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Writing from the capital of Santa Fe on April 23, 1706, the governor of New Mexico, Francisco Cuervo y Valdés, prepared a letter that was to be sent to the King of Spain and the viceroy of New Spain. In the letter, Valdés told his superiors that he had founded a new villa ... "on the banks and in the valley of the River to the North in a place of good fields, waters, pastures and timber, distant of this villa of Santa Fe about twenty-two leagues." In passing, the governor also mentioned that this new community some sixty miles south of the capital had been named "...Villa of Albuquerque." (Whether this was a stroke job, an obvious attempt to gain permanent appointment as governor, is hard to say. It could just have been a coincidence that he had named the fertile area in honor of his immediate boss the viceroy - Fernandez de la Cueva, Duque de Albuquerque. Yeah, right.)
In concluding the letter, Valdés said, "There are now thirty-two families located there, comprising 252 persons, adults and children. The Church has been completed ... the government buildings have been begun, and other houses of the settlers are finished with their corrals, irrigation ditches running, fields sowed - all without any expense to the Royal Treasury ... P.S. This would be a great place for a golf course."
Ok, ok, so Valdés didn't write the part about the golf course. And maybe he wasn't so hot at spelling, either ("Yo, Gov, listen up. It's Al-buh-kerky, not Al-bur-kerky.") He was, however, correct about the "good fields, waters, pastures and timber" all around Albuquerque. And had he hung on for another 300 years, he would've learned what so many architects have learned over the last several decades: it is a great place for a golf course. And there are a bunch of them.
Perhaps because New Mexico is the fifth biggest state in the union, there are some very big layouts here. Albuquerque's brand new Sandia Golf Club, for example - GOLF Magazine has already named it one of the "Best New Courses You Can Play" - measures a mind-numbing 7,772 yards from the back tees. Yep, you read that right: seven thousand, seven hundred and seventy-two yards from the tips - including three par fives of over 600 yards and two par fours of over 500 yards. It sounds crazy, but you have to remember that 80% of New Mexico is higher than 4,000 feet in elevation, and at those heights a golf ball will travel much farther than it does at sea level. At home - in terms of distance - you might be considered "short." Out here, in the high elevation, you may find yourself driving the ball like John Daly. But hey, if the black markers are still too much, just move up to the next set. The golds are only 7,163 yards! (Don't worry: two other tees are available.) Truthfully, this is a very playable golf course, as indicated by its low slope rating from the back tees (only 125). Designed by Scott Miller and opened in June of 2005, Sandia Golf Club is a beautiful addition to the equally brand new Sandia Resort and Casino (ten miles north of downtown), owned by the Pueblo of Sandia Indians. Along with the impressive 16,000-square foot clubhouse, the resort features a 228-room hotel with rooftop restaurant, a steakhouse, a 12,000- square foot full-service spa, and 35,000 square feet of convention space. As mentioned, BIG is a byword out here.
Almost as lengthy, but not quite, is the 27-hole facility that you'll find at Isleta Eagle Resort and Casino, located less than a half hour south of Albuquerque and owned by the Pueblo of Isleta Indians. Designed by Bill Phillips and opened in 1996, Isleta Eagle offers three distinctive nines that are named for each tract's particular topographical feature: Lakes, Mesa and Arroyo. The Lakes/Mesa combination is the longest of the three, topping out at 7,554 yards from the tips. However - just as it is at Sandia - the slope ratings here are fairly low (only 131 for Lakes/Mesa), and that's a good sign that each of the nines was designed for pleasure not pain. The Arroyo/Mesa combination comes in at 7,118 yards from the tips (124 slope); the Lakes/Arroyo pair peaks at 7,082 yards (125 slope). From all three combinations, however, players are provided spectacular panoramic views of the Rio Grande Valley and nearby mountains.
Another lovely layout to think about while you're visiting Albuquerque is the championship course on the campus of the University of New Mexico. Known to local golfers as the "South Course" at UNM, this Robert "Red" Lawrence-designed tract has been a popular place to play ever since it opened in 1967 - and it still is. In 2005, in fact, Golf Digest named it the 9th best course in the state. The NCAA and Tiger Woods like it, too. The South Course was the venue for the NCAA Division I golf championships in 1976, 1992 and 1998, and it was site of Tiger's first collegiate victory when he was a student at Stanford University. A par 72 that measures 7,248 yards from the tips (four other tees are available), the South is considered one of the hilliest courses in the area and also one of the best conditioned. The fairways are wide, the putting surfaces are fairly speedy and undulating, and there are more than a few bunkers and water hazards to avoid. It's a safe bet that you will really like this layout.
For a break from golf, think about taking a side trip to Fort Sumner, roughly 2½ hours southeast of Albuquerque. It was in this western town on July 14, 1881, that the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid found himself in a famous match with Sheriff Pat Garrett. At the museum here you can see Billy's rifle, spurs and chaps, a horse-drawn hearse, and other "Wild West" memorabilia. Billy's here, too. Well his grave, anyhow. You got it: the Kid lost his match with Garrett, 1 down.
A place you definitely should visit when you're in the Albuquerque area is Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club in Sandia Park, maybe a half hour east of downtown. Designed by Ken Dye (no relation to Pete), Paa-Ko Ridge began receiving rave reviews from major golf publications from the moment it opened in 2000. In 2005, Golf Digest named it the #1 course in New Mexico and #20 on its list of "America's 100 Greatest Public Courses. GolfWeek was impressed as well, naming Paa-Ko Ridge one of the "Best Residential Golf Courses for 2005." Pardon the pun, but this stunning layout is truly "golf at the highest level": the New Mexico high desert on the east side of the Sandia Mountains. Located at elevations from 6,500 to 7,000 feet, this beautiful layout is beautifully routed through stands of Ponderosa pine, Piñion pine and Juniper trees. The site's existing features have been put to good use in other ways as well - many of the landing areas and greens are separated by arroyo, desert vegetation and rock outcroppings. It's long, too: 7,562 yards from the tips (four other tees are available). And then there's the spectacular scenery. Picture this. If you decide to put it in the air from the back tee of the 419-yard par-four 17th at Paa-Ko Ridge (and you should), you will be standing nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. Before you, in the distance, you will see 17 holes, five mountain ranges and three ski areas. One hundred feet below this tee - a single Ponderosa pine standing sentry on each side - the 17th fairway practically begs you to bust a big drive. Does that sound like fun or what? Believe it: Paa-Ko Ridge is a must play.
North of Albuquerque - roughly halfway to Santa Fe - are two other lovely layouts that you should consider putting on your play list: Santa Ana Golf Club and Twin Warriors Golf Club. Both are located near the Pueblo of Santa Ana Indian Reservation and both are owned and operated by the tribe. Santa Ana is a daily fee, 27-hole facility that Ken Killian designed in 1991. The three nines here - Tamaya, Cheena and Star - offer visiting golfers the opportunity to play a trio of interesting and attractive combinations. The longest combination, at 7,079 yards from the tips, is Tamaya/Cheena. Tamaya/Star comes next at 7,001 yards from the back tees, followed by Star/Cheena at 6,910 yards (three other sets of markers are available on all three nines). As it is at so many of the layouts around Albuquerque, the views at Santa Ana are staggering. Off to the east you'll see the Jemez Mountains; to the north is the Sangre de Cristo Range; and to the west are the majestic Sandia Mountains. Sandia Peak, by the way - at nearly 11,000 feet - is hard to miss. For an even more spectacular view, however, think about taking a ride on the tramway that goes to the top of Sandia Peak. The flight, uh, ride, is 2.7 miles long and upon touch-down you'll be treated to a view that will take your breath away: 11,000 square miles of New Mexico landscape. Just don't get so mesmerized that you forget to play Twin Warriors Golf Club (#49 on Golf Digest's 2005 list of "America's 100 Greatest Public Courses").
Designed by Arizona-based architect Gary Panks and opened in 2001, Twin Warriors is the second-longest golf course in New Mexico at 7,736 yards from the tips. Only Albuquerque's Sandia Golf Club is longer, but only by 36 yards. (C'mon, now. Surely the owners of Twin Warriors can find a place to add 37 yards. To be able to say you've got the longest course in the state? It's a no-brainer!) The course's slope rating is only 127, however, so you can be fairly sure that the goal here is not to beat you up so bad that you'll need a massage at the nearby Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa - although it would be a nice place to stay. And even though the ball does go father in New Mexico's high desert, you really don't want to take on par fours of 502, 489, 488 and 483 yards, a par five of 648 yards, and a par three of 244 yards. So pick one of the other four tees that are available and go and have a good time on one of the biggest and most beautiful golf courses that you'll find anywhere: Twin Warriors.
According to legend, in case you're wondering, it was the Twin Warriors - Mase'ewi and Uyuye'ewi - that showed the Santa Ana Pueblo the path to the Yellow Light (the Upper World), which is how they found their way to the area around Albuquerque.
If you love golf - and big, beautiful places to play it - it's a path that you should take, too.