Not long ago, all Santa Fe had to offer was world-renowned architecture, opera, Native American art, the country's best Mexican food, romantic hotels, wondrous forests and a four-season, high-desert climate that could resuscitate Jim Lehrer. Understandably, this led many golf-deprived husbands to whine, "What's there to do?"
But things change. In or around Santa Fe there are at least six exceptionally good public courses (with more on the way), including Paa-Ko Ridge, one of the most-talked-about new courses in the country, the Southwest's answer to Bandon Dunes. So the city's ready for play—just be sure to make reservations. Sante Fe (population 70,000) fills up like a Beirut disco on any May-to-September weekend and around big festivals, such as Indian Market in August and the Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October. (For specific dates and other information check out www.nmenchantedweb.com.)
First stop, Albuquerque. Ten minutes south of the airport is the first of several fine Native American owned courses in the area: the Isleta Eagle Golf Course (505-869-0950), a tranquil twenty-seven-hole links-style design on the Isleta Pueblo whose gnarly bluegrass rough can humble anyone. Moving north toward Santa Fe, at I-25 exit 242, check out the twenty-seven-hole Santa Ana Golf Club (505-867-9464), which has Tour-quality greens, a four-star restaurant and enthralling views of the ten-thousand-foot Sandia Peak. Notah Begay III loves the place. Just a jog away, the new, more rugged Santa Ana resort course, Twin Warriors (505-867-3000), opens in late May. Farther north, halfway between mile-high Albuquerque and seven-thousand-foot Santa Fe, is the Pueblo de Cochiti Golf Course (505-465-2230), a 1981 Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout carved from the red-rock Jemez foothills. (Take exit 259 off I-25.) Once named among the nation's seventy-five best public tracks, a recent $3.2 million renovation has invigorated this demanding and gorgeous course. On a scale of one to five, all of the above are solid fours, all walkable during the week at $25 to $35 a round.
Just north of Santa Fe is the state's most opulent community, Las Campanas (505-989-8339), where million-dollar adobe mansions hug the desert, and a lucky few (like Gene Hackman) zoom around on two private Nicklaus courses. But you'll need a member to get on. Failing that, there's the Taos Country Club (505-758-7300), a stunning links-style course sixty-five miles north, or one of the country's best new munies, the Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe (505-955-4400), just southwest of the city. At Sanchez Links, start with an incendiary breakfast burrito (gringos note: milk, not water, soothes green-chile mouth burn) then get ace instructor and head pro Ross Nettles to de-funk your swing. The course features five tees (5,045 to 7,415 yards), views of three mountain ranges and the state's best par-three course. Back north of town, the first eighteen of the Towah Golf Resort, a Hale Irwin and William Phillips course, will open this summer (505-455-7144).
As your trip winds down, save a day for one of golf's new cathedrals. Houston-based architect Ken Dye, who crafted New Mexico's number-one ranked, five-star muni, Piñon Hills in Farmington, has created a modern masterpiece forty-five minutes south of Santa Fe called Paa-Ko Ridge (505-281-6000). Opened in April 2000, it's already so mature, so fine, that some people fly in only to play here. Some courses boast that every hole builds in excitement. Paa-Ko actually delivers, testing every shot and putt you possess. (For a more complete review of Paa-Ko Ridge, see T&L Golf, January/February 2001.)