One of only a small number of public golf courses designed by Tom Fazio, the 18-hole layout at Butterfield Trail cost a reputed $23 million to construct on land adjacent to El Paso International airport.
El Paso International Airport (EPIA) announced during April that it would close Butterfield Trail Golf Club in order to reduce expenses and focus on essential airport operations, however Spirit Golf Management stepped in to reopen the course as September began. That development came too late for Butterfield to get into the 2020 rankings for Texas, but keep an eye out during 2022.
Butterfield Trail is the rare public course designed by Tom Fazio. It is also one of the best values in public golf as The fee is below $40 including a cart. I took a cart because I had run an early morning 5K, followed by a one hour drive to the course. When I finished I would have a 4.5 hour drive waiting for me up to Santa Fe. Therefore I wanted to play quickly.
The starter allowed me to go off the back nine which allowed me to finish in 1 hour as I took some time to look at the course. I had to,play through five groups on the front nine but after finishing their hole, every group waved me through and the last three holes were played relatively quickly.
The course is a bit uneven as there are many short par 4’s that detract a bit from the challenge.
Many of the bunkers are in poor condition with rocks, dirt, or brush. Every flag is tattered (although perhaps that is the look they want). However, that did not detract from my experience as I very much liked the course.
The greens were the quickest I have played in many years. For awhile I thought I was at Oakmont. I did not go to the putting green prior to my round so it took me five holes to figure out the speed. Even then there were putts I hit that I thought would only get halfway there but instead either finished at the cup or two feet beyond it. I will admit to several good birdie chances becoming a bogey due to a three putt.
Tom Fazio incorporated the surrounding ravines, a few rises, and knobs beautifully. There are also a couple of holes with water with add to the visual appeal of the course. Several holes feature knobs nearer the green that shrink the fairway as well as block one’s view of the green.
One item to note, there are a lot of very thorny bushes with thorns easily an inch long and sharp. If you get off the fairway and get into one of these, even if you see your ball you probably should avoid trying to retrieve it. I saw so many balls in these bushes.
The course is routed beautifully, moving in all directions. I did not have a day of high wind, but I imagine it makes the course much more challenging as it is relatively flat and exposed due to the El Paso airport nearby.
1. This is a nice starting par 4 with the land rising to a green on higher ground. There is a large and deep bunker on the left side of perhaps 10 feet in depth. My second fell short of it and as the ground slopes away to the left I had a 45 yard pitch where I could only see the top of the flag.
2. The tee shot is straight on this par 5 to a wide fairway with the right side the preferred line as the hole doglegs left. There are deep bunkers on the left for the tee shot as well as bunkers off to the right for the second shot. Finally, bunkers guard the front of this relatively shallow green. It’s another fine hole.
3. One of the best holes on the course where a long waste bunker goes down the left side all the way to the green. Thr hole angles to the right. The green is backstopped on the left by a hill. This is one of the longest par 4’s on the course at 476 yards.
4. The first par 3 plays very long at 226 slightly uphill. I played through my second group with was a fivesome and moved up to the 190 tee nearly holing out.
5. The first short par 4 follows at only 365 yards and 325 from the silver tee. The green is very quick.
6. The longest par 5 is next at 600 yards, 533 for me, with the green set again on a rise. It has a generous fairway but a left center bunker must be avoided on the tee shot. The holes plays straight. I took too much club and my 45 feet putt from the back of the green toward the front for birdie nearly went off the front of the green.
7. This mid-length par 3 plays slightly uphill with a cavernous bunker on the front center/right. The green looks thin behind it but actually has a bit of room.
8. This longer par 4 is another hole I admired as the fairway is lined with bushes that pinch into the fairway seemingly narrowing one’s shot on this straight hole. One need pa to avoid the deep bunker off the tee on the right. The green is larger than others with the left front protected both by a bunker and bushes atop a knob.
9. The final hole on the outward nine is a let down, merely a straight par 4 of shorter length with a scale on the right side of the green.
10. The back nine kicks off with a short par 3. There is a large ravine fronting the green continuing down the left side. Although the large green looks flat, it is not.
11. This longer par 4 plays straight but has two knobs set well inside the fairway with bushes atop them. These knobs will blocks one’s view of the green. The green is slightly raised with falloffs on three sides.
12. Another short par 4 which is not much of a hole although one needs to avoid the deep bunker on the left side of the green. The green is set off to the left.
13. This longer par 4 bends to the left and right with a long bunker down the left side. It is one of the stronger holes in the course with a very quick green. My six feet putt below the hole curled around the cup and ended two feet lower than my first putt.
14. This shorter par 5 has a nice green complex due to the many bunkers fronting the green.
15. Another short par 4 that does not offer much although the green is very well constructed.
16. The number one index is the longest par 4 on the course at 510 yards. The hole bends to the left with a right side bunker to be avoided off the tee. The green is on a bit of a rise set off to the left. This is a strong hole.
17. Another long par 3 at 233 from the back tee with a green angled to the right.
18. The finishing hole, a par 5, has water in play for one’s second shot. This pond continues to the front of the green set off to the right. Various knobs are on the left front of the green. Longer hitters are taking a big gamble in trying to hit the green in two.
Butterfield Trail is certainly worth playing if in the El Paso area. It has an excellent routing, a nice set of par 3’s, a couple good par 5’s and several strong par 4’s. The course is let down only by too many short par 4’s that do not offer much in the way of strategy or defense, although they do have speedy greens.
Tom Fazio generally prefers to design courses in the private and resort category but his effort on the taxpayer-owned side turned out especially well here in El Paso.
What many people need to keep in mind is that 3-4 club wind is a daily occurrence in west Texas. Want to know why local hero Lee Trevino did so well in his career -- it came about in being able to play at the highest of levels in hitting the fullest range of golf shots with such wind patterns.
Butterfield Trail is routed especially well. Given the wind's influence -- Fazio keeps the holes going in different directions. You also have fairways that bottleneck at key places so tee shot decision must be gauged with the utmost care.
The only disappointing part of the course is the lack of a meaningful ground game. There's some roll but a bit more would only add to the qualities the course provides. What you also find at Butterfield is slight turning points on many of the holes – this mandates precision and shaping of the shots from the tee.
Butterfield is a solid layout that entices players at times to take the bold shot. Fazio has built in plenty of risk / reward opportunities and the round is capped with a closing par-5 that tempts the adventurous play as water fiercely protects the green at the par-5 18th.
For those venturing in the West Texas area -- be sure to schedule a tee time there.
M. James Ward