The golf side of the equation was -- until the last 15 or so years -- fairly pedestrian in terms of design quality. Golf more functional than fantastic. No more.
New Mexico is home to several courses that have changed the landscape and the overall perception. The State doesn't yet have the depth of courses one finds in such other southwest locales such as Scottsdale, Las Vegas and Palm Springs but there's just enough to rate serious attention from golf lovers.
Where does one start? Head to New Mexico's largest city -- Albuquerque as your base of operations. Best of all, you can easily include Santa Fe -- just 60 miles further north off I-25 -- New Mexico's capital and long-time home to creative types from writers to the arts.
The Albuquerque/Santa Fe area provides the quintessential intersection for a memorable time that will prompt you to ask when will you be going back?
The 16th hole at Black Mesa is an uphill and daunting par-5. Strong-willed golfers need only apply to handle its rigors!
Black Mesa Golf Club (Pictured above and at top. Photos courtesy of Maureen A. Vaccaro)
Simply put -- Black Mesa is the finest public course in New Mexico -- bar none. Located on land owned by the Santa Clara Pueblo and located about 20 minutes northwest of Santa Fe, the Baxter Spann designed a golf course amplifies the utter beauty of the state. Spann -- to his credit -- maximized all the features - no distractions -- no mindless clutter that impedes what the golf experience provides.
The course is named for a "black mesa" one sees after playing the sensational uphill par-5 16th. You look back from the green and quickly comprehend why the Santa Clara Pueblo have such a profound love for the place they call home.
Black Mesa starts off with a demanding hole. The par-4 1st is just 385 yards but you face a "small" mountain pinching in from the right. For those not sufficiently warmed-up it can be quite unnerving even though the carry is more about visual intimidation than anything else. On many holes at Black Mesa you need to avoid taking the bold play when other options are more prudent. Spann gives you room but the secret at Black Mesa is not steering the long shot.
At the short par-4 7th avoid the temptation to launch a tee shot without giving some considerable thought before pulling the trigger. It's "merely" 356 yards, but sound position is a must. The hole features a lengthy fairway bunker running parallel to the line of play. It can be avoided -- to either side, short or long but should not be trifled with. Even with that accomplished the putting surface mirrors many you will find at Black Mesa. Spann doesn't believe the game is over until you carefully consider your options when approaching any of the holes at Black Mesa. There are plenty with massive contours that simply defy gravity itself.
Fortunately, green speeds are kept at an appropriate pace but the elements are always present with wind fluctuations that can come and go throughout the round.
The final hole -- a slightly downhill dog-leg right par-4 of 429 yards -- tempts the bold play. Again, caution is the watchword because any shots that fail to carry the turn of the dog-leg faces unplayable desert underbrush. As you walk to the final green and marvel at the western windmill spinning in the distance the totality of what you've experienced will live long on after you finish your round. The ultimate sign of a course's true greatness and overall staying power.
Black Mesa Golf Club
115 State Road 399 / LaMesilla, NM
7,307 Yards / Par-72
Course Rating -- 73.9 / Slope -- 141
Architect: Baxter Spann
Tel # (505) 747-8946
The par-4 20th hole at Paa-ko -- striking mountain golf beauty intersecting with riveting golf challenges
Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club
Located 30 minutes from downtown Albuquerque and on the eastern slope of the Sandia Mountains is Paa-Ko Ridge. The course opened in 1999 and quickly gained acclaim when Golf Digest in 2000 selected the layout as the "Best New Affordable" course ($50 or less) in the USA.
Paa-Ko Ridge is simply an awesome sight to behold. The all-encompassing mountains and ponderosa pines engulf the site, however, to the credit of the management you don't have any houses cluttering up the experience. Keep in mind Paa-Ko Ridge is much more than a good view.
27-holes make-up the golf side and if there's a preference I enjoy holes 10-18 and 19-27. The newest nine is a muscular set of holes that will test one's ability to marry length and accuracy.
One of the finest holes at Paa-Ko Ridge is the par-4 17th which plays from an extremely elevated tee and is 419 yards in length from the tips. Even if you don't play the back tees it behooves any first time visitor to walk back to the championship markers and take in the glorious vista provided. Not only is the 17th unique but the entire back nine simply raises the ante with each passing hole.
Paa-Ko Ridge, a Ken Dye design, is quite playable provided you understand your limitations. There's enough room in most fairways and Dye was smart enough to provide alternate routes into all of the holes. Paa-Ko Ridge will always celebrate fine shots -- it rarely tolerates foolish ones.
Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club
One Clubhouse Drive / Sandia Park, NM
Architect: Ken Dye
Tel # (505) 281-6000
The par-4 10th at Twin Warriors features a blind tee shot to a well-protected green
Twin Warriors Golf Club
The Twin Warriors Golf Club is approximately 20 miles north of Albuquerque and is part of the Tamaya Resort and Spa owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo Indian tribe and managed by Hyatt Regency. It is also the largest resort ever developed on Native American land with more than 500 acres of land.
When you stay at the facility you're exposed not only to the unique heritage of the Santa Ana Pueblo but the sheer comprehensiveness of the amenities offered -- simply beyond any facility in New Mexico with golf as its central core feature.
Designed by Gary Panks, Twin Warriors hosted the '03 and '09 PGA Club Pro Championship. The course stretches to 7,736 yards and when the wind is up, which is quite typical, the demands can be quite intense even with the assistance of the higher altitude.
There's just one slight deficiency -- a man-made created waterfall at the par-3 4th -- an out-of-place item akin to seeing palm trees in Buffalo. Nonetheless, the bulk of the course uses the property in a skillful manner. Panks worked closely with the Santa Ana Pueblo Native-American tribe to review the reservation's grounds and ensure no disturbance of ancient cultural sites on the sacred land took place. The cultural sites range from arrowheads to an old cave dwelling showing signs of inhabitants from 900 years ago and a horse corral from the 1800's.
One of the unique aspects of Panks designs is the long par-3 15th and the long downhill par-5 16th. There is a sacred butte -- called Tuyuna or "Snakehead" that parallels each of the holes. Par both and you will have earned it.
Twin Warriors does not have the visual dynamics or architectural completeness of Black Mesa or Paa-Ko Ridge, however, the shot-making demands are rigorous and it pays to choose the correct tees so that the golf course you encounter is within your playing ability. Stellar holes like the blind par-4 10th capture your sense of adventure. Twin Warriors gives you the complete experience -- a modern resort with all the right touches -- but one where authenticity is intertwined with an Indian link that embodies the soul of New Mexico.
If time permits you may also want to play the adjoining Santa Ana Golf Course also owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo and features 27 holes. The best two nines to play are the Tamaya and Cheena. In past years Santa Ana has hosted various major events and a round there is certainly worthy to explore.
Twin Warriors Golf Club
1301 Tuyuna Trail / Santa Ana Pueblo, NM
7,736 Yards / Par-72
Course Rating -- 75.0 / Slope -- 130
Architect: Gary Panks
Tel # (505) 771-6155
The risk/reward par-5 7th at Sandia tempts the player off the tee and with the approach
Other Courses of Note in the immediate
Albuquerque / Santa Fe Vicinity ...
SANDIA -- At over 7,700 yards from the tips – Sandia is the longest course in New Mexico. But, the layout isn't about length alone. Sandia can be a bit puzzling the first time around. Several tees point in one direction with holes going another way. Fairway widths are very generous in most situations but be aware of whipping winds arising on any afternoon. Summer rates – $56 weekdays, $71 weekends and holidays with range balls included. Cart additional at $14. www.sandiagolf.com / Tel # (505) 798-3990
UNM / Championship (South) -- If you happen to stay in Albuquerque it's a plus to schedule a round at the University of New Mexico's Championship 18 -- or as many know it the South Course. Designed by Robert "Red" Lawrence the 7,200+ yard par-72 course is literally minutes from the airport and the course has hosted numerous major events. www.unmgolf.com / Tel # (505) 277-4546.
Albuquerque Balloon Festival
Top Five Things to do when in Albuquerque …
Attend Albuquerque's famed Balloon Festival in the Fall or schedule your own balloon ride at either sunrise or sunset. A bit squeamish? Visit the Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, balloonmuseum.com / 505-768-6020 – just off I-25.
Visit Albuquerque's Old Town. Start at the San Felipe Church on The Plaza. Engage the services of 2 Guys and a Trolley abqtrolley.com / 505-240-8000 – Jesse Herron and Mike Silva provide a fun and thorough take on what makes Albuquerque click. If you're looking for a special Native-American piece of jewelry or art you can be sure Old Town will give you the widest selection at the best of prices.
Take the tram to the top of Sandia Mountain and feel the cool air as you ascend to over 10,000 feet. Spectacular views await. sandiapeak.com
Drive the Turquoise Trail (Hwy 14) from Albuquerque to Santa Fe – a scenic alternative to Interstate 25.
Head to Tinkertown - Fascinating mix of old-time coin operated carnival machines, wacky Western memorabilia and true Americana awaits. tinkertown.com
Santa Fe Plaza
Top Five Things to do when in Santa Fe ...
Visit and shop the renowned Plaza in Santa Fe - a national historic landmark. The square has an array of different shops, restaurants and museums. No visit to Santa Fe is complete without some time spent here. www.santafe.org
Palace of the Governors - opening in 1610 it is the oldest public building in the USA and for centuries was the location for the seat of government in New Mexico. www.palaceofthegovernors.org
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Provides a comprehensive overview of the many fascinating and compelling contributions from the famed American artist. O'Keeffe provided the foundation for other artists to follow her footsteps to the area. O'Keeffe's efforts have branded her as the Mother of American Modernism. www.okeeffemuseum.org More information: https://www.artsy.net/artist/georgia-okeeffe
Canyon Road is the central art district in Santa Fe. The long narrow road encompasses a celebration for all things tied to the arts -- most notably Native-American along with the influences of the Spanish and other contributors. The adobe homes are neatly set into the landscape and outside of New York City and San Francisco the range of art offerings here is second to none. www.canyonroadarts.com
The New Mexico State Capital Building. Dedicated in 1966 -- houses state government. It is the only round state capitol in the United States and is known informally as "the Roundhouse." www.santafe.org
Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa
WHERE TO STAY IN THE AREA
Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa - Owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo -- Tamaya sets the tone by being the area's first major all-inclusive getaway. The rooms are spacious and well-appointed in the spirit of local traditions. Yes, golf is part of the menu but there's other items to sample with a first rate spa and stables area. www.tamaya.hyatt.com
Chocolate Turtle B&B - located just northwest of the downtown Albuquerque area in the community of Corrales. Beyond the fanciful name is a lodging alternative that provides a refreshing differentiation. A top tier B&B gives the "right at home" atmosphere linked to a fashionable New Mexican motif. www.chocolateturtlebb.com/
Sandia Resort & Casino - Located conveniently just off I-25 -- is 228 rooms with a wide assortment of amenities and services -- including the already mentioned connected 18-hole facility. Perfectly located for those wishing to split time between the two main cities. www.sandiacasino.com
Santa Claran Hotel & Casino - Once the golf is done at nearby Black Mesa -- the Santa Claran provides the ideal location for those looking to stay just outside of Santa Fe. The facility has a range of offerings -- and is on the gateway to nearby Taos and Los Alamos. www.santaclaran.com
Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encandato Santa Fe
LODGING WHEN IN SANTA FE ...
Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encandato Santa Fe provides top tier service with an authentic New Mexican flavor. A bit removed from the core down town area -- Encandato is the ideal escape. Complimentary transport is provided to The Plaza and when the shopping concludes enjoy the Spa -- rated one of the top 101 in the World by Tatler Magazine and conclude with dinner at the solid Terra restaurant. www.fourseasons.com/santafe
Eldorado Hotel - Ideally located within easy distance of The Plaza and all the accompanying stores, shops, restaurants. Only one of two hotels in all of NM to receive the AAA Four Diamond rating for 16 consecutive years. Be sure to take the swim in the rooftop pool and enjoy the panorama of a Sante Fe sunset from that ideal location. www.eldoradohotel.com
Hotel Santa Fe - Santa Fe's only Native-American hotel located right in the heart of The Plaza area. The grounds are well prepared and the ambiance whisks you away for a most relaxing time. Be sure to use the Spa and enjoy the culinary offerings at Amaya restaurant. www.hotelsantafe.com
Inn and Spa at Loretto - For those go-go travelers who need the perfect antidote to the 24/7 hyper-crowded world of nonstop frantic activities -- staying at the Inn and Spa at Loretto is the perfect way to rejuvenate tired muscles and overloaded brain circuits. www.innatloretto.com