Black Mesa Golf Club – Espanola, NM

For my first round in New Mexico, I went right for the top. Black Mesa Golf Club was designed by Baxter Span of Finger Dye Spann Architect Group, who are responsible for other New Mexico golf gems as Pinon Hills and Paa-Ko Ridge (more on this course in another post). Black Mesa won Golf Digest’s Best Affordable Public Course award in 2003. Black Mesa has even been featured on Golf Club Atlas.

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I have been wanting to play this course since I laid eyes on it. The scenery, the way the course fits naturally into the land, the simplicity of the clubhouse and grill area. The dirt/gravel paths. Everything about this place is pure golf.

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The course has great practice facilities. The range is expansive and gives you a good feel on how its altitude, around 5500 feet, will affect your shots. This was my first round at altitude, so it took a few range balls to really get the feel of how much farther my shots would go. There’s also a great short game area and a couple of different putting greens.

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I normally play from the white or blue tees back home, around 6000-6500 yards. I played Black Mesas from the Blues, which are over 6700 yards. While I would never play a course that long back in the OINK area, the altitude made it play more like 6200 yards.

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I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the 385 yard par 4 first hole in person. From the Black and Blue tees, the player can’t see much of the expansive fairway. The only part of the hole the player can see is that 80 yards and in. The player can try to drive close to the green, but bunkers and desert must be carried. There’s an aiming flag to help guide the golfer into the right area. The conservative tee shot is nothing more than a fairway wood or hybrid. While certainly not as intimating as Tobacco Road’s opener, it’s certainly not the friendliest either.

The par 4 2nd is the first of a number of holes at Black Mesa where the player must decide how safe they want to play it. A bailout is towards the right side of the fairway, leaving the player with an uneven and longer second shot. If the player decides to take on the left side of the fairway, they will have a more level shot, leaving no more than a short iron into the green.

The fourth (par 4, ) is one of the most difficult holes on the course. I would go as far to say toughest on the front 9. From the tips, the landing area of the fairway is completely out of view off the tee. The more forward tees are positioned in a way to expose more of the fairway. As there is at the 1st hole, there is a flag on top of the hill to help guide the player on where to place their tee shot. The bailout is to the left side, but leaves a blind approach to the green. If the player chooses to take on the right side, they will have a better angle at the green, but one can’t forget about the surrounding desert.

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The 356 yard short par 4 7th is one of two world-class short par 4s at Black Mesa. The player has plenty of options. A long iron off the tee should keep you short of the bunkers, but can lead to a difficult second shot. A fairway wood testing the right side can give you a great look at the green with a wedge. Or you can go for broke, taking on the green and hoping for the best.

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The green is multi-tiered, so hitting the right quadrant on the green is essential to have less than 3 putts.

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At 8, the player runs into the longest par 3 on the course. It is slightly downhill, so it plays slightly shorter than the yardage on the card. There is plenty of bailout straight and short. There is a deep bunker to the right and smaller bunkers far and left. A green that slopes back to front makes it imperative to keep the ball below the hole.

The back 9 starts off with a hole that is not nearly as intimidating as it’s front 9 starter counterpoint; however, it’s again all about what you don’t see.

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You actually want to favor the left right or play a draw. The hole shifts sharply to the left and downhill. The more you bail out to the right, the harder and longer the second shot you will have. One of my favorites on the course.

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The par 3 11th makes for a good change of pace from the other par 3s at Black Mesa. The hole plays uphill, protected on the right by a deep grassy area. The green is easy enough to hit, but the tiered green will give some problems. Miss on the right side of the green, and you’ll be lucky to 3-putt.

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Another one of my favorites comes at the uphill par 4 12th. Cut off as much as you dare to on the tee shot. Going for the left side can yield a much shorter second, but the massive bunkers could make that second treacherous.

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While you’re on 12 and 13, take a look to the right. That is where a proposed second course will be built. One of the world’s finest golf architects, Tom Doak, has routed another 18 in this area. Due to the recent economic slowdown, plans to build the second course have been put on indefinite hold. When I spoke to the pro, he said the hope was to get the new course built by 2014. Let’s hope that happens!

14 may be the best golf hole I have ever played. Very simple, yet very complex at the same time.

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It’s a short par 4 from the tips (389 yards) that leaves the golfer with a lot of choices. The easiest tee shot is a long iron/hybrid up the middle of the fairway, but this leaves a blind second shot to a green where you really want to see your target. If the player tries to pull a driver left towards the green, they may end up in the biggest bunker complex on the course, where par is not guaranteed.

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Another option is to split the middle hill and take a fairway wood in-between that and the bunker on the left. A successful shot will get the player up on the ridge with a clear view of the green. A miss to the let and you’re in desert. A miss to the right, and you’re left with an awkward fairway bunker shot.

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And once you get to the green, your job isn’t finished. The green has many ridges in it. On the day I played, the pin was cut in the far back of the green. Anything outside of 10-15 feet resulted in a roller coaster putt.

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The par 3 15th stands out as the lone hole where water comes into play. While it may be slightly out of place on a course that otherwise has no water hazards, I don’t think it detracts from the hole. It’s a 216 yard, downhill hole where the player can safely bail out short and left. A pin position on the right gets the player to flirt with the two deep right-side bunkers; and potentially the water hazard if the player strays too far.

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The last par 5 on the course is sarcastically called the “Stairway to Seven.” Nothing about this 536 yard hole is easy. At various parts of the hole the player will find the narrowest fairways on the course. The hole is uphill the entire way and moves up the hill in steps. The tee shot is certainly not the easiest on the course. While the hole really narrows about 220 yards out, it opens up again around the 160 mark. Those looking to lay up should be looking to get about 80 yards out, as the fairway narrows again around the 120 yard mark. Once you get the green, you’ll have to deal with the most severe ridge of any green at Black Mesa. Even at their slower green speeds, I found it impossible to keep a ball on top part of the ridge closer than 10 feet from the cup coming back down.

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The course ends with a couple of tough holes. The trouble at 17 is not necessarily off the tee, though there are a couple bunkers to avoid. The green is very elevated, but there aren’t that many options behind the hole. While trying to attack a back left pin, I hit what I thought was a pretty good shot. Turns out, my ball didn’t hold the green and ended up in desert over the green. Add this to the list of holes you need to play twice before you get a better understanding.

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The par 4 finisher isn’t the longest hole on the course, but its narrow fairway makes it one of the toughest. Even a fairway wood or hybrid layup isn’t a guranteed FIR. Those that can drive far can risk taking on the right side fairway if they carry of the casm in front of it. The green area is no gimmie either, with a deep bunker front and left. I knew I couldn’t afford to hit it there, so sure enough, I did.

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I played 36 holes at Black Mesa, and I strongly encourage other players to do likewise. It’s one of those courses you really need to play twice in order to know where you can and can’t hit your tee shots. Hole 5 was the clearest example of this just because of the very blind tee shot. On the more positive end, there’s holes like 14 where you simply want to try a variety of shots. In between rounds, I was able to grab a great lunch. The bar/kitchen tender suggested the Mesa Pro and it did not disappoint. There are a couple of tables outside where you can just sit back and enjoy the view of the 9th green and the 1st hole. My last suggestion is to drink plenty of water. You’re in the desert and you’re at 5,500 feet above sea level. I was amazed by how much water I drank, yet I barely broke a sweat.

Conclusion
The only courses I’ve actually played that I could compare to Black Mesa are the Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks courses at World Woods Golf Club in Florida. Black Mesa was comfortably ahead of both of these courses. There’s barely a weak hole on the course and you’ll find two of the best short par 4s anywhere at 7 and 14. The greens have some pretty interesting and severe contours, but the greens are kept at a moderate speed, so they’re certainly playable. The course is a bit easier the second time around once you get used to a few of the blind shots the course presents. For winter rates, I played $55 for 18 with cart and $35 for a replay. New Mexico residents get a discounted rate. I can’t think of any course that’s a better value for the price.

If you get anywhere within the state of New Mexico, this course is a must play.

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Posted in Beyond OINK, New Mexico

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