The second and final course in my short stay in New Mexico was at the consensus number one course in the state, Paa-Ko Ridge.
The course started with the standard eighteen holes, then added a third nine in 2005. Without a doubt the best of Paa-Ko Ridge is to be found in the original 18. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with the third 9, but it’s clearly outclassed by its predecessor. The par 3s, while exhilarating, are essentially the same tee shot.
The following review will cover the holes in their proper order from 1-27. 1-18 are the original 18 and 19-27 are the newer 9. The day I played, I had to play 18-27, then go to 1-9 after my lunch break.
I didn’t realize it at the time (probably because the bourbons I shared at lunch + the altitude were starting to hit), but after I thought about it and reviewed my pictures, the par 4 2nd (394 yards) may be the best hole on the property. A relatively short par 4, the “Narrow Passage” hole is all about positioning. A small arroyo crosses the fairway about 110 yards out. The player can risk the carry left, but have a better position to attack the green situated in a natural bowl. Far from the sexiest hole at Paa-Ko Ridge, but its architecture speaks for itself.
It may be quirky, but number 4 was one of my favorites. It’s a very long, multi-tiered green that can play anything from a long iron, to a 3/4 sand wedge.
For me, the par 4 seventh (496 yards) was a nice change of pace from the other holes I’ve played all day. One of the few holes on the course without any fairway bunkers, the seventh is downhill the entire way, turning hard left around the landing area. The right-to-left slope brings the bunkers to the left in play.
Each of the 9s at Paa-Ko Ridge ends with a tough closer. The par 4 ninth (477 yards) is no exception. The tee-shot is fairly straight forward; the water comes in play only for long bombers. The second shot is likely a mid- to long-iron, with water in play the entire way in. A valley divides the green in to, making par no guarantee.
When I played Paa-Ko Ridge, I started out on #10. On any given day, they’ll route 18 hole play from 1-10, 10-19, or 19-1. If you get “stuck” playing 19-27, be sure to play 1-18 at some point in your day. Plan ahead though. In the summer time, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. In November, when I played, I had the first tee-time of the day, though a frost delay set that back about 30 minutes. After a long lunch, I was lucky to get all 27 holes in.
Oh yeah, about the 10th. Great opening hole (for me anyways). This was my first introduction to how different Paa-Ko Ridge is than Black Mesa. First, there’s actually rough here. While thick, it can be your friend if it’s the difference between going in the desert or not. Secondly, the greens are MUCH faster here, but not as undulating… thank goodness.
After another dogleg left on 11 (without the forced carry), you get to the 541 yard par 5 12th. The elevated tee and intricate bunkering make this an attractive hole. There’s a bailout short and left. For players trying to reach in two, a driver will bring the right bunker into play. The green is well protected on the short side by bunkers on both sides.
Funny that the next hole is called “Serenity”, because the hole after it is all the par 3 you’ll ever want. Even at elevation. 14 plays a stout 272 yards from the tips. There’s plenty of room short and right to wuss out, as long as you avoid the two bunkers. Those wishing to go at the green will need to contend with the desert short and right. Take your bogey and get out.
There are two holes you absolutely must play from the tips at Paa-Ko Ridge. Those are 16 and 17.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to get to the top of 16th’s tee, so I did not get a chance to hit that tee-shot. Even at 228 yards, the hole plays no longer than a mid-iron in due to the severe downhill drop and altitude.
17 is another hole where the yardage off the score card is a little misleading. At 419 yards, the hole plays more like a mid-length to short par 4. Except for the day I played, where moisture and a wind into my face made it play the full yardage. The safe tee-shot splits the trees, but a riskier shot to the left side of the fairway opens up the angle to the green.
Here’s a shot from 17 tee looking back on 15. A great hole with great views all-around.
18 would be my first introduction to the tough closing holes at Paa-Ko Ridge. Playing 474 yards from the tips, “Trails End” is a target golf hole much like the 10th. There’s room to the right to bailout, but it leads a long second shot, where the short hitter might even need to lay-up to cross the arroyo. The green is well protected, but as you can see from my photo, you may not have a full view of it. Most will be happy with par to close out.
The third 9 at Paa-Ko Ridge isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. The problem for me is the holes play too similarly. Each par 3 is over 200 yards, significantly downhill, and for me, required the same club. The par 4s will are around the same length and have the same basic shots between them. The par 5s are probably the redeeming factor, each displaying a different feature to protect itself.
19 is actually one of the more interesting par 5s at Paa-Ko Ridge. One of few uphill tee-shots, the landing area is semi blind, those there’s not a lot of trouble. That comes later, with bunkers to the right in the layup area, bunkers short left and right at the green which has some of the most undulations of any green on the course. Not a guaranteed birdie.
For some reason, the only hole on the course I didn’t get a picture of was 21, entitled “Wreckage”. Maybe that’s because I put up my worst score of the day on that hole. I remember the pin position was precarious that day.
The 22nd hole “Redan” (228 yards) is visually stunning no doubt. Looking in the photo, you can see how the 23rd hole behind it almost blends hill. But as you play 24 and 26, there’s not that much difference between them.
Speaking of 23, it’s a LONG (625) uphill par 5. Though visually busy with bunkers, the fairway areas are pretty wide. Yet somehow, I found two bunkers on this hole, off the tee and around the green. Figures.
If you were looking for water at Paa-Ko Ridge, it only exists on 4 of 27 holes, and only once in the third 9. I suppose it’s appropriate that one would find water on a hole named “Waterloo”. Ugh.
Although the final hole (by number) is a par 4 over 500 yards, being downhill and at elevation makes it a bit shorter than the scorecard. Plenty of room off the tee and by the left side of the green. Not an easy hole by any means, but certainly the least scary of the closers.
Many publications have Paa-Ko Ridge as the best public golf course in New Mexico. It’s a damn good course (1-18 anyways), but I have to say I favor Black Mesa. If I had 10 rounds to play at both, I probably play 7 at Black Mesa and 3 at Paa-Ko.
The food at Paa-Ko Ridge was outstanding! I had a burger with some avacado and french fries. Delicious! Combine that with their small, but good beer selection, I was set. If you’re not used to alcohol consumption at altitude, look out! Despite having drank plenty of water throughout my first 18, a beer and bourbon (which I shared with my playing partners; the OINK guy sharing Kentucky bourbon with the natives) put me in quite the happy state as I began my third 9.
Combined with Twin Warriors, Sandia, UNM Championship, and others, you can make one great, and relatively inexpensive golf vacation in New Mexico. Like I said before, if they ever built that Doak course out at Black Mesa, I will be back in a heart beat.
Even without that course, I want to come back. I began my trip with breakfast at Frontier Restaurant. This was my first introduction to the New Mexican chiles, which were a lot hotter than my midwest palette was used to. I barely made it through my breakfast burrito.
I closed the trip with dinner at El Pinto. A gi-normous restaurant, there’s plenty of good eating there. And if you’re in the Cincinnati area, you’ll likely find their salsa available at your local Kroger. The real thing is even better!
Thus concludes my first foray into desert golf. Interesting for sure and definitely different from what I’m used to back at home. The worst I face off the beaten path back home is Poison Ivy. I find the cactus to be a foe to be feared with a bit more.