Butterfield Trail Golf Club in El Paso can present a hard and fast experience on windy west Texas days
EL PASO, Texas -- The west Texas wind is howling, but if you can conjure up a game plan on Butterfield Trail Golf Club, see the contours and imagine the ball rolling to a spot and diving toward a tricky pin you can have a blast -- even when flying desert sand disrupts your thought process.
Just for the fun of it, I pulled a six iron on a 100-yard shot against the wind, saw the bend in the ground and rolled it up. The ball curved for the pin and stopped two feet short.
Butterfield Trail Golf Club, opened in 2007 and designed by Tom Fazio, was recently named no. 3 Best Municipal Course by Golfweek Magazine, just behind the prestigious Chambers Bay at no. 2, site of the 2015 U.S. Open Championship, and Bethpage Black, another U.S. Open host course.
Hard, fast and brown on winter dormant doesn't sound like your typical Fazio course. You are thinking of one of those over-watered, high-dollar courses somewhere other than out in the arid West. And there's no housing development.
This 7,307-yard par 72 multiple award-winner is neither. It's affordable and the only public Fazio-designed golf course in Texas laid out on a historic span of desert near the El Paso International Airport. This barren land was once part of the Butterfield Trail stagecoach route that carried the mail and passengers from Missouri to San Francisco from 1858-1861 -- a 2,800-mile run that was made in 25 days.
Fazio had a blank image of more than 175 acres to work with including natural sand dunes and plants and moved tons of desert to create some friendly bounces (many fairways funnel borderline shots back to the fairways) along with some menacing huge bunkers and waste areas that circle in two loops around two large lakes.
Few people even notice the homage to the airport-owned municipal golf course on the 13th hole, a par 4, 450 yards. Just left and in front of the green is a strip of green flowing into the hazard with two wings -- a grass airplane created by Fazio's crew to signify the owners of the course.
Butterfield Trail Golf Club: The routing
Originally, Fazio was faced with only 12 feet of elevation changes, but the bulldozers and shapers created 55 feet, including the par-3 17th hole that plays downhill 233 yards.
Since the course is at 4,000 feet in elevation fairway, over-seeding is not on the agenda, and in the winter when the fairways are dormant, you can get a lot of roll.
Many greens are raised, there are some blind shots and from time to time you will find an elevated mound of hazard that includes thick bushes with thorns. Forget retrieving any of those shots.
Fazio really liked the par-3 10th, a 170-yard shot that has a backdrop of the Franklin Mountains. The entire left side is a huge bunker-waste area.
Kemper Sports, which manages the course, likes to think there are 18 signature holes, and it is certainly a fun experience with a strong finish.
The 15th is a drivable par 4 of 343 yards; No. 16 is a dogleg left of 510 yards, a lengthy par 4 from the back tees. After the above noted 17th, the finale is a stay-to-the-left par 5 of 566 yards, normally against the wind. A lake takes up much of the right side and cozies up to the green, making your third shot a demanding, pinpoint adventure.
Butterfield Trail G.C.: The verdict
Many times I've left a Fazio course thinking I just putted on the hood of a Dodge pickup. But Butterfield Trail wasn't that severe.
"In the summer, however, we can get the greens rolling 11 to 12 on the Stimp meter," said Jorge Diaz, golf operations manager. "We have the best greens in town, and I think our visiting golfers love the scenery, the views and we pride ourselves in being the only full-service golf experience in El Paso.”
By "full service" Diaz means you will be greeted at your car in the parking lot; there's a great driving range and practice area, there's bottled water located throughout the course, clubs will be cleaned at the end of your round and assistants to drive you out to your car.
The course is home of the University of Texas-El Paso Miners golf teams, who must enjoy the restaurant, Salida del Sol, for breakfast and lunch, including patio seating to take in the mountain views.
Check the club's Web site (butterfieldtrailgolf.com) for stay-and-play packages, and soak in the culture of the Old West and that stagecoach line that was so instrumental to the history of settling America's west. There's a historical plaque in front of the clubhouse doors.
For another Fazio experience, you will have to head that way -- the closest Fazio design to El Paso is Ventana Canyon in Tucson.
If you want to make a two-day golf trip out of it try the city-owned Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course, a 27-hole layout on the north side of town, not far away. It's an excellent option.