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Santa Fe and Golf Too!

 Santa Fe and the Land of Enchantment

By Jim Grosjean, Golf Talk America Senior Staff Editor

Santa Fe, New Mexico is one of those incredible destinations that will make for an unforgettable vacation for golfers and non golfers alike.  The town has a population of only 68,000 and yet welcomes more than 1.1 million visitors every year.  Its popularity is richly deserved.  Nestled in a valley surrounded by four mountain ranges, Santa Fe at 7000 feet of elevation is known as the oldest and highest capital in the U.S.

Pueblo di Cochiti high ground   Santa Fe has become a culinary superstar emphasizing New Mexican cuisine with its unique red and green chile peppers.  I had nothing but great meals in Santa Fe at places like La Choza and Cafe Pasqual’s.  Even the off-the-beaten-path burger joint, Bobcat Bite has a green chile burger to die for.  You could go to Santa Fe just for the fine dining and there are also cooking schools available so you can bring your favorite recipes back home.

Over the years, Santa Fe has become a gathering place for great artists to locate.  Along with the Native American and local artists, they have made Santa Fe the number three art market in the U.S.  Galleries along famed Canyon Road are full of exceptional art works, unfortunately  rarely offered at bargain prices.  Santa Fe honors its heritage with numerous fine museums celebrating New Mexican, Southwestern, and Native American history and culture.  In the summers, classical music comes to the fore at the renowned Santa Fe Opera and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.  If your tastes run to the more popular, don’t miss a trip to the piano bar at the Inn at Vanessie to hear the great Doug Montgomery.

In an area of such natural beauty, there is a great emphasis on outdoor activities.  Bike and walking trails through parks and arroyos and mountains help put Santa Fe on AARP Magazine’s Top 10 Healthiest Cities to Live and Retire.  There is even a mountain bike trail that begins in the Plaza and travels 20 miles to the top of Lake Peak.  Camping, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, and skiing are all first rate here.

Sanchez Links5Because of all that Santa Fe has to offer, golf can seem to be an afterthought, but I found out that while perhaps underpublicized, there are some fantastic courses available to the public.  First off, I visited the city-owned Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe.  This is one fine municipal course with a constant premium placed on your tee shot.  You start with the number one handicap hole, a par five that worms its way through pinon trees finally arriving at a green that is 47 yards deep.  Interestingly, the number two handicap hole is the par four 18th hole.  It may actually be the most difficult hole on the course.  The tee shot must stay to the right of three fairway bunkers and to the left of the pinions.  The green is guarded short and right by sand and a lake, so you must carry your approach onto the green.  Another fun hole is the short par four 6th which will give you pause as you decide if you are long enough to take on the fairway bunkers on the left.  If you catch a windy day, expect your scores to go up, but you’ll still enjoy the day on this well maintained muny with mountain views on every hole.

A thirty minute drive to the base of the Jemez Mountains brings you to the Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed Pueblo di Cochiti Pueblo di Cochiti high groundGolf Club.  This course would rank highly on anyone’s list of Great Courses Off the Beaten Path.  Because this is a desert mountain course, you will find frequent elevation and terrain changes.  If you miss a fairway you might find yourself at the bottom of a deep arroyo with no escape.  Play from the beautifully maintained fairways and you give yourself a chance to score well.  While many holes play on relatively flat land between the mesas, other holes climb to high ground and give you the feeling that you’re on top of the world.  The bent grass greens are immaculate and full of subtle undulations.  I enjoyed the par five 5th hole for its risk-reward tee shot over a large trap to a fairway that doglegs severely to the right.  Then the second shot offers the possibility of hitting it long to a very small target area in front of the green, or laying up further back and leaving you with a tougher approach that must carry the two upfront bunkers.  The tenth hole requires a downhill tee shot that must stay short of the lake and then a short approach shot to a semi-peninsula green.   My round at Cochiti was cut short by a sudden rainstorm and I wasn’t able to return, but I will be back the first chance I get.

Cochiti6 I also took a 45 minute drive to revisit a course I loved back in 1995; the Paako Ridge Golf Club in Sandia Park, New Mexico.  The perennially top-ranked course in New Mexico has added a third nine  since my first visit, and it’s just as good as the original 18.  It is such a good fit that it really doesn’t matter which nines you play because you will find the experience first rate in every way.   Its location on the east side of the Sandia Mountains seems to be conducive to very lush native vegetation including lots of ponderosa pine, pinon and juniper trees.  Always in excellent condition, the course offers views across valleys to distant mountains that defy imagination.  Elevation here is between 6500-7000 feet, so you can expect your ball to travel around 15% further than at sea level.  Unfortunately, the length of the course makes up for that distance, so you’ll still have some tough, long approach shots.  Check out www.paakoridge.com for more information.

Outside Espanola, New Mexico, just a 35 minute drive north of Santa Fe, you’ll find Black Mesa Golf Club.  All the reviews ofblack mesa golf writers around the country didn’t prepare me for what I found here.  This is simply one of the neatest courses I’ve ever played.  Plus, it’s so much fun to play.  You arrive at a course which has the look of a moonscape painted with a bright green brush.   Fairways hug sandstone ridges that not only outline your path, but often provide important aim points.  For instance, on the first hole you can see some of the fairway, but the aim point of your tee shot is over a flag-marked rock hill to a blind landing area.  Even though it appears that you are aiming far to the right of the visible part of the fairway, if you hit your drive over that hill, you’ll be perfectly centered.  Every hole from there on presents another unique challenge.  Even though Black Mesa is rated as one of America’s best modern courses, the real  vibe here is of the Old West.   The clubhouse reminds me of a bunkhouse in a cowboy movie complete with an old time windmill.  The dirt and gravel cart paths at times give you the feeling of riding on a buckboard without the horse.  There are no houses or even roads near the course and you black mesa 4don’t very often see any hole but the one you’re playing, so you can enjoy the serenity, the nature, and the peace of this beautiful part of America.  To paraphrase Gary Player; “If you love golf, you’ve got to play Black Mesa.  Visit www.blackmesagolfclub.com to get Pro Tom Valarie’s excellent description of all 18 holes.

BM1A trip to Santa Fe can be great on many levels, certainly including golf.  Don’t miss the chance to be enchanted.