“It all started with golf,” said Maurice Bonal, who headed up the 10-member Municipal Recreation Complex Committee that spearheaded the effort to develop the project. “But golf on its own wouldn’t cut it. Softball and baseball, and then we found the rugby. And soccer moms. There are so many of them. And so we brought in soccer people.”
The complex that eventually also included five soccer fields, four softball fields, a baseball field, a separate nine-hole, par-three golf course and a multipurpose grass field for other recreational activities was carved from 1,200 acres owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management. It cost the city $1 an acre to purchase the land as the BLM has a proviso to allow cities to acquire its land as long as it is used for recreational purposes, Bonal said.
“It helped that there was a guy at BLM in Boulder, Michael Ford, who was a real recreation enthusiast,” Bonal said. “Once we contacted him, his eyes lit up. ‘That’s just what BLM property is for when it’s so close to municipality. We would be looking at any projects you bring us.'”
Originally borne out of a desire to give adults a place to recreate to free up city parks for youth sports, the complex has become an important part of the city’s overall quality of life, Bonal said.
“There was not enough inventory to accommodate the demands placed on the fields,” he said. “The recreation director had to pick and choose who could use the fields at what time. We had mothers fighting daughters for softball fields, sons fighting fathers for baseball fields. Husbands fighting with wives for the fields.”
Despite the obvious need for the project, it took about 15 years of planning, cajoling, coalition building and entreaties with the general public to pass bonds to make it all happen.
It cost about $17 million to complete the entire project, with about half that going toward the golf courses.
“The lack of inventory gave us the momentum,” Bonal said. “There’s land out there. Maybe we could secure it and leave the parks for the kids. Just free up a lot of the inventory here so the kids can play. That was the big push, to free up the parks.”
Of course, at the time, the area was virtually devoid of any development other than the county dump.
“The whole area has changed,” Bonal said, noting it spurred growth in a whole new part of the city and county.
Indeed, the complex has paid for itself over and above its financial cost, said Karleen Boggio-Montgomery, who was a member of the original committee and remains part of it today.
“I can tell you, it has just been a wonderful complex,” she said. “The whole thing. Softball fields, soccer, walking paths. The Great 28 par-three course. And then the big one. It’s beautiful. It’s a pretty nice course. We got a huge response when we opened it.”
The course that was designed by award-winning golf architect Baxter Spann plays at a par 72, 7,272 yards from the back tees. During the opening ceremonies, noted New Mexico golfer Kathy Whitworth provided the star power and she plans to return again for an April 20 gala celebration.
“It fit in perfectly for Santa Fe,” Boggio-Montgomery said. “We’ve had a lot of people compliment it. For a city course, it’s pretty plush.”
And the complex itself is constantly in use.
“What gratifies me the most is if you go out there in the summer, the kids look like ants on the field because there are so many of them,” Bonal said. “They all chase that little white thing, the soccer ball. There are thousands. These kids have a place to recreate, a place to socialize. That’s worth all of it, every bit.”