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On the road in New Mexico: Cool Ruidoso attracts Texans year around

By David R. Holland, Contributor

RUIDOSO, N.M. - New Mexico isn't just a geographical neighbor of Texas - it's a good friend. And in the heat of a sweaty August in Houston - it's a good friend with an air conditioner.

Texans have been coming here to cool off in the summer since the roads were driveable and cars could make the trek.

But it doesn't matter what the season is for a visit from Dallas or Austin - they come here to ski in the winter, visit for fishing and hunting among the yellow aspens in fall, and play golf anytime the weather allows.

For a brief window in the spring you can even glide downhill at Ski Apache in the morning, high atop 12,003-foot Sierra Blanca, and play golf in the afternoon at the Links at Sierra Blanca or the Inn of the Mountain Gods.

Marty Mills, the recreation manager at The Lodge at Cloudcroft, says she sees so many Texans on a daily basis, that sometimes she wonders if New Mexico isn't just a western county of the Lone Star State.

And Jason Baldwin, a golf pro and director of the Cloudcroft Chamber of Commerce, says of all the guest books spread across town, 74 percent of the signatures are from Texans.

Few know, too, that the area holds a place in American golf history.

Almost 30 years ago the first tribal-owned golf course, The Inn of the Mountain Gods, opened here in this mountainous oasis surrounded by high desert.

It was a pioneering effort - the vision came from Wendell Chino, leader of the Mescalero Apaches for 43 years. And when Chino died in 1998 at the age of 74, his obituary listed one of his favorite quotes: "Zunis make jewelry, Navajos make rugs, Apaches make money".

Talk about a visionary. Under Chino's leadership, the tribe was already in the recreational business, running Ski Apache, another popular getaway for Texans and New Mexicans. And today, Pueblo golf courses, attached to casinos and hotels, are big-time, especially in the Southwest.

And getaway they do - the Ruidoso-Cloudcroft area is packed with Texans all summer trying to escape sweltering places like Lubbock and Abilene. Here they can fish, hike, bike, ride horses play tennis and watch the horse races at Ruidoso Downs.

They can delve into the history of Lincoln County and its relationship with Billy the Kid at museums and art galleries or enjoy the many restaurants - some even featuring Tex-Mex or Texas barbecue.

Here's a closer look at the golf and must-stay resorts in the area.

The Lodge at Cloudcroft Golf Course

Historic and haunted - that's The Lodge at Cloudcroft - and the nine-hole golf course has two distinctions. It's the oldest in the state, built in 1899, and the fifth highest in altitude, 9,200 feet, in the USA.

Just 45 minutes from Ruidoso, this golf course isn't a championship layout at 4,858 yards and par 68, but don't tell the thousands of golfers who play here each year and call it their favorite course. This is pure fun and an absolute ego builder.

Built on a cabbage patch in Chautauqua Canyon, The Lodge Golf Course is exciting from hole No. 1, a par 4 of 251 yards. It is straight downhill and picking the right club your first visit could be frustrating.

Inn of the Mountain Gods

On the way back to Ruidoso from Cloudcroft don't miss the area's best layout, the Inn of the Mountain Gods. It's going to be even more appealing when the brand-new hotel opens in November 2004. Unfortunately, many seniors shun this course because it's cart-path only.

Stretching out to 6,834 yards and a par of 72, this is a beauty in the pines and firs with views of Sierra Blanca and man-made water features. No. 10 is a target-island hole of 337 yards and on several holes you will face huge Ponderosa pines in the middle of the fairway.

Ted Robinson Sr. designed the golf course in 1976 at an elevation of 7,200 feet bordering the Lincoln National Forest. Fast bentgrass greens, cross-cut fairways and deer and elk in the fairways make this a must when you visit the area.

The Links at Sierra Blanca in Ruidoso

Squeezed onto the land that was once the airport, The Links at Sierra Blanca is a municipal, but has all the makings of a resort with the on-site Hawthorn Suites Golf & Convention Resort.

Jeff Brauer designed the layout with consultation from Senior PGA star Jim Colbert. Towering artificial mounds are everywhere, but the deal-breaker here are the lightning-quick undulating greens. You are going to three-putt some - so try and stay below the hole.

Ranked No. 6 in the state in Golf Digest's 2001 rankings, The Links at Sierra Blanca calls itself a Scottish links-style golf course. The front nine is open and the back nine wanders back into the pines with some thick rough to deal with.

This public course is very busy, make sure you call ahead. If you join a group most likely you will meet some new friends from Texas.

Where to play

The Lodge Golf Course
No. 1 Corona Place
Cloudcroft, N.M. 88317
(866) 595-6343

Inn of the Mountain Gods
Golf Resort and Casino
Carrizozo Canyon Road
Mescalero, N.M. 88340
(800) 446-2963 or (505) 464-7444

The Links at Sierra Blanca
105 Sierra Blanca Drive
Ruidoso, N.M. 88345
(800) 854-6571 or (505) 258-5330

Other golf options

Cree Meadows Golf Course, Ruidoso, public,18 holes, 5,766 yards, rating 66.4, slope 104, (505) 257-5815.

Ponderosa Pines Golf Course, Cloudcroft, nine holes, (505) 682-2995.

Carrizozo Municipal Golf Course, Carrizozo, public, nine holes, 6,530 yards, (505) 648-2451.

Desert Lakes Golf Course, Alamogordo, public, 18 holes, (505) 437-0290.

The Hideout of Lincoln County is a private, Tom Fazio course still in the planning stages. It will be located along the Rio Bonito in the Angus area. (505) 378-4431.

Where to stay

The Lodge at Cloudcroft was built in 1899 by the Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway, and has been visited by every New Mexico governor since. Pancho Villa, Judy Garland and Clark Gable have also stayed here.

Rebecca is said to haunt the hotel and the award-winning restaurant is named after her. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Be sure and check out the bar - it was once owned by Al Capone.

The Lodge is a stunning old-style hotel and is surrounded by the 215,000 acres of the Lincoln National Forest. The view, looking west down to the desert flats in Alamogordo is breath-taking.

Log on to thelodgeresort.com to pick from several packages, including Murder Mystery Weekends. Call (800) 395-6343 for lodging options.

In Ruidoso stay at the Hawthorn Suites Golf & Convention Resort. This new 120-room resort hotel features views of The Links at Sierra Blanca and a full breakfast.

Suites feature two-person whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, kitchenettes, and balconies. The Hotel is also located at the Ruidoso Convention Center. Log on to ruidosohawthorn.com or call (866) 211-7727 or (505) 258-5500.

Where to dine

Rebecca's, The Lodge at Cloudcroft, (800) 395-6343
Cattle Baron, Ruidoso, (505) 257-9355
Michelena's Italian Restaurant, Ruidoso, (505) 257-5753
K-Bob's Steakhouse, Ruidoso, (505) 378-4747

Helpful web sites


Golfweek's Top Public-Access Courses

New Mexico

1. Paa-Ko Ridge, Sandia Park
2. Pinion Hills GC, Farmington
3. Inn of the Mountain Gods, Mescalero
4. University of New Mexico GC (South), Albuquerque
5. Pueblo de Cochiti GC, Cochiti

2001 Golf Digest New Mexico Rankings

1. Paa-Ko Ridge, Sandia Park.
2.Las Campanas (Sunrise), Santa Fe.
3.Piñon Hills, Farmington.
4. U. of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
5. Pueblo de Cochiti, Cochiti Lake.
6. The Links at Sierra Blanca, Ruidoso.
7. Santa Ana (Tamaya/Cheena), Bernalillo.
8. Inn of the Mountain Gods, Mescalero.
9. Isleta Eagle. (Lakes/Mesa), Isleta.
10. Taos Country Club, Taos.

Highest Golf Courses in the USA

Copper Creek Golf Club, Copper Mountain, Colorado, U.S.A: elev. 9,700 ft. Mt. Massive Golf Course, Leadville, Colorado, U.S.A.: elev. 9,680 ft. Telluride Golf Club, Telluride, Colorado, U.S.A.: elev. 9,500 ft. Breckenridge Golf Club, Breckenridge, Colorado, U.S.A.: elev. 9,324 ft. The Lodge Golf Course, Cloudcroft, New Mexico, U.S.A.: elev. 9,200 ft.

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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