The town recently completed a major upgrade to the irrigation system that will conserve water.
“This was a huge project,” says Darryl. “The system was old. It was 20-30 years since the original irrigation system was installed. Water is expensive, and we want to conserve it.” In addition to replacing the old, leaky water infrastructure, the project involved turf reduction to reduce water usage.
“The tradition used to be that when you got a hole in one, you bought everyone in the clubhouse a drink,” explains Darryl. But nowadays, most clubs have a Hole in One Club. Everyone throws in $5, and the person who scores a hole-in-one – as well as anyone part of the Hole in One Club — receives a drink.
The player is also awarded an El Conquistador flag with the hole information, signed by the Head Golf Professional.
Darryl started working at golf courses in 8th grade. As the baby of 11 kids in his family, he was always surrounded by brothers and sisters. “I’ve always been around people. And I love golf.”
Darryl came to Arizona in 1993. Prior to taking the helm at El Conquistador, he was GM at Tumble Brook in Connecticut and Director of Golf at Rio Verde in Rio Verde, AZ, so he has a lot of experience in running a major golf course.
Daryl’s genuine excitement about the sport – and desire to see others enjoy his passion – is infectious. This makes him the perfect Ambassador for this outstanding public golf course.
“It’s the social side of golf that keeps me playing.”
By Tom Ekman, J.D., M.Ed