Northern New Mexico beckons for Southern Arizona golfers
SANTA FE, N.M. - With temperatures across Southern Arizona reaching their usual triple digit levels, golf thoughts from Tucson to Tempe wander off to the cooler climes of the Northern and Eastern reaches of the state. But why stop there? Why not let this golfing wanderlust pass over the border into the high deserts of New Mexico?
Traditionally, out of necessity. The golf pickings in the Land of Enchantment were once as slim as the fine line that separates these two frontier states. While it is true that New Mexico and Arizona are similar in many ways (both territories became states in 1912 and both have rich Hispanic and Native American heritages), golf tourism has always been the bailiwick of the Grand Canyon State.
New Mexico's approach to the tourism, for better or worse, has always been something of an enigma - fitting for a state where Georgia O'Keefe spent the twilight of her life interpreting the state's surreal landscapes in watercolor, charcoal and rich oils. And where the introspective Pueblo Indians are as much a part of the social fabric as whites and Hispanics.
From Las Cruces in the south to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos in the north, this is a curious land where folk keep to themselves for the most part, yet treat visitors like long lost friends.
Southern Arizona denizens take note: More and more, those visitors include the khaki-clad, club-wielding set. Would you be shocked to learn that New Mexico is an under-advertised stronghold for some of the country's best high desert golf? You're not alone, if you are. But for a state with just over 100 courses, the quality of the product is something to be reckoned with.
Two of the state's daily fee courses, Paa-Ko Ridge outside Albuquerque and Piñon Hills in Farmington, are considered by national golf magazines and Internet publications to be among the best public tracks in the United States. Two others - Black Mesa north of Santa Fe and Twin Warriors outside of Albuquerque - are being mentioned in the same breath.
The state's two largest universities, the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State, both boast fine 18-hole layouts. And for the stay-and-play types, the Santa Ana Pueblo just north of Albuquerque is the setting for the largest resort ever developed on Native American soil, the Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa, and its home course, the aforementioned Twin Warriors Golf Club.
Paa-Ko Ridge golf course, Sandia Park: Ken Dye's follow-up to Pinon Hills in Farmington was hailed as the next great public golf jewel in New Mexico's crown. Not only did the 7,500-yard world beater live up to the hype - it blew it away. Paa-Ko Ridge's 6,500-foot elevation makes for a stunning setting. But the design Dye (no relation to Pete) draped over the land would hold its own, even at lesser elevations. The routing takes golfers on a four-hour ride through thick strands of juniper and the jagged foothills of the Sandia Mountains north of Albuquerque.
Pinon Hills Golf Club, Farmington: Dye's first foray into New Mexico course design was a huge hit with critics and the smattering of local golfers who call the remote burg of Farmington home. The design similarities with Paa-Ko are many -terraced greens, grass bunkers and modern, sculpted fairways are all present and accounted for. The setting isn 't drastically different either, with gnarly pinon pines and sandstone hills meshing together to form a surreal, high desert backdrop.
Twin Warriors Golf Club, Santa Ana Pueblo: Twin Warriors may rank as Scottsdale, Ariz.-based architect Gary Panks best design effort to date. The three-year old course weighs in at a card-busting 7,736 yards and is the longest course to ever host a PGA of America championship event. Yet played from the mortal Back (6,914) and Resort (6,485) tees, it's as egalitarian as the next course. The setting is postcard ready what with the sacred Tuyuna Mesa on one side and the rambling Rio Grande River bosque on the other. Panks had to work around 20 ancient Santa Ana Pueblo cultural sites, but the design never suffers from the routing restrictions. All this cultural engineering comes at a price - at around $100 for 18 holes and cart, Twin Warriors is the first New Mexico track to break the $100 barrier.
Black Mesa Golf Club, La Mesilla: Far be it from Dye's partner, Baxter Spann, not to get into the New Mexico golf mix. Spahn designed Black Mesa, which opened north of Santa Fe in the fall of 2002 with much of the same fanfare and anticipation that accompanied Paa-Ko Ridge. Golf Digest tapped it as one of the best new affordable courses of 2003, and the course landed in Golf Magazine's Top Ten You Can play. While the design is strong, it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by Black Mesa's high desert setting. The 7,300-yard layout is surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and its namesake, Black Mesa plateau.
Towa Golf Resort: This sporty, 36-hole facility, which includes the Boulder course, Butterfly course, Pinon course and Valley course, was designed by former U.S. Open champ Hale Irwin and Bill Phillips. The resort is located 15 minutes north of Santa Fe on Hwy. 84/285. Both tracks feature seemingly endless mountain vistas and hop scotch through red-earth colored arroyos and dry washes.
Taos Country Club, Taos: A Jep Willy design that opened in 1993 and has gone on to become one of the best courses in New Mexico that no one talks or writes about. Taos CC is located in the Taos mountains at an elevation just over 7,000 feet. The course is heavy on killer views of the Taos Box Canyon and is surrounded by thick strands of desert sage.
Pueblo de Cochiti Golf Course, Cochiti Lake: Robert Trent Jones II wandered around the state long enough to craft this high desert design at the foot of the Jemez Mountains. Jones originally laid out the course in 1981, but returned in 2000 for a major renovation project that included the installation of new cart paths, irrigation, tee boxes and bunkers.
Santa Ana Golf Club, Santa Ana Pueblo: This 27-hole facility was once mentioned among New Mexico's best multi-course facilities and was the home course for PGA Tour player Notah Begay before he moved to Las Campanas in Santa Fe.
Isleta Eagle golf course is a 27-hole linksy layout perched above the banks of the Rio Grande River west of Albuquerque that is typically in pristine condition. the Championship Course at the University of New Mexico is one of the state' s oldest and most revered layouts . Arroyo del Oso is arguably the state's best "muni," and legend has it that Bill Clinton one lit it up for an 82.
Stay and play
The Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa is quietly developing a reputation as one of the top destination resorts in the Southwest. The property is perched along the edge of the Rio Grande River "bosque" (the native cottonwood forest indigenous to the river), and snuggled against the glowing red rocks of the Tuyuna Mesa. Guests have access to both Twin Warriors and the Santa Ana Golf Club. For something more intimate, grab a room at Alexander's Inn, just off the plaza in Santa Fe. The historic B and B offers a variety of rooms, ranging from simple bedrooms to casitas and cottages.
Pound for pound, Santa Fe has one of the most robust, vibrant dining scenes in the Southwest. Culinary options in the historic Santa Fe Plaza run the cultural and ethnic gamut. For a bit of local flavor, hunker down on a plate of blue corn enchiladas at the Shed. In Albuquerque, head for the eclectic eateries of Old Town.
July 7, 2004