Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club in Sandia, NM
Tee Time: May 1, 2017, 9:50, 64 F, partly cloudy
Designer: Kenneth Dye, 2000
Playing Partners: Bert Verrall
Tees: Blue, Par 72 (74.1 rating/142 slope/7,218 yards)
Course Handicap: 11 (8.6 index)
Stats: 96 (49-47); 30 putts; 7/14 fairways; 4/18 greens; 7 penalty strokes
Just a half-hour from the Breaking Badlands of Albuquerque sit the scenic Sandia Mountains, covered in ponderosas, spruce and just a thin layer of snow. And in those mountains sits one of the nicest golf courses in all the southwest, the Golf Magazine #34 -ublic and Golf Digest #46-ranked Paa-Ko Ridge. And I finally got to get a round in with a fan of the blog. Bert came down from Alaska to pick up a car which he then drove from New Mexico way back up to Anchorage, some 4,200 miles up north. Crazy.
As for the course, it’s well worth a 4,200 mile drive. There’s a reason this golf course in the relative isolation of New Mexico is consistently ranked in the top 50 public courses in the country. It’s a gem. Beautiful forest setting, remote and probably the most affordable of all the top-100 courses.
The opening hole, a 409-yard par 4, is inviting, with a fairway that slopes right to left and then snakes back to the green. The 2nd is a shorter par 4, at 377 yards, with a target-golf design where your tee shot can blast through the split fairway. The three-shot par-5 that is the 3rd is 570 yards with a premium on accuracy. Bunkers line the fairway to the left and can easily wipe out chances of par on this hole.
The par-3 4th can be one of the easiest holes on the course, or a really tough one. The green is 98 yards deep. Yes, the 3rd green is as long as “The Drive“, the John Elway-led game-winning touchdown drive by the Denver Broncos in the 1987 AFC Championship game. From the blue tees, the hole can play anywhere around 142, 166 or 189 yards. If you really misclub, you could be faced with a nasty 260-footer for birdie. The second par-5 on the front is the 546-yard 5th. The fairway is wide open off the tee, but the second-shot layup has some nasty OB to the right that chokes off the fairway. The 6th, named the “Gambler”, is a great design for a driveable par 4. Playing 311 yards , there is a narrow chute you can try to run up the firm fairway onto the putting surface. But any misses can leave awkward approach shots from the bunkers staggered near the green and as far as 65 yards out.
The 7th is the 1-handicap hole for a reason. A massive, 480-yard dogleg-left par 4, it will take two near-perfect shots to have a sniff at reaching the green in regulation. After putting out, there’s no time to catch your breath as the 254-yard par-3 8th awaits. At least there are no hazards aside from bunkers, because this is going to take a lot of club to get there.
The 10th is a 400-yard par 4 with a generous landing area before an uphill approach to a well-guarded green. The 11th has an intimidating tee shot, carrying the first 100 yards over thick vegetation before the rest of the hole is a tame par 4 of 426 yards. The 12th has a slightly elevated tee box that gives an extra boost to reaching the 527-yard par 5 in two.
A short par-4 similar to no. 2 is the 366-yard 13th. The tradition of tape-measure par 3s continues with the 243-yard 14th. The green is one massive pizza circle, so take aim at the bullseye and try to two-putt. Then you get to the longest hole in Sandia, the 625-yard 15th, where your third shot will still probably be over 150-yards to a green surrounded by water behind and to the left.
The 173-yard 16th is a tame par-3, but what it lacks in length it makes up for with the long pond running up the left side of the hole, meaning wayward tee shots here are worse than on the 250-yard par 3s. The 17th features the most elevated tee-box and a limited view of the fairway below on this 405-yard par 4. And then this physically taxing round ends with the 463-yard 18th, a par 4 with a hazard running through the fairway 100 yards from the green and a tough false front to negotiate.
Now 27 states in, I’m disappointed I waited 5 years to come the short distance to Albuquerque and play Paa-Ko Ridge. It has the scenery, challenge and relaxing atmosphere of all my favorite mountain courses, but at over half the cost of places like Edgewood in Tahoe. And with Santa Fe not far from the airport either, there’s lots to do and see in New Mexico without having to break the bank. I guess if you were a Breaking Bad fan, you might want to stick around Albuquerque and check out the real-life location of Los Pollos Hermanos or throw a pizza on a roof. But the real attraction in New Mexico should be this golf course and the Pueblo historic sites. Do it soon, because this course, and scenic New Mexico, deserves more attention.
#9, Par 4, 458 yards, 3-handicap, My Score: 6
The front side closes with another demanding par 4 with some of the best scenery on the course. The snow-capped mountains loom off in the distance as you gradually make your way back to the clubhouse for a much-needed mid-round snack. The pond really comes into play as you’re usually battling some wind on this approach.
Layout: A; there is a massive variety in holes throughout this 18. Driveable par 4s, long and reachable par 5s, and a wide range of par 3s, from massive greens to massive yardage to picturesque water holes.
Amenities: A, everything you’d want at a top-100 golf course.
Staff: A; friendly and helpful, and the greenskeepers really had the place in great shape just 48 hours after a late-April snow.
Difficulty: A; sure, the altitude helps, but this is still a very long course with some gnarly greens that will leave you feeling like you went 10-rounds with a heavyweight after
Scenery: A; the coniferous forest that stretches into the horizon and the rising snow-covered mountains are a great backdrop to the entire round. Plus there is plenty of interesting wild life to be seen.
Value: A; less than $70 for a top-100 public course, and they even have a play-2-get-1-free coupon, so my next round there this year would get me another one comp’d. Tempting…
Overall GPA: 4.0 (A)