Laid out on the moonscape of Santa Clara Pueblo, Black Mesa opened in 2003 to plenty of favourable critical acclaim, with one commentator likening the course to Tom Doak’s Pacific Dunes, another terming it “one of the premier American layouts built in the last 25 or 30 years.”
Praise indeed for developer Eddie Peck and the man who brought the course to life, architect Baxter Spann, whose routing of the Black Mesa course was influenced in part a visit to the Tobacco Road course in North Carolina, where he was impressed by the fact that its designer had been prepared to work “'on the edge” to create innovative, non-conventional golf holes.
With fairways that rise and fall between enormous sandstone formations in a remote part of the New Mexican desert, the 80 acres of irrigated turf that make up the Black Mesa course form one of the most spectacular 18-hole layouts that any golfer could imagine anywhere in the world.
Baxter Spann certainly bucked the trend of designing routine, formulaic golf holes and his loose regard of architectural convention has resulted in a wonderfully fresh, creative layout that incorporates an element of random excitement throughout the routing.
As its designer says, “the site has a wild Irish links look to it, particularly in the spring after a wet winter when the native grasses are leafy and blowing in the breeze. In keeping with this spirit, we incorporated some hidden target areas and semi-blind uphill shots which will require some local knowledge and familiarity with the course to negotiate successfully.”
The final routing of the course leaves the possibility of a second 18-hole track to follow in the future but for now, the existing layout is good enough on its own to merit a visit from the more intrepid golfer who might venture to play in this south west corner of the USA.
What a piece of land! This course swallows you whole. The undulations don't stop. It reminded me of Tobacco Road for a number of reasons, the key difference being that this track feels discovered more than manufactured. Another difference is the altitude here (~7k feet). I was sucking wind after attempting to walk the front 9 and had to switch to cart for the back in order to keep my head clear! There are many blind shots both from the tee and fairway, especially if you're not dead center - not one of these bothered me as I made my way around.
Greens have very significant undulations but none I encountered were comical. Many green sites are built into hills that can serve as funnels, which is great fun and makes the site more scorable. At the par 3 11th pulled left and came to rest pin high, about 40 paces from the hole. Unfortunately it was 60 feet above the top of the pin. I scrambled to the top of the cliff, tapped a sand wedge to 12 feet and two putted for bogey. Maybe the most fun I've ever had with a bogey.
The tee boxes often feature views so utterly spectacular that maintaining focus with a wood in hand is extremely difficult.
If this course were closer to Phoenix or Denver, I could see it charging $250+ per round. Being a bit outside Santa Fe, the price point is an absurd value of $40 for my midweek round in late March.
Had it not been for one important but regrettable shortcoming, I'd have given this 5 balls. The greens were bumpy, inconsistent, slow, relatively soft and took a lot of the fire out of their design. Worse, directly around the multiple cups cut into each green, the grass had grown to the point where making breaking putts was a complete crapshoot that required a firm, artless whack. If this changes as the season wears on, I'd be willing to stay overnight just to play this course with buddies.
Bottom line: super fun day in the arroyos, canyons, and spines of New Mexico's broken high desert with snow capped mountains smiling down from the horizon in all directions. Great value.