Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course and Butterfield Trail help raise the bar

Back in the 1970s, there was just a handful of public golf courses in the El Paso, Texas area and most of them were sub-mediocre, at best. A couple had very little grass on them, so 400-plus-yard drives were the norm because they never stopped rolling, and dings in your clubs were common because of all the rocks just off the fairways.

Today, there still aren't a lot of options for the daily-fee player in the Sun City when you consider how large El Paso is (more than 700,000 people), but it has improved by leaps and bounds with a couple of real nice additions in the past 20 years.

Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course , a 27-hole layout on the north side of town, and the more recent venue, Butterfield Trail Golf Club , have pushed the golf envelope dramatically on this west Texas border town.

Painted Dunes, which is designed by respected architects Ken Dye and Jeffrey Brauer, has really come back in recent years to provide excellent playing conditions on interesting layouts at bargain prices.

Butterfield Trail, a signature Tom Fazio design, is flat-out one of the top daily-fee golf courses in Texas if not the entire Southwest. From the very first hole, the views are stunning; so much, in fact, that it's hard to believe you're in El Paso.

Fazio moved half the planet to create mounding, sloping fairways, huge waste bunkers and large greens that almost take you out of the desert and into a semi-Scottish setting at times.

The El Paso International Airport owns Butterfield Trail, so visitors can fly in and get out to the course in a matter of minutes. The airport also owns Lone Star Golf Club , which is the former Cielo Vista Golf Course. In recent years, Lone Star has been completely revamped - new greens, bunkers, etc. -- and is a pretty decent test as a 6,800-yard par 71.

In a testament to the poor local golf economy, El Paso has gained a couple of other public venues. Vista Hills Country Club and Emerald Springs Golf Conference Center used to be fully private but are both open for public play now.

Other options in the El Paso area include Dos Lagos Golf Club (Anthony, N.M.) and Ascarate Municipal Golf Course . You can also venture up I-10 to Las Cruces, N.M., to play New Mexico State University Golf Course and Sonoma Ranch Golf Course . Both are excellent and less than an hour from El Paso.

Dining in El Paso

If you like Mexican food, this is your place. One of the fun things to do is discover some of the hole-in-the-wall places that serve up authentic fare passed down from generations who have lived here.

There are a couple of places, however, that are can't miss if you truly like Mexican the way it should be prepared, without all the chile con carne and yellow cheeses that you find on a lot of Tex-Mex in the rest of the state.

Carlos and Mickey's Mexican Restaurant, located just minutes from the airport, serves a dish called the "Revolution." It features a sampling of the restaurant's best items, including a dynamite chile relleno.

Another El Paso institution, Fortis Mexican Elder, features a vast array of dishes, including terrific green chile enchiladas and tamales. Both places serve up perfect Margaritas, as well.

Lodging and things to do in El Paso

El Paso, which means "pass of the north" in Spanish, is more than 400 years old. It served as a stop for stagecoaches and the railroad, and it is a major border crossing between Mexico and the United States (sister city Juarez approaches two million in population).

Today, you can get there by plane (most recommended) by flying any one of several airlines into the city's ample airport. Or you can make the long drive down I-10 from San Antonio or Houston, I-20 from Dallas or I-10 from locations west, such as Phoenix and Los Angeles.

By the way, Los Angeles, at approximately 700 miles, is closer to El Paso than Houston.

Sports enthusiasts can enjoy football and basketball from the University of Texas-El Paso as well as Diablos minor league baseball and horse racing. There are also plenty of museums, old Spanish missions and one of the country's largest military installations, Fort Bliss Army Base.

El Paso offers hundreds of hotels, such as the Airport Holiday Inn, Radisson, Hyatt and the historic Camino Real located in El Paso's revitalized downtown.

Many of the hotels offer packages with local golf courses.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course and Butterfield Trail help raise the bar
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