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Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa: Twin Warriors Golf Club buoys New Mexico's arsenal

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. - Daydream about golf in the Great American Southwest and a crop of familiar images appear in the mind's eye:

The lush green fairways of Scottsdale, Ariz., juxtaposed against the craggy brown buttes of the Sonoran Desert;

The posh resort courses of Las Vegas strewn across a stark, seemingly endless valley;

A sea of fluffy Bermuda grass spilling across the otherwise arid Coachella Valley into the chic desert retreats of Palm Springs, Palm Desert and La Quinta.

When golf thoughts turn to New Mexico, however, the mental picture goes blank for many traveling golfers. The Land of Enchantment rarely touts itself a golf destination. Heck, it rarely touts itself period. So, what is this place, you ask?

This is where Georgia O'Keefe spent the twilight of her life, interpreting the state's surreal landscapes in watercolor, charcoal and rich oils.

This is where the introspective Pueblo Indians are as much a part of the social fabric as whites and Hispanics. From Las Cruces in the south to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos in the north, this is a curious land where folk keep to themselves, yet treat visitors like long lost friends.

More and more, those visitors include the khaki-clad, club-wielding set. Would you be shocked to learn that New Mexico is an under-advertised stronghold for some of the country's best high desert golf? You're not alone, if you are. But for a state with just over 100 courses, the quality of the product is something to be reckoned with.

Two of the state's high-end daily fee courses, Paa-Ko Ridge outside Albuquerque and Pinon Hills in Farmington, are considered by national golf magazines and Internet publications to be among the best public tracks in the U.S. Two others - Black Mesa north of Santa Fe and Twin Warriors - should and will be mentioned in the same breath.

The state's two largest universities, the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State, both boast fine 18-hole layouts. And if you are the stay-and-play type, the Santa Ana Pueblo just north of Albuquerque is the setting for one of the Southwest's best kept secrets, the Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa.

Only in New Mexico could the largest resort ever developed on Native American soil enjoy a peaceful, uncommericalized existence. The 350-room pueblo-styled hotel houses a 16,000-sqaure foot spa (Tamaya Mist) and fitness center, two upscale restaurants, a cultural center and 21,000-square feet of meeting space. Also on property, guests have access to three swimming pools, tennis courts, horseback riding, a fitness trail along the Rio Grande, and the aforementioned Twin Warriors Golf Club.

Twin Warriors Golf Club: Panks at his best

Golf course architect Gary Panks won't freely admit it, but when pressed he does concede that he's having a 2003 to remember. His first Palm Springs area design credit, The Trilogy at La Quinta, will host the Skins Game in Nov. The flat bellied, long-knockers of the Nationwide Tour will test drive his new Cattail Course at Whirlwind Golf Club south of Phoenix in early October. And more importantly to this yarn, his Twin Warriors Golf Club at the Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa hosted the PGA Tour Club Championship in June.

"It is gratifying to see these events come to those courses," says Panks via phone from his Scottsdale, Ariz. office. "It just adds a little spice to the business."

With all due respect to Cattail and The Trilogy, Twin Warriors may rank as Panks best effort to date. The two-year old course weighs in at a card-busting 7,736 yards and is the longest course to ever host a PGA championship event. Yet played from the mortal Back (6914) and Resort (6485) tees, Twin Warriors is as egalitarian as the next course.

That is, provided the next course serves up grab-the-camera views of the Sandia Mountains and the surrounding red rocks, and is completely devoid of the ubiquitous housing that overwhelms so many Sun Belt courses.

"It is pure golf and that's what is really different about it," Panks says. "There is no real estate and probably never will be."

No real estate, but as Panks is quick to point out, Twin Warriors came with its own set of challenges. The course's pristine location next to the sacred Tuyuna Mesa and just a smooth 5-iron from the Rio Grande River contains 20 ancient cultural sites held sacred by the Santa Ana Pueblo. Panks had routed the entire course when tribal officials presented him with a cultural map depicting the 20 locations and an unabashed plea to retool the layout.

"That was interesting," Panks says with a chuckle. "It was actually a plus. We had to use that much more real estate but it improved the course."

The only exception being the sixth and seventh holes, where space was scarce and the holes are pinched together by cultural sites on either side. On Twin Warrior's final four holes, the site's cultural sensitivity actually inadvertently provides for one of the best finishing stretches in the entire state.

In addition to the preservation of the 20 cultural sites, the Pueblo also insisted on a buffer between the course and the Tuyuna Mesa (also known as Snakehead Mountain for its uncanny resemblance to a rattlesnake head). Panks, sensing he was losing an opportunity to punctuate Twin Warriors with a slate of unforgettable holes, came up with a creative appeal.

"I spoke with the Pueblo and told them if they buffer it, it would actually allow people to access their sacred mountain," says Panks. "I told them that the course would be the buffer. Golfers aren't going to drop their clubs and explore the mountain."

Maybe not. But it's difficult to focus on anything but the sheer drama that unfolds on the final four holes. The par-3 15th is a brawny one shotter that plays to 221 yards from the Championship tees. The hole is sculpted through the course's trademark red rocks and is speckled with juniper and Pinon from tee to green. From the tee boxes, views of 10,378-foot Sandia peak unfold to the left of a green tucked behind a small rock mound.

From there on in, hang on to your visor.

In time, sixteen will be mentioned as one of New Mexico's finest par 5s. The 648-yard three shotter cascades downhill alongside the Tuyuna Mesa into a green complex that wraps around the base of the rock. The 401-yard 17th, a short par 4 by Twin Warriors standards, bridges the gap between the monumental 16th and the powerful, 488-yard par-4 18th.

"It was really neat to be able to finish the course around Snakehead Mountain," Panks says. "In this business, you don't always get great sites to work with. But I was pretty giddy the first time I saw that site."

And so was the PGA of America. Shortly after the 2003 playing of the Club Championship, PGA officials announced the prestigious tournament (the top 25 finishers qualify for the PGA Championship in August) could return to Twin Warriors as early as 2008.

"They really liked the golf course, the resort and the logistics," says head professional Gary Davis. "There are a lot of courses to choose from and it says a lot that they'd return that soon."

And more golf

While many of the Hyatt Tamaya's guests are glued to the rigid schedule of corporate outings or heart-deep in a romantic couples getaway, 36-holes-a-day types can get their golf fix at the neighboring Santa Ana Golf Club. The 27-hole facility was once mentioned among New Mexico's best multi-course facilities and was the "home" course for PGA Tour player Notah Begay before we moved to Las Campanas in Santa Fe.

The course has struggled with its water delivery system over the last couple years but appears to have worked out most the major glitches. Santa Ana isn't part of the Hyatt Tamaya, proper. Still, it is owned and operated by the Pueblo and the resort is equipped to handle tee time reservations.

When it's in good condition and the greens are rolling quick, Santa Ana is a solid test of golf. The course was the site of the Buy.com (now Nationwide) Tour's New Mexico Open before Twin Warriors took over host duties shortly after opening. Santa Ana was designed by Ken Killian and was actually cited as one of the three best true links-style courses in America by the New York Times.

If all three nines are available and you're on top of your game, opt for the Tamaya-Cheena combination, which tips out at over 7,239 yards at par 71. The Tamaya-Star combo is a par 72 and also plays to over 7,200 yards. And the Cheena-Star coupling measures more than 7,100 yards at par 71.

Where to Stay

The Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa is quietly developing a reputation as one of the top destination resorts in the Southwest. The property is perched along the edge of the Rio Grande River "bosque" (the native cottonwood forest indigenous to the river), and snuggled against the glowing red rocks of the Tuyuna Mesa. The majority of guestrooms and suites open to a private patio or balcony overlooking the majestic Sandia Mountains, bosque, or the 18th hole at Twin Warriors.

Dining In

The Corn Maiden is the resort's fine dining establishment, but don't expect to have to point those pinkies in the air. The house specialty is a bevy of choice meats, such as beef tenderloin, shrimp, spicy chorizo sausage and chicken, served rotisserie style. The wine list is robust and the appetizers are as creative as they are tasty.

Upscale casual dining is available at the Santa Ana Café just below the main lobby. The café serves up a variety of Nuevo interpretations of classic New Mexican cuisine, but also offers such Southwestern staples as honey-ancho ribs and strip steak with garlic and chive mashed potatoes.

For sandwiches, pizza, salads and soups served in an snazzy bar atmosphere, check out the Rio Grande Lounge. On an extended stay, be sure to reserve one night for supper at the Prairie Star Restaurant located at the Santa Ana Golf Club. Don't let the location fool you - Prairie Star is considered among the top restaurants in the greater Albuquerque area.

Orientation

The Hyatt Tamaya is conveniently situated about 30 minutes from the Albuquerque Sunport (airport). Take I-25 north to the Bernalillo exit and follow the signs to the Santa Ana Pueblo. Turn right at the casino and follow the signs to the Hyatt Tamaya. The artsy epicenter of Santa Fe (the nation's oldest capital) is just a 45-minute drive north on I-25.

The Deal

The Hyatt Tamaya offers two golf packages: Spa or Sport and the Golf School Getaway. Spa or Sport includes either two rounds of golf or one round of golf and one spa treatment at Tamaya Mist, sunset golf view accommodations and breakfast for two ($399 per night through 10/31). Golf School Getaway includes two nights room accommodations, two rounds of twilight golf, two four-hour sessions at golf school ($599 single occupancy, $450 double). For reservations, call (505) 867-1234, toll free (800) 233-1234, or log on to tamaya.hyatt.com.

Top Five Tamaya Experiences

1. Golf at Twin Warriors - Grab an early morning or mid-afternoon tee time. Watch as the rising or setting sun changes the appearance of the Tuyuna Mesa and distant Sandia Mountains. Check out the view from atop the tee boxes on the 6th and 13th holes. If the wind is blowing, savor every par.

2. Trail riding at the Stables at Tamaya - Rise for an early breakfast at the Santa Ana Café and be at the pick-up area by the Corn Maiden by 7:15. Take in the sunrise over the Sandias on the 30-minute wagon ride to the stables. Saddle up on one of the resort's steady steeds and enjoy the leisurely, two-hour trek along the Rio Grande and Jemez Rivers.

3. Couples massage at the Tamaya Mist - Yes boys, this is for you, too. The couple massage is a 50-minute diversion into the realm of total relaxation alongside your significant other. A variety of massage treatments are available, but spa-rookies should stick with the Swedish variety.

4. Sunday brunch at the Santa Ana Café - Take the 7:30 trail ride and be back by 10 for one of the best Sunday brunches this side of the Pecos. Watch as one of the house chefs prepares your made-to-order omelet. Load up on mouth-watering carne adovada, thick bacon and sausage. Lunch fans - don't miss the slow roasted prime rib and ham from the carvery.

5. Pool Hopping - Start at the underutilized Kiva pool (the one with the fortress-like wall surrounding it) for some serious, wind proof sun bathing. Adjourn to the Plaza pool where poolside, raspberry margaritas and a tasty lunch await (water slide optional.) Catch the sunset out by the winding Oxbow pool with its faux beach and killer views of the bosque and mountains.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


 
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