SANTA FE, N.M. -- Perhaps one of the country's most underrated and overlooked golf destinations is in the Santa Fe-Taos area of New Mexico. While the golf courses may be relatively few in number by Arizona and Texas standards, the quality of golf in northern New Mexico is as good as its ski resorts, outdoors and arts community.
And its weather -- especially if you like four seasons.
In the spring, mild summers and fall, you can go fly fishing, hiking, canoeing or play golf in and around the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains, just north of the capital city of Santa Fe. What's really cool around here is that during certain times of year, you can play golf and ski on the same day.
During the winter and early spring, there's great skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing at locales such as Taos, Wildfire and just outside Santa Fe. Although it isn't cheap, you'll find that skiing in New Mexico is more affordable than some of the trendier places farther north in the Rocky Mountains in states such as Colorado and Wyoming.
Also known as "The Different City," Santa Fe ranks as the country's third-largest art market with nearly 300 galleries and dealers. It is home to more than a dozen major museums and the Santa Fe Opera. It's also a great dining town, with not only basic New Mexican food and Southwestern cuisine but also authentic Italian, French, Asian and other world cuisines.
Why should you consider a golf vacation to Santa Fe and northern New Mexico? Here's a look:
Five memorable golf courses in northern New Mexico
One of my all-time favorite golf courses anywhere -- not just in New Mexico -- is Black Mesa Golf Club. Designed by Baxter Spann, of Finger, Dye and Spann in Houston, this is one of the most scenic and fun golf courses in America.
Located just north of Santa Fe, Black Mesa is listed on Golfweek's America's Best Modern Course list and for good reason. The 7,307-yard, par-72 course is laid out in stark contrast to dramatic sandstone ridges and moon-like rock formations, with Black Mesa visible from much of the golf course. You won't find any homes here, just dramatic elevation changes and views of the surrounding mountains as far as the eye can see.
While Black Mesa is probably one of the more expensive courses to play -- and well worth it, I might add -- another Baxter Spann design that's quite a bit cheaper to play should be on your list, too. Named in honor of a young accomplished local golfer who tragically died of cancer at age 24 in 1991, Marty Sanchez Links in Santa Fe is one of several terrific municipal golf courses in New Mexico.
This 7,415-yard, par-72 championship course has five sets of tees, suitable for players of all levels. Fairways are long and generally concave, with lightly undulating, mid-sized greens. The par-3 course at Marty Sanchez, The Great 28, was named one of Travel+Leisure Golf's "Top Five Big Little Courses."
If boosting your ego is on the agenda, check out Angel Fire Resort Golf Course and C.C. in the northeast corner of the state. The elevation at Angel Fire -- a 6,645-yard par 72 -- is 8,700 feet. The green on the 200-yard, par-3 sixth hole is some 200 feet below the tee. The course runs through canyons and mountain meadows with water in play on 16 holes.
A couple more to recommend include Taos Country Club, a 7,300-yard course located in historic Rancho de Taos, and Towa Golf Club at Buffalo Thunder Resort just north of Santa Fe. Taos C.C. has hosted numerous state events, including the Sun Country PGA Championship, the New Mexico State Amateur and the New Mexico State Senior Championship. And the 36 holes at Towa Golf Club, meant to be played in various configurations, has a terrific setting with panoramic views of the Pojoaque Valley, Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains.
Also, as a bonus, head to the northwest part of the state to Farmington for another great municipal and bargain, if you have the time. Pinon Hills Golf Course, designed by Houston's Ken Dye, is still only $40 or so for out-of-towners to play and worth every penny. At 7,249 yards, this par 72 features contoured greens and plenty of deep bunkers. Chosen by Golf Digest in 2002 as the No. 1 public course in America, Pinon Hills is set among scenic mesas in a semi-desert terrain with bountiful pinon trees.
Where to stay and eat
There are plenty of hotels, but northern New Mexico and the Santa Fe area, specifically, are known for their spas, and there are many. Among them is the Casa De Estrellas Luxury Inn & Spa, Angel Fire Resort and the Buffalo Thunder Resort & Resort.
In Santa Fe, the dining choices are seemingly endless, but if you're looking for authentic local fare, you might want to try La Casa Sena, which is located in the historic Sena Plaza, featuring American Southwestern cuisine and a wine list of more than 1,800 selections. One of Santa Fe's favorite lunch spots is The Compound on Canyon Road, which features indoor and outdoor dining, a fresh seasonal menu and a relaxed pace, or you can try the Coyote Cantina, an outdoor, rooftop extension of the well known Coyote Cafe.
In Taos, check out Joseph's Table, located in the Hotel La Fonda de Taos, Joseph's Table provides a unique ambiance and perhaps an even more imaginative menu of American/Mediterranean food.