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UNM Championship Course: A Challenge in Albuquerque

By David R. Holland, Contributor

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The list of championship golf courses affliated with universities in the USA is pretty small - Arizona State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Stanford and Yale.

And The Championship Golf Course at The University of New Mexico.

Opened in 1966, this hilly and beautifully mainucured tough layout, measures 7,248 yards from the back, a par-72. It has hosted the NCAA Men's Championship three times. In 1976 Scott Simpson (Southern Cal) took the individual title followed by Phil Mickelson (Arizona State) in 1992. James McLean of Minnesota captured the title in 1998 and UNLV won the team championship. The NCAA Women's Championship was played here in 1980 and 1996.

At one time Mickelson held the course record, but Tim Herron, a PGA tour player and former New Mexico Lobo, eclipsed that with a 61. Some other tour players who played and practiced on this course as Lobos are Brad Bryant, Kent Jones, Tommy Armour III and Curt Byrum.

"Tiger Woods won his first collegiate golf tournament here," said Director of Golf Henry Sandels, "he shot 65 the first time he played it representing Stanford."

The University of New Mexico Championship Golf Course, locally know as UNM South Course, is an 18-hole course complete with a 3-hole beginner's course and a driving range. And it has a large practice area for its men's and women's university teams.

It has been named among the Top 25 most affordable courses in the nation along with Golf Digest's billing as one of the Top 25 public golf courses in the nation. In 1998 Golf Digest ranked it No. 54 in the USA. PGA and LPGA qualifying events have been staged here.

Designed by Robert Lawrence, the course has wide fairways, but after a few holes you will notice a distinct pattern. Hit from an elevated tee down to a low spot, then your approach is going uphill to an elevated green. Some landing areas are hard to see and there are plenty of huge sand traps and some water hazards to negotiate.

Rich Nance of Albuquerque says the bentgrass greens are harder to read than a Russian novel. "I really like the open and wide fairways and the fact that it's not flat," Nance said. "The greens are fast and it's a challenge every time you come out to play."

"The wide fairways allow me to keep the ball in play," said Leonard Shapiro of Albuquerque, "but after your drive it gets very difficult. The greens are tough, but because I can keep it in play I shoot a good round once in a while."

Sandels said: "This is a tough course, but if you hit a good shot you will be rewarded. I hate courses where you hit a good shot and walk up to the green and your ball is 45 feet from the pin."

No. 2 has two huge pines guarding the left side, so hit it right-center on this tee shot. This par-4, 434-yarder is all downhill but the green has three tiers and the approach must be placed properly. If the hole is on the front tier you will have to run the ball on.

Your first real test is No. 5, a 442-yard par-4. The tee shot has to be long to set up an uphill second shot. The left half of the green is bunkered on the front and rear and it's difficult to get your approach close.

No. 7 is 468 yards, a long par-4 with the fairway sloping to the right. The elevated green is fronted on the corners by bunkers. It is difficult to get the ball close to the hole and a shelf at the front right as well as subtle ridges in the middle of the green make for some challenging putts. A par is a very good score.

OK, ready for a real challenge now? No. 8 is a par-3, 248-yard monster that can play against the wind! Anything landing short might roll back down a slope. When you finally reach within a chip you see the green slopes from front to back making it even harder to cozy up an approach. Think the white tees are any easier? Nope, the whites play at 234 yards.

Now let's finish the front nine with a 602-yard par-5. Only the longest hitters will reach in two. The tee shot is uphill and should be played straight. The third shot should go left-center and anything right is dead. It has another three-tiered green so distance control on the approach is important.

No. 10 is a signature hole along with No. 8. It is a par-4, 480 yards. If you have never played it drive the cart up and take a look before hitting your second shot. It's uphill from the tee, then doglegs sharply to the right. It you hit your drive long enough then you have a second shot downhill to an contoured green. Too far left on your tee shot and you will leave it 230 yards for the approach.

So you get the gist - the course is long, up and down, has lots of elevated greens and is a very tough test. Putting can be hazardous to your score.

Both the men's and women's Lobo teams host collegiate tournaments each year. The men's tourney, the William H. Tucker Intercollegiate, marked its 45th year in 1999 with Brigham Young taking home the trophy. Its the second oldest collegiate tourney in the nation, a 54-hole event.

This year's tournament included Air Force, Arizona, Brigham Young (11), Colorado, Colorado State, Hawaii, UNLV (2), New Mexico (17), New Mexico JV, New Mexico State, Oklahoma, Oregon State, San Diego State, San Francisco, Southern Cal, SMU, Swedish National Team, Texas (12), TCU (24), and Texas-El Paso. (National rankings denoted in parenthesis).

The women's event is named the Frank McGuire Invitational. This was the 21st year for the meet, which was won by Arizona. Other teams in the field were: Arizona State, Brigham Young, UCLA, Colorado State, Kansas, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Southern California, Southern Methodist, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Christian, UTEP and Texas Tech.

New Mexico residents can play the course for $23 Monday through Thursday and $28 on weekends and holidays. There is a reduced twilight rate and senior's fee. UNM faculty, staff and students also pay a reduced rate.

Out-of-state golfers will pay $57 during the week and $67 on weekends and holidays.

The UNM Championship Course is generally ranked third best in the state behind Piñon Hills in Farmington and Las Companas, a private club in Santa Fe. The latter is a Jack Nicklaus layout finished in 1993 and tour player Notah Begay III plays out of this course.

The second week in October was an eventful one for Albuquerque. Aside from the world-famous Balloon Fiesta, the Nike Tour's Albuquerque event was being staged at the Santa Ana Golf Course just north of the city. And there were golfers of all ages playing in 80-degree weather at the UNM Championship Course.

"We host 45,000 rounds a year," Sandels said, "but we'd like to do even more than that."

DIRECTIONS: Heading North on I-25 take the Rio Bravo exit 220. Turn East onto University Blvd and drive approximately one mile to the golf course. Heading South on I-25 take the Sunport Blvd exit 221. Follow the Sunport Blvd East to University Blvd. Turn South onto University Blvd, and follow the road to the golf course. The drive will be approximately a mile and a half. Heading West leaving the airport on Sunport Blvd, turn South onto University Blvd. This will take you to the golf course, which is approximately a two mile drive.

The University of New Mexico Golf Courses

Championship Course: 3601 University Blvd. SE
North Course: Corner of Tucker and Yale NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131-3046
Phone: 505-277-4546
Fax: 505-277-6222

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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