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Fall Weather in N.M. Means Golf and Balloons

Fall Weather in N.M. Means Golf and Balloons

The best golf spots in New Mexico

Golf course   A hot air balloon, yellow and red and as big as a house, just cleared the treetops, then descended onto the course with a series of urgent “wooshes” from its burner.

The wicker gondola bounced and bumped along the fairway for about ten yards, then tipped over, awkwardly, its envelope dragging it and the balloon’s three occupants until it stopped in front of the eighth green of the University of New Mexico North Golf Course.

My playing partner, a visitor, was in awe. Me? All I saw was a colossal distraction between myself and my ball, which I’d just hit to about 15 feet from the flag.

A flag-festooned chase vehicle soon arrived, and out of the truck spilled the crew. Laughing and shouting apologies, they quickly deflated the balloon’s envelope. We waved. They waved. Then they packed up and drove off, laughing. A happy, well-lubricated bunch, I thought, for 9 a.m. on a Sunday. Sadly, I missed my birdie putt.

The spectacle was repeated all over town as balloons landed on golf courses, alfalfa fields and vacant lots – any space large enough for a balloon and a chase crew.

Balloonists, I realized, come here for the same reason golfers do: brisk mornings that warm quickly, plenty of sunshine and generally light winds. So, if you’re here for the balloons, or you live here year-round, this is prime golf season, so grab those sticks from the garage and get outside and smell the aroma of growing green grass before, sadly, it turns brown all too soon.

Here are some picks:

Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club, (paakoridge.com; 505-281-6000) Perennially recognized on the two top national golf magazines’ Top 100 lists, Paa-Ko was carved by designer Ken Dye through a hilly piñon and juniper forest. No two holes are alike, which means you can vividly replay your round in your mind’s eye – the mark of a truly great golf course.

Sandia Golf Club (sandiagolf.com; 505-798-3990) Sandia Pueblo’s golf course designed by Scott Miller (We-Ko-Pa Cholla Course, Couer d’alene Resort) is just across Interstate 25 from the balloon fiesta’s launch field. Twelve of Sandia’s 18 holes play toward the 10,600-foot-high Sandia Peak. The course’s forgiving resort design gives high-handicap players a fighting chance at finding errant shots, but its greens can be merciless.

Santa Ana Golf Club (mynewmexicogolf.com; 505-867-9464) This 27-hole Ken Killian-designed daily-fee property would rank as the top daily-fee course in almost any other U.S. city, but the friendliness of Santa Ana’s staff makes it No. 1 in service locally. On-property is the Prairie Star Restaurant, acclaimed for its wine cellar and its New Mexican interpretation of continental cuisine.

Twin Warriors Golf Club (mynewmexicogolf.com; 505-771-6155) A sister course to Santa Ana, Twin Warriors, designed by Arizona architect Gary Panks (Grayhawk Golf Club Talon Course), is a 7,500-yard modified desert links design that has hosted the national championship for PGA of America club pros. It’s the on-property amenity to the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa.

University of New Mexico Championship Golf Club (unmgolf.com; 505-277-4546) Red Lawrence (The Wigwam, Desert Forest) built this hilly test in 1966 that’s hosted NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s National Golf Championships.

Also in Albuquerque: The Canyon Club (formerly Four Hills Country Club); Arroyo del Oso Golf Course, an Albuquerque municipal course; Isleta Eagle Golf Course, 27 holes; and UNM North, a nine-hole course on the main UNM campus.

A short drive north is Cochiti Golf Club (cochitigolfclub.com; 505-465-2230). In 1981, Robert Trent Jones Jr. cut this target-style course through spectacular red-rock canyons on Cochiti Pueblo. There are no houses or highways near the course, and no sounds except the wind in the trees and the crack of your golf shot.

In Santa Fe is Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe (linksdesantafe.com; 505-955-4400). “Marty,” as it’s called, is a city-owned modified desert links course designed by Baxter Spann. It’s just 15 minutes west of the Santa Fe Plaza and offers a last-minute alternative to gallery-crawling or shopping.

Winter Golf Getaways

An hour’s flight time from Albuquerque gets you to Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, where sunshine, the scent of oleander and balmy days are a recipe for ideal golfing from November through March.

For high-end golf, try TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, the venue each February for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. For a more affordable round, the TPC’s Champions Course gives you the same championship conditions at a fraction of the price.

Other Valley of the Sun picks: Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation’s We-Ko-Pa Golf Club and its two 18-hole venues, the Cholla and Saguaro courses, north of Fountain Hills; Papago Golf Course, a Phoenix municipal course; and McCormick Ranch Golf Club in the heart of old Scottsdale.

A couple hours away by air is Palm Springs, Calif., long derided as “God’s Western Waiting Room.” But in the last decade, the Coachella Valley has grown in national stature as a golf destination: Its offerings include Indian Wells Golf Resort’s two courses, arguably two of the most beautiful municipal golf courses in the United States; PGA West’s TPC Stadium Course by Pete Dye; and the Classic Club, an Arnold Palmer design.

 Dan Vukelich is editor of ABQ Free Press Weekly. He was previously editor of Sun Country Golf, New Mexico’s statewide golf magazine. Reach him at editor@freeabq.com

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Dan Vukelich is a writer and former editor of ABQ Free Press.

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