Painted Dunes Desert Golf Club in El Paso: With lush fairways and desert fringes, it's like Arizona in Texas
EL PASO, Texas -- Painted Dunes Desert Golf Club, a true desert golf course, is certainly unique in the landscape of Texas golf.
Far away from the traditional parkland layouts of the early Texas inner cities, all you have to know is some geography to discover why this affordable, but upscale city municipal, is kin more to Arizona than to Dallas.
First of all, El Paso is closer to Phoenix than to Houston. It is also closer to four state capitals than it is to its own capital of Austin.
But don't think of this far West Texas city as a lonesome boondocks nowhere, either. As part of the greater Juarez, Mexico and Las Cruces, N.M. population center, it's the largest international metroplex in the world, with 2.3 million inhabitants.
And it has mountain views -- the Franklin Mountains frame many golf shots -- a view you certainly can't get in Fort Worth, Dallas or Houston.
This desert-style links layout, designed by Ken Dye of New Mexico's Pinon Hills and Paa-Ko Ridge design fame, is packaged around artificial mounding, small lakes and traverses toward large undulating bentgrass greens, which typical of Dye, are elevated and surrounded by treacherous bunkers well below the putting surfaces.
During this visit, Painted Dunes was depriving the greens of water, hoping it would kill out some poa annua. The greens were pretty ugly, with bare and brown spots. But they putted fairly well.
The fairways were green and lush, something you don't see very often in Texas, unless it is an upscale country club or resort with lots of money dedicated to water.
Because the landscape is very flat only 100,000 cubic yards of dirt were moved in construction. One will see native cacti, mesquite, creosote bushes and Mormon tea plants, which signifies the area was once used as a trail by pioneers. But even with the flatness, on a couple of tees you might have to go on tip-toes to see over a forced carry of six-foot high bushes.
Since it opened in 1991, Painted Dunes has been one of the most acclaimed municipal golf courses in Texas, although it's getting recent competition from Euless' Texas Star and Arlington's Tierra Verde.
Five different sets of tees give the golfers a choice of playing the East-West nine combination at 6,925 yards or less. Painted Dunes opened a third nine designed by Jeff Brauer, the North, in 1998.
"I think the golfers like the bentgrass greens and the desert-style links layout," said assistant pro Ron Decker. "There are lots of undulations out there and in the past we were really known for the real tough knee-high swirling love grass, but there's not as much of it any more. People recognize it as the toughest golf course in the area, for sure."
Painted Dunes has hosted three PGA Tour qualifying events (1994-96), and is where New Mexican Notah Begay earned his card.
"I play this course twice a year and I look forward to it every time," said Bob Jordan. "It is a true desert course designed with great imagination. It's also a terrific value even on the weekends. My compliments to the City of El Paso for providing for an opportunity to play a ‘high end' course and still making it affordable."
No. 8 on the East, a par 3, 149-yarder, is guarded by water on the left side to a large green. No. 2 on the West uses the same pond on a 173-yarder. The view from the tee is obscured somewhat, so you have to make the right decision and take enough club. Overall, the par threes are very challenging.
Dye presents the golfer with ample driving space, but the mounding and numerous fairway bunkers can cause problems. The real difficulty comes on the approach shot. Dye demands accuracy or the penalty of deep bunkers. Most likely on any Dye course you will be muttering about how close you came to a good shot, only to see it hit short, and bounce dramatically left or right into a hazard.
Painted Dunes Desert Golf Club: Desert water
Water is a challenge for any desert golf course. At Painted Dunes, the use of treated waste water has recharged the Hueco Bolsonaquifer. The greater El Paso-Juarez uses it for 65 percent of its water.
Today, this area's treated waste water is processed by the Fred Hervey Water Reclamation Plant and then injected into the bottom of the Hueco Bolson Aquifer. It's a process known as aquifer storage and recovery. The balance of the water is sold to the El Paso Electric Company for its cooling towers, to the Painted Dunes Golf Course and the Bowen cattle ranch for irrigation.
The term "bolson" refers to the sediment-filled basin bounded by the Franklin Mountains on the West, and lower divides and valleys on its remaining boundaries. Built in 1985, the 10-million gallon-a-day Fred Hervey Water Reclamation Plant treats waste water from the northeast side of El Paso to Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards, then conveys the water to the three end users. Within the aquifer, reclaimed wastewater mixes with groundwater, shoring up aquifer reserves. About 15 percent of El Paso's water needs are met by reclaimed water.