When it comes to puttering around a golf course, New Mexico may not be atop the list of states to visit. But for true links lovers, there are plenty of sites that will challenge golfers of all abilities while at the same time providing some world-class scenery to make any visit a memorable occasion.
From the top of the state to the bottom and many points in between, here are a baker’s dozen of courses that anyone who enjoys putting club to ball will enjoy.
Inn of the Mountain Gods
The course meandering through the pines at the Inn of the Mountain Gods takes one out of the desert and into a forest wonderland, says head golf professional Daniel Nuñez.
What makes it special? “The atmosphere with tree-lined fairways and gorgeous views,” he says. “It can be difficult because we have water, we have sand, we have trees and we have undulated lies.”
Three holes particularly stand out as picturesque, with the par-3, 225-yard No. 8 standing out as being “the most esthetic,” Nuñez says, as you drop more than 150 feet from the tee to the green, while the 350-yard, par-4 No. 10 may be the most challenging as it features an island green.
UNM Championship GC
Home to several NCAA men’s and women’s national and regional tournaments, the Championship Course has a long and proud history in Albuquerque.
The length of its fairways and rock-solid nature of its greens are legendary among the legions of golfers who have tackled its peculiar nature.
Undulating with legs turning both left and right, the fairways can be difficult to navigate, and stray shots often land in the rough, loose desert sand, water or sagebrush.
But the views across the middle Rio Grande Valley nevertheless make the excursion a pleasant one.
In the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, Paa-Ko Ridge combines three nine-hole courses to create an unending series of challenges.
“Each nine is championship caliber,” says head pro Lee Sanchez. “Each nine is unique and special in its own way.”
The five tee boxes at each hole accommodate all levels of players, he says. The signature hole is probably the par-3 Agua Caliente, which plays from 101 to 228 yards.
“It’s a beautiful hole that goes over water,” Sanchez says.
Santa Clara Pueblo
Black Mesa is a links-style course set against a backdrop of stunning sandstone ridges, says director Tom Velarde.
“We don’t have parallel holes,” he says. “It’s one golf hole, you and your golf ball. It’s like something that you would see in Ireland and Scotland.”
The par-5, 545-yard, No. 16 Stairway to Seven hole “is pretty special,” Velarde says.
“It’s pretty much straight uphill to the top of a little mesita,” he says. “On one side you have the Sangre de Christos and on the other the mountains around Los Alamos.”
Piñon Hills Golf Club
Combining the target aspects of a desert course with the rolling green elements of a traditional course is what makes Piñon Hills special, says general manager Chris Jones.
Populated with plenty of desert vegetation, there are some “forced carries over canyons and desert areas,” he says. “But there are traditional areas with fairways, rough and then desert. The course isn’t too penalizing if you can keep it in the fairway. But there are hazards, canyons, rock formations and something on just about every hole.”
The par-3 No. 6, which graces the course’s scorecard, sits down in a canyon with a big rock formation right behind the green, Jones says, and often features the red foxes that live on the course.
Rockwind Community Links
One of the state’s newer courses, the 27-hole Rockwind is part of an integrated community owned and operated by the city of Hobbs. The championship 18-hole course is encompassed by nature and includes an open green space for events.
The course opened in May 2015 and was named one of Golf Digest’s Best New Courses of 2015; a Top Five New Golf Development in the World by Golf Inc. Magazine; and a 2017 Best Courses You Can Play recognition by Golfweek.
A special feature is a surrounding trail system complete with multiple trail heads, various outdoor seating areas, picnic spaces and scenic viewing points, including access to the site’s five-acre lake that overlooks the golf course.
Sandia Golf Club
“The golf course is really playable,” says golf director Matt Molloy. “It’s long, but just a fun golf course. It has pretty friendly landing areas. The real difficult part of the course is the putting greens.
“And people tend to shoot lower scores,” he adds, “which is fun.”
The finale is the course’s signature hole, carrying about 500 yards, a par-4 playing downhill with the valley spread before it, Molloy says.
Red Hawk Golf Club
Players at Red Hawk immediately tee off onto the course’s signature hole, a par-4, 428-yarder that plays directly at the Organ Mountains to an elevated green.
“It gets the golf course going,” says Austin Wallace.
“What makes this place so different is the style and the layout,” Wallace says. “There’s no other golf course like this in the area. It’s a links-style design, but it’s player friendly at all levels. Some people find it difficult and it is visually intimidating but once you play the golf course, it’s very fun. It’s never going to be the same.”
Sierra del Rio Championship Golf Course
Sierra del Rio is a desert-style course with five tee boxes for each hole.
“It can give you a very challenging test for just about any golfer of any level,” says head pro Ty Ried. “Each hole is unique experience with the target-style, desert-style layout. You have 18 very different holes because of undulating terrain, big greens. Water comes into play on four holes and there are 89 bunkers on the course.”
The No. 16, playing 359 yards, is the signature hole as golfers tee off from an elevated tee with an opportunity to try to aggressively carry an arroyo to a sloping green or lay up, Ried says.
Santa Ana Golf Club
Santa Ana Pueblo
Santa Ana Golf Club’s three, nine-hole courses are somewhat shorter and more forgiving as many of the fairways are lined with mounds to funnel errant shots back onto the green, says GM/director of golf Derek Gutierrez.
“There are fewer forced carries,” he says. “But the real test at Santa Ana are the greens. They’re undulated and mounded.”
Cheena No. 8, a mammoth 633-yard, par-5, is generally regarded as the course’s signature hole as it “runs along parallel to the bosque and the river,” he says. “When hosting championships, that’s the 17th hole.”
Santa Ana Pueblo
Twin Warriors is unique in that it winds around 22 cultural sites of previous habitation, says GM/director of golf Derek Gutierrez, who oversees both Santa Ana and Twin Warriors.
“Great care and attention was taken in routing the golf course in and around cultural sites of great importance to the pueblo,” he says. “It’s a challenging and fair test of golf.”
Although there are numerous picturesque holes, the par-3 No. 4 stands out as the signature as it carries over a lake to a narrow green, with water along the left side and a pond waterfall for visual effect, he says.
Taos Country Club
Rancho de Taos
The links-style course at Taos Country Club features wide and open fairways.
“They’re not tree-lined, so they’re not little, narrow chutes,” says owner Tad Bourg. “The terrain is very gradual so it’s a little more user friendly than some.”
The par-5 No. 8, which plays from 395 to 560 yards, is generally considered the signature hole. “There’s a lot of risk and lot of reward,” Bourg says. “It’s a beautiful setting.”
Towa Golf Club
Towa Golf Club offers three distinct nine-hole courses.
The Boulder course, which features the state’s only true island green, ranges through undulated foothills. The Piñon course plays over and around a ridge and the Valley course is closer to the resort with wider, more forgiving fairways.
While the island green gets a lot of deserved attention, it’s the par-3, 160-yard No. 9 of the Boulder course that Laurie Meredith enjoys.
“You’re standing on a bluff with the ski area behind you and the Española Valley and the Jemez Mountains laid out in front of you. You have a 100-foot drop to the green. I think it’s the best hole on the course.”