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Sandia Golf Club will host New Mexico Open

The state’s largest golf tournament is changing courses starting this year.

The New Mexico Open and its purse of $90,000 is heading to Sandia Golf Club for the next three years.

The Pueblo of Sandia has signed on as the title sponsor of the event, now called the Sandia Resort & Casino New Mexico Open. It had been held at the Santa Ana Golf Club the past six years. It is a Sun Country PGA event.

Sandia Golf Club is located on Tramway, just east of I-25 at the north end of Albuquerque.

“I’ve always had interest in hosting here, because it’s the premier golf event in the state,” said Matt Molloy, director of golf at Sandia. “I’m anxious to see how a quality field like this does on the course.”

Molloy said he hopes that Sandia, which added a massive new event center and spa last year, can someday host a national event, and having the New Mexico Open could be a stepping stone toward that.

“It’s a matter of money,” Molloy said of attracting a national tournament. “I’ve been in conversation with the PGA Tour a number of years for a fall-series event or a Web.com Tour event, and have been in conversation with the LPGA Tour. It just takes massive community involvement and corporate involvement.”

Past winners of the New Mexico Open include Lee Trevino, Paul Stankowski, Brian Kortan, D.J. Brigman, Charlie Beljan and Notah Begay III. This year’s tournament will be held Sept. 13-15 and Dana Lehner, the executive director of the Sun Country PGA, said he expects a full field of 156 players.

First prize will likely be $14,500.

“We tend to get a pretty good field with a lot of guys who are at that point of the year where they are trying to determine whether they have enough money to keep chasing Q-school or Web.com Tour status or whatever,” Lehner said. “They have a decision to make, and our tournament is such a good option for them. They’re willing to come to an event with a lesser entry fee and a chance to win it, which improves the quality of field. That’s how we’ve had players like (PGA Tour rookie star last year) Tony Finau recently.

“Sandia is a great facility. It’s long been of service to the general public over years, and is only 10 years old. Matt and I have had several discussions about holding several events here, whether state or regional or LPGA or even the PGA Tour, so having this tournament here really makes sense. It’s a matter of building their résumé, and this helps that.”

Sandia has been host of many major championships in the state, including multiple Sun Country PGA Section Championships, other section events, multiple USGA Qualifiers, Sun Country Junior Major Championships and Sun Country Amateur Golf Association Championships.

PGA JUNIOR LEAGUE: The youth league has seen incredible growth nationwide the past two years and is getting ready to expand during its second year in Albuquerque.

It is a team competition, and is basically golf’s version of Little League baseball.

Sign-ups are ongoing at local golf courses. Boys and girls, ages 7-13, can become members of a team, with practices and match events running from April through June or July, including possible postseason competition on regional and national levels.

Costs vary from course to course, but initial cost is $75.00, which includes team jerseys, coaching and competition. Format is two-person scramble, with multiple two-player squads on each team.

Contact your local golf course for more information.

SUN COUNTRY JUNIORS: The Sun Country has made some changes to its popular traditional spring/summer tour.

Lehner said that “we have streamlined it down from about 50 one-day tournaments around the state to about 35 one-day tournaments and six or seven two-day events. We wanted to create some bigger events, and blow them out and fluff them up a little bit – make them big-time.”

Lehner said there will still be a championship tournament at the end of the summer, which will be in the first week of August. The tournaments begin June. 1.

Registration is under way. Cost is $40 for the season and there is an entry fee for each event, usually $30.

For further information, visit www.suncountrygolfhouse.com or email or call Brian Rich at brian@suncountryjuniortour.com or 505-897-0864.

FIRST TEE: Youth golf and life lessons are what the First Tee is all about. The spring session is holding registration until March 31. The weekly classes begin April 4. Classes run from 4:30 to 6:15 p.m. each day. Instruction is for both beginners and returning students. Equipment is furnished for those without clubs. There are sessions for ages 8-10 and 11-13. Visit firstteealbuquerque@gmail.com or call 505-358-8419.

DRIVE, CHIP AND PUTT: Golf’s version of football’s Punt, Pass and Kick will have two qualifiers in New Mexico: July 6 at the New Mexico State Golf Course in Las Cruces and July 13 at the UNM Championship Golf Course in Albuquerque. There is no cost to enter. Winners move on to regionals and winners there advance to the national championship in Augusta, Ga.

Visit Welcome to the Drive, Chip, & Putt Championship for more information.

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