I never thought I’d be fond of desert golf. Some people say that desert golf is boring…too flat, too many arroyos, too many cacti. I may have agreed until my recent golf trips to Northern New Mexico and Scottsdale where I found courses that were far from boring.
High in Northern New Mexico
Expecting New Mexico to be similar to Arizona, I found it uniquely different. Higher altitude and dry, thinner air make everything looks clearer/brighter…you can literally see for miles and miles. From verdant mountains to sculpted red cliffs to the Rio Grande chasm, NM offers a diverse topography that’s far from boring. Striking is the ever-changing sky shows…rolling billowy clouds low enough that you can reach up and grab…and sunsets in colors so dazzling they’re almost surreal. New Mexico isn’t the golf Mecca that Arizona is, but with recent increase in course development and partnerships with hotel-casinos, it has become a more affordable golf destination. With four distinct seasons, an average of 300 days of sunshine annually, it’s perfect for outdoor activities.
Accommodations during my stay were at The Lodge at Santa Fe…a comfortable, affordable, conveniently located hotel overlooking Santa Fe’s historic Plaza. This culturally-rich area is saturated with many historical landmarks such as the Puye Cliff Dwellings (www.puyecliffs.org), the ancient ancestral home of the Santa Clara Pueblo people.
The highlight of my trip was golf at Black Mesa Golf Club (www.blackmesagolfclub.com). An astounding high desert layout, located in La Mesilla, was thrilling, humbling and far from boring! Owned by the Santa Clara Pueblo Nation, Black Mesa lies at an altitude of 5400 feet with elevation changes of 125 feet. The 7307-yard, par-72 layout, designed by Baxter Spann in conjunction with general manager Eddie Peck and Superintendent Pat Brockwell, was built with a degree of visual intimidation on every hole to challenge a player’s skill, courage and problem-solving ability.
A snakelike, dirt road whisks you high above the hustle-n-bustle of civilization and an Aero-Motor windmill greets you behind the clubhouse, giving you a glimpse to the past of this land. Black Mesa’s spectacular site is surrounded by vistas of the sprawling valley climbing to distant mountains. Each hole has five tee areas which are not only different distances, but they’re completely different angles and elevations. By playing from different tees it feels like you’re playing an entirely different course. Severely sloped fairways, contoured to flow with the sandstone foothills and arroyos, appear tighter than they are. Hidden target areas and blind tee shots on some holes require use of an aiming flag. The pot bunkers are rugged and ragged with native grasses growing into the edges. The greens are not your usual boring, flat, round greens. The large sloping green complexes have many humps, bumps and bowls, which make them a blast, but difficult to read!
Every hole at Black Mesa has memorable features, but the Par-5, 16th, dubbed “Stairway to Seven”, is a design masterpiece. Maybe it should be called “Stairway to Heaven” due to the severe uphill climb to the climatic hidden green. The reason for the ominous tag is because the slightest miss means a quick double bogey or worse!
Familiarity with this course prior to playing is helpful (see “Tom’s Tips”). A playing lesson with Tom Velarde, golf pro at Black Mesa, makes playing the course less intimidating. At first glance, Black Mesa appears more intimidating than it actually is. Playing from the front tees is definitely an advantage on this course. Construction of a new course, designed by Tom Doak, will soon compliment Black Mesa. They will be partnering with the soon-to-open Santa Claran Hotel Casino, which is joined to the relocated Big Rock Casino and home of the Black Mesa Steakhouse, a superb fine-dining restaurant…a must try!
Take it Low in Scottsdale, AZ
Set against a breathtaking Sonoran Desert backdrop, Scottsdale, Arizona is the perfect place to stay, play and explore. With its 330 days of sunshine annually, 200 area golf courses, no other destination can boast of such diversity.
Xona Resort Suites (www.xonaresort.com), where I had the pleasure of staying during my golf trip, offers one-two-or four-bedroom suites and multiple pools/courtyards. Partnerships with many of the area courses allow guests preferred tee times, reduced rates and complimentary breakfast.
Scottsdale’s diverse course layouts include the traditional parkland-style, desert target-style and the hybrid design. I found these target-style courses most memorable:
The Saguaro course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club is unlike any I’ve played that fit the low desert variety. Located on land owned by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and designed by Coore and Crenshaw, it was named the #1 Public Access Course in Arizona-2008 by
Golfweek and #16 Best Resort Course in the US. Embracing a back-to-nature theme, with green ribbons of fairways framed by arroyos and giant Saguaro cacti, the high elevation of this course offers spectacular views of Four Peaks Wilderness Area–pure serenity–not a car or home in sight! This par-71, 6,966-yard course appears to play longer due to the several risk-reward shots. There are plenty of intimidating forced carries, even from the forward tees, that require getting your tee shots to fly quite a distance. Tough course, but the views will bring you back.
Troon North Golf Club’s Monument and Pinnacle courses are Arizona’s two top-ranked daily-fee courses. Stunning views of Pinnacle Peak, arroyos, rock outcroppings and cacti spice play at the Weiskopf/Morrish-designed Monument Course. Lush, undulating fairways with a smattering of bunkers and water hazards that is relatively easy to avoid, make it enjoyable for the average golfer. The more challenging back-nine is prettier–more severe elevation changes and gorgeous views. A series of memorable holes include the par-5 3rd with its “monument” boulder dominating the fairway and the par-5 14th, called “Cross Country” for obvious reasons.
Heralded as one of the finest golf courses worldwide, The Boulders Resort and Golden Door Spa features two courses designed by Jay Morrish, the North and South. Nestled in the Sonoran Desert foothills the courses snake through ancient, gigantic, balanced boulders that dot the landscape. Golf magazine recently awarded The Boulders with a “Platinum Medal”…an elite award bestowed upon 10 courses in the country that excel in design and playability while providing luxurious accommodations. It was also voted the #1 Woman-Friendly Golf Course by Golf for Women magazine. The signature hole #5 on the South Course is carved from the desert and is characterized by an enormous rock outcropping that shelters the green. The unique scenery, wide fairways, large undulating greens and manageable forced carries contribute to its player-friendliness, making this an enjoyable course to play.
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