On The Road In New Mexico: Santa Fe Trails No One In State's Scenic Golf

By David R. Holland, Contributor

SANTA FE, NM -- They came seeking a better life, pleasant weather and treasures -- dry goods proprietors and snake oil salesmen, cattle barons and cattle rustlers, gold and silver seekers and claim jumpers.

Founded in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States, but the Pueblo Indians have called it home for more than 1,000 years. Spanish colonists ventured here in 1598 to establish Santa Fe as Spain's throne of power north of the Rio Grande River.

Nestled at 7,000 feet, in sight of the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains, part of the Canada to Mexico Rocky Mountain chain, the old city of 70,000 is trendy chic and attracts celebrities from around the globe for its art galleries and museums and the chance to be left alone.

Today, on the world-famous Plaza at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, residents enjoy a mild climate throughout the year. That equals unparalleled outdoors possibilities -- hiking, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, sailing, rock climbing, river rafting and nature photography. Drive just 18 miles from the downtown Plaza and skiers scoot downhill and traverse cross-country slopes in the winter.

And lest we forget, world-class golf.

Just in the Santa Fe area, one could tee it up for mountain golf at a cool elevation of 8,400 feet at Angel Fire or negotiate the 100-foot Ponderosa pines at Pendaries in the morning, then jump in the SUV and cap off a 36-hole day on high-desert courses at Taos Country Club, Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe or the brand-new Towa Golf Club on the Pojoaque Pueblo.

It's hard to believe that just a few seasons ago, public links lovers had no opportunities for year-round golf in this artsy part of the Land of Enchantment. That's when the city built Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe in 1998 and the face of golf changed forever.

Last September, the golf scene got even more handsome with the grand opening of Towa Golf Resort's first 18 holes of a planned 36-hole complex. And a high-end 350-room Hilton Hotel is also scheduled for construction.

Located in the scenic Pojoaque Valley, where red-dirt arroyos and sandstone rock formations provide scenic golf backdrops similar to Grand Junction, Colorado's award-winning Redlands Mesa, Towa is located just 15 minutes north of Santa Fe, where the Pojoaque Indian population is a mere 300.

Towa, dotted with piñons and junipers, has all the ingredients for stardom in New Mexico, just two years after Paa-Ko Ridge, situated in the eastern foothills of the Sandia Mountains high above Albuquerque, took national awards, and a year after the Santa Ana Pueblo opened its stunning Twin Warriors Golf Club. Towa is a sure bet to rank in the state's top five.

But Towa's two layouts, designed by Hale Irwin and Bill Phillips, aren't the only new golf resorts in the Santa Fe area. The Santa Clara Pueblo, just 15 more minutes north of Towa, is prepping Black Mesa Golf Course, designed by Baxter Spann, for a tentative September premier. A resort hotel is also planned along with another 18 holes.

The bonanza of new courses has Santa Fe golfers giggling, but it has water conservationists seething. All of that may be worked out in the courts. Many residents of Santa Fe are trying to put a limit on how much water is used by area golf courses and they lay a guilt trip on them daily with irate Letters to the Editor in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

How About Towa's Quality?

Towa's Director of Golf Fadel Nahle says golfers love the views and the layout.

"I've been at facilities before where people tell me they like the layout and then walk away," Nahle said. "Here, especially with the golfers from back east, they want to sit down with me and talk for 30 minutes about what they liked about the course."

Because of the drought in the western part of the USA, Towa has struggled with its conditioning. "We tell people when they call we aren't ready, condition-wise," Nahle continued. "So we haven't had any major complaints."

The views and the shot values on this Arizona target-styled 18 will make you forget about the bare spots in the fairways. Initially the course was seeded, but more holes are being sodded to fill in bare areas every day. However, the bentgrass greens and tees are excellent.

Interestingly, Towa decided to open Irwin's Piñon Nine, a par 36, 3,615 yards, and Phillips' Boulder Nine, a par 36, 3,640 yards, first. The second stage will include Irwin's Valley Nine, another par 36, 3,575 yards and Phillips' Butterfly Nine, par 36, 3,380 yards.

"The Butterfly Nine has six of nine holes seeded now," said Nahle, "but we will wait until next year to seed the Valley Nine. The entire 36 holes won't be open until some time in 2004."

"I think we were sensitive to the site," said Phillips, whose Phillips Golf Design is based in Tempe, AZ. "We walked it many times trying to get a feel for the topography and routed it through the desert washes to keep it as natural as possible. Very little dirt was moved to create the layout. The piñon-juniper elevation range and the rock outcroppings became our artist's palette."

New Mexico's only island green is found on Irwin's Boulder No. 4. It is 186 yards from the back to this 8,200-square foot green located in the middle of an irrigation lake. To make it even more interesting, Irwin surrounded the green with sand.

Towa's $39 green fees for New Mexico residents, $29 for state seniors and $49 for non-residents puts it in the category of Best New Affordable Golf Course in the USA, the coveted award given annually by Golf Digest. As soon as Towa's conditioning achieves an A rating, it might just qualify for the list.

Pendaries: Northern New Mexico's Hidden Gem

A diminutive Texan, C.D. (Toad) Leon arrived in Rociada, N.M., in the 1960s looking for a place to cool off in the summer, raise cattle, ride horses and play golf. Forty years later, the 92-year-old is still alive and his legacy will live on thanks to an 18-hole course he developed in the shadows of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just above Las Vegas, N.M.

"It's a pretty interesting story how this course came about," said Pat Patrick of Pendaries. "Leon first laid out three holes and people came to him wanting to buy a golf course lot. He kept adding holes as more people wanted to buy a lot on the course."

Veterans of Pendaries say Leon would hit a three wood and at the spot where the ball stopped is where he would put a dogleg. By 1973, Pendaries was a 12-hole par-48.

At the time, Leon claimed he had the world's best 12-hole golf course.

Today, Pendaries is a full 18 holes, thanks to some design help from Donald Burns, and is the best-kept secret in Northern New Mexico. Pendaries is the definition of a hidden gem. The conditions are excellent and the golf is affordable, challenging and scenic. The weather is mountain cool situated at 7,500 feet which attracts many from Oklahoma and Texas during the summer.

"It is not a long course on the scorecard at 6,080 yards," said pro Larry Webb, "but the greens can be tricky and they have subtle breaks. Many holes are tight with tall pines, and some water, but the fairways generally slope back to the middle."

Another story locals tell was chronicled in Leon's biography, "What Made Wyatt Urp" by Bob Lapham. It concerns the signature hole, No. 9, a 427-yard dogleg right with a blind approach shot. During a competition, Leon let his Graham, Texas adversaries see the pin placement before the round, but had his staff change the pin position as soon as the group headed for hole No. 1. Needless to say, Leon won the hole.

The resort's name comes from Jean Pendaries (pronounced Pan-da-ray), who moved from France and settled in nearby Las Vegas, N.M. He built and operated the Plaza Hotel until 1875 and then sold the hotel and began buying property at Rociada. He built a saw mill and followed that with the Grist Mill and homestead. Both buildings are still standing.

Pendaries has a lodge and restaurant and its RV Park is located in a valley tucked between the Santa Fe National Forest and the Carson National Forest.

For more Land of Enchantment golf, read last year's On The Road In New Mexico story about Albuquerque's area gems, including Paa-Ko Ridge and Twin Warriors at www.travelgolf.com/newmexico3.htm.

A Capsule Look At The Santa Fe Area's Best Golf Courses:

Towa Golf Resort
17746 US Hwy 84/285
Santa Fe, N.M. 87506
Internet: www.towagolf.com, www.citiesofgold.com.
Telephone: Toll Free: 877-465-3489 or (505)455-9000.

The Towa Golf Resort is located 15 minutes north of the Santa Fe Plaza on Highway 84/285. Designed by Hale Irwin, former U.S. Open champion, and Bill Phillips, this 36-hole course (18 now open) features mountain vistas, red-earth arroyos and washes, sandstone-rock outcroppings and southwestern terrain. "Towa" means "The People" in Tewa, the native language of the Pojoaque Pueblo.

Friendly service is second to none. Electric golf cars are equipped with Global Positioning Satellite tracking. The clubhouse, with panoramic views of the Pojoaque Valley and the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains, is approximately 7,300-square feet. It features a pro shop, dining room, bar and club storage.

Black Mesa Golf Club
Española, N.M.
Telephone: (505)747-8946

Black Mesa Golf Club, set to open in September, is located 15 minutes north of Towa Golf Resort on U.S. Highway 84/285 near Española on the way to Taos. Designed by Baxter Spann, partner of Ken Dye, this 7,359-yard par 72, will have six sets of tees and is part of the Santa Clara Pueblo. The course features uphill and downhill holes with few trees.

Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe
205 Caja del Rio
Sante Fe, N.M. 87505
Telephone: (505)438-5202
Course Review: www.travelgolf.com/sanchez1.htm

Designed by Baxter Spann, this is a beautiful course set in piñon-juniper land. The complex also has The Great 28, a par 28 with eight par 3s and one par 4. It's a favorite for beginners. A quality bargain.

Santa Fe Country Club
Airport Road and N.M. Highway 599.
Santa Fe, N.M. 87501
Telephone: (505) 471-0601

Founded in 1946, this is a wide-open, 18-hole, par 72 public golf course. Golfers play about 45,000 rounds here each season. The course measures between 7,098 yards from the championship tees to 5,862 yards at the forward tees and offers a putting green, pitching green and practice range. In 1949, Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret held an exhibition match here.

Angel Fire Country Club
Drawer B,
Angel Fire, N.M. 87710
Telephone: (505)377-3055
Course Review:http://www.golfarizona.com/angel.htm.

A scenic mountain course at 8,400-foot altitude in tall Ponderosa pines. Open May to October. A popular spot for Texans in the summer looking to cool off.

Taos Country Club
Hwy. 570 West
Rancho de Taos, N.M. 87557
Telephone: (505) 758-7300, 800-758-7375

Desert course, located at the base of the Taos Mountains, with scenic views of nearby Taos Box Canyon. The desert in heavy sagebrush comes into play on almost all the holes and is played as a lateral hazard. Rated No. 4 in the state by Golf Digest, this Jep Wille design opened in 1993. Features rolling desert landscape and arroyos at 7,000 feet in elevation.

Cochiti Lake
Pueblo de Cochiti Golf Course
5200 Cochiti Hwy.,
Cochiti Lake, N.M. 87083
Telephone: (505) 465-2239

A Robert Trent Jones Jr. desert design at the foot of the Jemez Mountains. Juniper and Ponderosa pines border the fairways. Great vistas with fast, difficult greens. Opened in 1981.

Los Alamos Golf Course
4250 Diamond Drive
Los Alamos, N.M.
Telephone: (505)662-8139
Internet: www.vla.com/golf.

This layout is nestled atop the scenic mesas below the Jemez Mountains. Los Alamos Golf Course offers a challenging 6,500-yard par 72, 18-hole layout. The track winds through a multitude of Ponderosa pines and cottonwood trees with sloping fairways and small push-up greens. Hole No. 18, a 485-yard, par 5, will give walkers a workout with its double-dogleg fairway that plays uphill all the way.

1 Country Club Drive
Rociada, N.M. 87742
Telephone: (505) 425-9890

Pendaries was developed by C.D. Toad Leon from tiny Rule, Texas. He built a movie theatre empire in West Texas before television was in every home. Read about his interesting life in his biography "What Made Wyatt Urp" by Bob Lapham, a former sports writer and editor for The Abilene Reporter-News. The book was published by Barbed Wire Publishing, 1990 East Lohman Avenue, Suite 225, Las Cruces, N.M. 88001. Internet: www.barbed-wire.net. E-mail: thefolks@barbed-wire.net. Telephone: 888-817-1990.

Pendaries Green Fees $32 weekdays, $40 weekends. Carts $24. Call for junior rates or any recent price changes. Getting There: From Albuquerque, take I-25 north to Las Vegas, 7th Street north 12 miles to Sapello, Rt. 105 west 12 miles to entrance and guard house; stay on the paved road to the second guard house then follow the signs. Email: pendaries@newmexico.com Internet: www.pendaries.net. Golf Packages: www.pendaries.net/golf.html.

Where to Stay, Santa Fe Area

Cities of Gold Hotel
10-A Cities of Gold Road
US Hwy 84/285
Santa Fe, N.M. 87501
Telephone: 877-455-0515.

The Cities of Gold Hotel has 124 deluxe guest rooms. There's an on-site Guest Laundry, Gift Shop and restaurant. Amenities include free shuttle transportation to the Santa Fe Plaza, free valet shuttle to the Casino, complimentary parking. Internet: www.citiesofgold.com. Email: reservations@citiesofgold.com.

El Rey Inn
1862 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, N.M.
Telephone: 800-521-1349, 505-982-1931.
Internet: www.elreyinnsantafe.com.
The Inn has rooms that start at $85 and include complimentary continental breakfast, year-round hot tub cabana, in-season outdoor pool, courtyard sauna and sunken whirlpool, and gardens.

Pendaries Lodge
Box 820
Rociada, N.M. 87742
Lodge Reservations: (800) 733-5267

The Pendaries Lodge has 18 rooms that have recently been upgraded. Roll-a-way beds for families are available. There are also additional accommodations available in summer homes. The full-service restaurant serves dinner daily. Breakfast and lunch is served at the Club House near the Golf Shop. Enjoy a drink in the historic Moosehead Saloon. The Conference Center seats 80 for meetings and is also available for banquets. The restaurant, seating 100, provides the opportunity for banquets of larger groups. Log on to: www.pendaries.net/accommodations.html for information. Email: pendaries@newmexico.com.

Other Choices in Santa Fe

La Fonda Hotel, 800-523-5002 or 505-982-5511. Hotel St. Francis 800-529-5700, or 505-983-5700, 505-992-6342. The Shed, 505-982-9030 The Ore House, 505-983-8687.

Where to Dine

Dave's Not Here, 505-983-7060, is located at 1115 Hickox St. This restaurant has been a popular gathering place for almost 20 years. Favorites are homemade chiles rellenos, blue corn chicken enchiladas, chimichangas, the big Greek salad and Dave's famous 9-ounce hamburger. Domestic and imported beers go well, or try the house wine. If you have room, the homemade desserts such as ice cream pie and mile-high chocolate cake add the finishing touch.

What to Do

Check out these museums and galleries: Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, 505-946-1000, Galerie Zger, 505-984-5099, Palace of the Governors, 505-476-5100, Museum of Fine Arts, 505-476-5072, Mountain Trails Gallery, 800-775-0203 or 505-988-3444, and Wyeth Hurd Gallery, 505-989-8380.

History of Santa Fe

The Anasazis were Santa Fe's first inhabitants. They were composed of several language groups: Tanoan (subdivided into Tiwa, Tewa and Towa), Keresan, Zuni and Hopi, which is of the Uto Aztecan group. The Towa people were perhaps the first to migrate to the Rio Grande Valley.

The end of the Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe, New Mexico (originating in Missouri) is just the beginning of a place rich in history, a place like no other. The 47th state admitted to the union in 1912, New Mexico is a combination of the Apache and Navajo Indians that first inhabited the region and the Spanish settlers that later moved in. This portion of the state includes cities and towns like Santa Fe, Las Vegas, Wagon Mound, La Cueva, Mora and Pecos.

In the pueblo of San Juan you will find the first church constructed in North America dating back to 1598.

Beginning in the 1920s, artists and writers flocked to the Santa Fe/Taos region due to its natural beauty. The area welcomed such artists as D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams.

Other Helpful Websites

Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau:
800-777-2489, www.santafe.org
New Mexico Department of Tourism:
800-545-2040, www.newmexico.org
Taos Chamber of Commerce:
800-732-8267, www.taoschamber.com

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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