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On The Road In New Mexico: Tribal-Owned Golf Opens Land of Enchantment to Tourism

By David R. Holland, Contributor

ALBUQUERQUE, NM - In the late 1950s, New Mexico was a Route 66 fantasyway for parents of baby boomers heading from all points east to Disneyland. Mom and Dad and the kids loaded up the turquoise Buick Roadmaster, pointed it for the setting sun, found motels with heated pools for $20 a night and had no clue what a bargain it was to pay 20 cents or less for a gallon of gasoline.

The kids always clamored to stop at the next roadside Snake Pit attraction and venture off Route 66 for Billy The Kid's grave, White Sands National Monument or one of the thousands of curio shops. They bought rubber tomahawks and bow-and-arrow sets with suction cups on the end while Mom was coveting the Indian-made turquoise-and-silver jewelry. The whole family was amazed at the wide-open stretches of highway and the boundless horizon of the west.

Today in New Mexico few youngsters remember Trinity Site, where the first atom bomb testing was done. Fewer remember cheap gasoline as they travel the four scenic byways - the El Camino Real, Santa Fe Trail, Jemez Mountain Trail and Billy the Kid Scenic Byway.

Amazingly, Route 66's glory was short-lived, a span of only 1926 to 1970, when I-40 connected the entire route from Texas to Arizona. Many say Route 66, which was decommissioned in 1985, was the byway that connected New Mexico to the rest of the USA and because of that its memory just won't fade away. Route 66 nostalgia is alive and well and this year Albuquerque will celebrate its 75th year with a July 20-22 event.

Those who love the spirit of "The Land of Enchantment" experience a peacefulness here, a mixture of cultures from ancient Native Americans to a blend of Hispanic and European traditions. While next door Texas is pure cowboy culture, New Mexico is attuned to the Indian civilization.

Texans gobble up "Tex-Mex" heavy with the jalapeño-ladened pico de gallo and salsa while New Mexicans are partial to the flavorful Hatch chile - roasted as "green chile" or fried as chile relleno. You can even request a green chile addition in most hamburger joints in the state.

Now, what the tourists are gobbling up is the golf menu served up by the New Mexico Indian nations.

At the grand opening of the Santa Ana Pueblo's Twin Warriors Golf Club in May, Director of Golf Roger Martinez said their goal wasn't to make a list of Top 100 in the USA, but Top 100 in the World. That's a lofty sight, especially with Farmington's Piñon Hills, already No. 48 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play List and considered by many as the best golf value for a world-class course anywhere. If Twin Warriors meets its goal, then Paa-Ko Ridge, located in the eastern Sandia Mountain foothills above Albuquerque, might just make Top 20.

In its 2001 New Mexico rankings, Golf Digest named Paa-Ko Ridge No. 1 and and Piñon Hills is No. 3 behind the Jack Nicklaus-designed Las Campanas Sunrise private course. Paa-Ko and Piñon Hills were both designed by Ken Dye, no relation to Pete. Since Twin Warriors just opened, it hasn't been ranked yet.

"When one Golf Digest rater played Paa-Ko Ridge," said its Director of Golf Warren Lehr, "he told me he liked it better than Cypress Point. I couldn't believe it. I laughed out loud, and said 'I don't know about that', but I will say this - Paa-Ko Ridge is in my top five and I've played many of the great courses in the world."

Bold statements indeed, but one thing is sure. New Mexico golf has come a long, long way. "New Mexico has always been sort of a poor man's golf destination," Lehr said. "Now it is certainly becoming an alternative economical destination."

But the golf evolution of New Mexico didn't begin where it is flourishing today - the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor. Tribal-owned golf evolved from a vision by Wendell Chino, leader of the Mescalero Apaches for 43 years in the Ruidoso area. He first envisioned recreational profit with a ski resort on 12,000-foot Sierra Blanca. My first ski experience was here in the 1960s at Ski Apache, just a short half-day drive from the flatness of Lubbock, Texas and Texas Tech University. The first time I sat my rear on a ski lift seat, the person assisting was a Mescalero Apache.

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". Chino made his next step into golf. He hired golf architect Ted Robinson Sr., to design a resort course in 1976 nestled by the Inn of the Mountain Gods at an elevation of 7,200 feet in the cool pines bordering the Lincoln National Forest.

While Paa-Ko Ridge is not tribal-owned, the success of golf on the Indian Pueblos of New Mexico is tied to one fact - land and water rights. Later this summer, Towah Golf Resort, another Tribal-owned 36-hole golf property designed by Hale Irwin and William Phillips, will open on Pojoaque land, which only has a population of 285, 10 minutes north of Santa Fe.

Martinez says working 11 years for the Santa Ana Pueblo has been one of the most rewarding of his life. "I've never felt more part of a community," Martinez said. "When I got here only five members of the reservation played golf, now two-thirds of them play. Last year during the U.S. Open telecast the USGA ran a feature on our junior program and the exposure was incredible. Now, when I visit the old pueblo the kids swarm me. I know them by name and they know me and they all invite me to their homes. There is a sense of community here that you just don't find in corporate America."

Twin Warriors Golf Club and Paa-Ko Ridge are only an hour's drive apart, but the difference between the two is night and day.

Gary Panks designed the 7,736-yard Twin Warriors desert-style layout with "cultural sensitivity" among 20 ancient sites through red-dirt arroyos and buttes and a towering volcanic "thumb" just above the 16th hole. The Santa Anas consider the Tuyunna Butte or "Snakehead" a sacred area that frames holes 14 to 16.

The contrast of reds and browns in the dry washes and the lush green knolls, mounds, fairways and greens of Twin Warriors makes it a Southwestern golf experience you won't forget. No. 4 is a scenic par 3 with a series of waterfalls. You will also see plenty of native piñons and junipers lining the ridgetops in the distance along with a view of the Sandia Mountains.

Twin Warriors has enlisted an Army of "headset" Service Ambassadors to provide unparalleled service. It better be spectacular because this is the first golf course in New Mexico to dare place a $125 green fee to its name.

"We are taking the service template offered by The Raven at South Mountain in Phoenix," Martinez said. "And we are going to have service ambassadors every six holes."

Twin Warriors is the first true golf destination in the state with the brand-new next-door Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa. But the Santa Ana Pueblo offers 54 holes of golf. Just minutes away is the 27-hole Santa Ana Golf Club, which has hosted the New Mexico Open of the old Nike Tour and Buy.com Tour. Twin Warriors will host this year's Buy.com event and has been selected for the 2003 National Club Pro Championship.

"Santa Ana Golf Club is our Cadillac and Twin Warriors is our Mercedes Benz," Martinez said. Most interesting is the fact that the Santa Anas built the golf course in 1991 before they built their casino. Most other New Mexico Pueblos are doing the opposite.

What about Paa-Ko? "I don't know if you will ever see another Paa-Ko Ridge in New Mexico," Martinez said. "There just aren't that many high points in New Mexico to equal its topography and build a high-mountain golf course."

Paa-Ko's green fees are also more than half the price of Twin Warriors, which makes one ask: "Will New Mexicans pay that fee?" A group of Santa Ana members discussed just that a day after Twin Warriors' opening. The consensus was they couldn't wait to play it, but even at a discount to members of Santa Ana Golf Club, they wouldn't make it a habit. But Twin Warriors won't suffer. Its target is the affluent travel golfer and those scheduled for conventions and conferences at the Hyatt.

When you make your golf tour of New Mexico don't forget Piñon Hills, Pueblo de Cochiti, Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe, Taos Country Club, Isleta Eagle, the University of New Mexico Championship Course and Arroyo del Oso.

Pueblo de Cochiti, is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. beauty, recently underwent a $2 million renovation including a new clubhouse and a modest $40 green fee.

Watch for individual reviews on Paa-Ko Ridge and Twin Warriors this summer in TravelGolf.com along with stories about Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe and Santa Ana Golf Club.

Did You Know: Native Americans have been playing a field-hockey game called rokka throughout the southwest for hundreds of years. These early "golfers" used a crooked tamarack stick and stuffed leather ball and swated it on mile-long courses. It's said teams would play all day for the chance to win. Perhaps this ancestral game is the reason New Mexico is now the home for about 80 golf courses.

New Mexico is the birthplace of two LPGA Hall of Famers - Kathy Whitworth of Jal and Nancy Lopez of Roswell. Lopez spends a lot of her time at a home on the Keystone Ranch Course in Colorado.

Where To Stay

Hyatt Regency Tamaya
1300 Tuyuna Trail
Santa Ana Pueblo, NM
Phone: (505) 867-1234.

This spectacular hotel is the largest resort ever developed on Native American land and you will have the Sandia Mountains framed out your guestroom's window. You will see brilliant mountain sunsets and the restored stretch of "bosque", the native cottonwood forest indigenous to the ever-flowing Rio Grande River. The Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa is a 350-room resort that features a 16,000-square-foot spa. The hotel reflects the architecture of the area with pueblo-style buildings and guestrooms.

The Sandhill Crane Bed & Breakfast
389 Camino Hermosa
Corrales, NM 87048
Phone: (505) 898-2445 or (800) 375-2445.
E-mail: scranebb@flash.net.
Web: www.bbonline.com/nm/sandhill/

Your host, Margo MacInnes, will welcome you to The Sandhill Crane Bed & Breakfast where you will find an adobe hacienda in rural Corrales, bordering the northwestern edge of Albuquerque. The Rio Grande Bosque is just minutes away and you can relax on the porch and enjoy the cool nights.

Inside, the B&B is embraced by timbered ceilings and cool brick floors, and the four guest rooms are all on ground level for easy access. Two rooms have private entrances; two have private baths.

A complimentary breakfast served in the dining room or on the terrace includes the best seasonal produce available in the local markets, premier blends of coffee and teas, and freshly-baked breads, waffles or a hearty casserole.

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, Riudoso. 7. Santa Ana (Tamaya/Cheena), Bernalillo. 8. Inn of the Mountain Gods, Mescalero. 9. Isleta Eagle. (Lakes/Mesa), Isleta. 10. Taos C.C., Ranchos de Taos.

Best of New Mexico Golf

Eastern Area

Piñon Hills Golf Course
2101 Sunrise Pkwy., Farmington 87402
Phone: (505) 326-6066
Ranked No. 3 in the state by Golf Digest. This is one of the most affordable great courses in the world - about $20. Very interesting and challenging. You need to think before each play. Accuracy is a must but can still enjoyed by average golfer. Beautiful surroundings through white cliffs. Designed by Ken Dye and opened in 1989.

Albuquerque Area

Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Course
Address: 1 Club House Dr., Sandia Park, NM 87047-8531
Phone: (505) 281-6000, Fax: 281-8993
Web Site: www.paakoridge.com
Opening in 2000, this golf course is No. 1 in the state.

Arroyo Del Oso Golf Course
7001 Osuna Rd. NE, Albuquerque 87109
Phone: (505) 884-7505
'Dam 9' built around flood control basin. Very busy municipal course where long hitters do the best. Also a 9 hole, Par 36, Designed by Arthur Jack Snyder and opened in 1966.

Isleta Eagle Golf Course
4001 Hwy., 47,
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87105
Holes: 27
Phone: (505) 869-0950
A Bill Phillips design, opened in 1996. Hilly terrain with narrow fairways, doglegs, and a variety of bunkers.

University of New Mexico Golf Course
3601 University Blvd.,
SE, Albuquerque 87111
Phone: (505) 277-4546
Tim Herron holds the course record. Traditional, difficult, championship golf course. Many greats on the PGA Tour have played college matches here. Rolling terrain with tricky greens and thick roughs. A Red Lawrence design, opened in 1966.

Santa Ana Golf Club
Address: 288 Prairie Star Rd., Bernalillo 87004
Holes: 27
Phone: (505) 867-9464
If you have success putting here, you are accomplished. Tricky and slick greens highlight this links-style desert course. At all cost, stay below the hole on your approaches. Natural terrain and wonderful panoramic views. Wind can be a factor. A Ken Killian design opened in 1991.

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Area:

Angel Fire Country Club
Drawer B, Angel Fire, 87710
Phone: (505) 377-3055
A beautiful mountain course at 8,400-foot altitude. Open May to October. A popular spot for Texans in the summer looking to cool off.

Taos Country Club
Hwy. 570 W., Rancho de Taos 87557
Phone: (505) 758-7300, 800-758-7375
A Jep Willie design opened in 1992. Situated at 7,000 feet elevation. Beautiful desert course.

Santa Fe Area

Links at Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe
Address: 205 Caja del Rio
Sante Fe, New Mexico 87505
Phone: (505) 438-5202
Designed by Baxter Spann who works with Ken Dye. Beautiful course set in piñon-juniper land. Don't be surprised if you hear a "boom" from nearby Los Alamos testing site. A quality bargain.

Cochiti Lake

Pueblo de Cochiti Golf Course
5200 Cochiti Hwy., Cochiti Lake 87083
Phone: (505) 465-2239
A Robert Trent Jones Jr. desert design at the foot of Jemez Mountains. Cedar and ponderosa pines border the fairways. Great vistas with fast, difficult greens. Very well-maintained year-round course. Opened in 1981.

Ruidoso Area

Inn of the Mountain Gods
Address: PO Box 269, Rte. 4, Mescalero 88340
Phone: (505) 257-5141, 800-446-2963
Mescalero Apache-owned course designed by Ted Robinson in the Sierra Blanca foothills at 7,200 feet.

The Links at Sierra Blanca
105 Sierra Blanca Dr., Ruidoso 88345
Phone: (505) 258-5330, 800-854-6571
Mountain/Links course that's unique. Some holes are carved out of the forest. Jeff Brauer and Jim Colbert designed this course in 1990.

The Lodge Golf Course at Cloudcroft
#1 Corona Place, Cloudcroft, New Mexico 88317
Holes: 9
Phone: (505) 682-2098, 800-395-6343
A fun golf course that will make you smile when you total your score. Nearly the highest golf course in the world, at 9,200 feet. It is located near its original site which was established in 1899. The first hole drops 200 feet and plays 250 yards. Carved out of pine forest with rolling mountain greens.

Gallup Area

Gallup Municipal Golf Course
1109 Susan Ave., Gallup, NM
Phone: (505) 863-9224
Could be the best bargain in New Mexico.

Southern New Mexico

New Mexico State University Golf Course
PO Box 30001, Dept. 3595
Phone: (505) 646-3219
Excellent university layout, tight with difficult greens. Beware the wind. Year-round golf.

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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