Created by the Lyle Anderson Company, which also developed Arizona’s Desert Highlands and Desert Mountain sites with Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses, Las Campanas is the only exclusive country club and 36-hole golf destination in the Land of Enchantment.
The Sunset layout is younger and shorter than the Sunrise course at Las Campanas, constructed in an out and back style with no return to the clubhouse after nine holes.
And if you think you have seen this layout on the television before, maybe it was whilst watching “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” series when the course hosted a match between its designer, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw, not long after it opened in 2000.
Most memorable hole on the front nine is undoubtedly the 432-yard 7th, where the elevated tee is positioned almost 100 feet above a fairway that leads to a water-protected green.On the inward half, which is configured as three par threes, three par fours and three par fives, the closing hole is a reverse-mirror image of the 18th on the Sunrise course, played around a central lake that runs the length of the fairway.
I am not certain I can properly evaluate the Sunset course at the Club at Las Campanas as I was fighting a head cold and fatigue from the previous day and morning. Combined with the decision to walk the course, I was nearly exhausted after the front 9.
The course is nearly an 8 mile walk with long walks between tees and greens. There are many sharp uphill walks, particularly to the same “comfort station” to get to the seventh hole and sixteen. I do not recall having seen grades both so long and steep. The long walk begins from the clubhouse to the first tee which felt like a quarter mile away. Combined with the thinner air as the course is at 7000 feet of elevation it is a daunting challenge. I was certain we were likely to take carts so I had done an early morning walk around downtown Santa Fe.
By the sixteenth hole I could barely swing a club.
As to the course, it is a nice design by Jack Nicklaus incorporating many of the features that he prefers on his desert courses such as the 18th on Sunset and 18th on Sunrise share a pond – to the right on Sunset and to the left on Sunrise. There are driveable par 4’s, there are split fairways, there are a few quirky holes, and there are wide fairways.
I never could figure out the greens. I often look at the placement of the green relative to the surrounding land and figure out a break. Only once out of 18 tries did I get it right. The most perplexing aspect was that putts coming one way would break the opposite of what I expected yet if the ball rolled past the green it broke the opposite way of the first putt. I watched others putt from relatively close to my line, yet my putts went in a different direction. In addition, several of the green fronts allow a ball to release onto the green whereas others will land and immediately come to a stop. From 100 yards in it is difficult to tell whether a ground game is possible or is the preferred play.
These are greens one definitely needs to know. Our host putted fairly well as he , been there many years. But the other two guests with me on this trip struggled nearly as much as I did both with line and speed.
While the course is at elevation and one should get a 10% improvement in distance, I did not see that as the balls do not roll out here. Most of the drives stop relatively soon after landing, particularly if one hits a higher tee ball. My advice is to play the yardage as listed.
The course is surrounded by magnificent vistas of distant mountains which can be distracting. Given my poor day of ball striking and putting on the course I was grateful for the views as they are breathtaking.
The first is a downhill par 4 to a very wide fairway with the green set well below you. It is one of several downhill green sites on the course. There is an early collection of bunkers on the right side of the fairway but the real danger are the two fronting bunkers on this green angled left to right. This hole is not a gentle handshake opener.
The second is a long downhill par 4 that sweeps to the right with an arroyo down the right side. The green is elevated on the right side where a deep bunker is also placed.
Three is the first par 3 that is mid length with all carry to the green which has a central front bunker. The green is thin at only 20 yards of depth and angled to the left. It is a surprisingly difficult par 3 and my first three putt. I redid the putt over and knocked it much closer.
Four plays from an elevated tee to a long but thin green at 42 yards. There are no fairway bunkers. The green complex has a single bunker on the right and a collection of five bunkers on the left. There is a back swale to this green which I did not see as my putt ran past the mid-center hole, and caught the ridge ending up 60 feet away. I did like the visual attractiveness of the hole from the tee.
Five is the five par 5 and it’s a long one at just under 600 yards, but only 500 from the tee I chose. It is a quirky hole where the longer hitters fly their drives over an historical building to the fairway on the other side. Average length players play out to the right of this building atop a rise with two bunkers on the inner corner. One could hit their drive too far on this right line and end up in the water or on a downslope. The hole then plays left with the pond running down the right side. There is a hill and several bunkers on the left of the fairway but the smart play for most players is to go left leaving 130-110 yards to a green. If you challenge the hole a bit too much on your second you can end up wet or on another downslope. Being left of this green is no good at the green has a slope to the right that is hard to see. One’s ball will not make it to the water but it can go through the green. I did not care for the hole.
Six is a longer par 3 with a green angled to the right sort of a reverse redan with three bunkers on the front. There is a defined tier near the middle of the green.
After chugging up the steep hill and passing the comfort station named “candyland” you arrive at one of the better views on the course. From the elevated tee you play substantially downhill. A pond is on the left side of the fairway beginning at 337 yards from the back tee so it is not in play for most players. More dangerous for most players are the five bunkers set down the right side, the first ones at 261 yards from the back tee, but only 214 yards from the tees I played. The pond is angled into the fairway and I misjudged it and got wet with my second. There is a lot of room to go down the right side if one chooses. The green is angled to the left with small falloffs to a collection area down the back of the green. It is a good hole and one that most players likely remember the most.
Eight is a medium length par 5 playing uphill at above 150 yards from the green. The hole angles to the left and there are four bunkers on the inner corner. The longer players need a drive of 290 yards to clear them. There are no bunkers to consider on the second shot for most players, but five bunkers sit on the right side well below the elevated green. I hit probably my best shot of the day to 3 feet so it was the rare putt I did not have to think about.
Nine is a medium length par 4 going uphill. This hole feels a bit narrower as it is shaped to the left with two bunkers left and one large one on the right. The green is oddly shaped with a very small peninsula front and then angled to the right getting very thin at the back right. The green is protected by a somewhat shallow bunker front left and a deeper one going down the right side. I did like the hole.
Ten is the longest hole on the course at 627 yards but it plays downhill. This is a double dogleg playing with a tee shot that either needs to go as far as possible or stay right in order to get a better angle. The second shot is out to the right although longer players might even try for the green in two as they cut the next sharp dogleg, a turn to the left. There is a break in the fairway with a long waste bunker running down the left side beginning at the second fairway continuing to the green. The green is very thin at the front but expands in the middle before shrinking again at the back third. It is fronted by two deep bunkers. The back half of the green runs away from you which I thought to be unfair.
Eleven is a medium length par 3 playing across a valley as a forced carry. The green has a central mound and is angled to the left with a bunker front right and one on the front left. The spine in the middle of the green continues behind the green going up a hill. I did not find much interesting about the hole.
This par 5 again has a break in the fairway where longer hitters can hit through it into the arroyo. For regular players they need to avoid the two fairway bunkers on the right or carry them, but this would leave a bad angle for the second shot. Second shots must avoid the two bunkers on the left which are almost an aiming point as the arroyo continues down the right side. The green is somewhat elevated with side bunkers. This hole does not offer much visual appeal and the those two bunkers on the left nearer the green seem to be excessively punitive.
Another slightly longer par 3 follows which plays uphill with a rise again in the middle of the green. There are two bunkers right and one front left as this green angles to the left. It is a relatively shallow green. It is not a visually interesting hole but the two tiers with a center rise provides a challenge.
Fourteen is a short par 4 from an elevated tee where bigger hitters might even try to carry the pond fronting the green to drive the green. The defining feature of the hole is the very long boomerang green wrapped around a front bunker and a rise in the middle of the green. I thought the green was pretty cool although obviously a front right pin location is not as high of a challenge where one can more easily avoid the pond. A more central pin location is more interesting due to the pond, front bunker and rise in the green.
The final par 3 is a long par 3 with higher ground on the left side where two bunkers are placed. The tee shot must carry an arroyo and a front bunker. This is another two tiered green with the right side being lower. I thought having two bunkers on the left side “bail-out” area was a bit harsh.
Sixteen requires a strenuous hike back up to the top of the hill and down to the other side to an elevated tee although there is a way to avoid it. Due to the elevation, this hole plays much shorter. There are two fairway options presented here although from the forward tees one really has only one option which is the left side. The fairways are split by a vertical arroyo with the right fairway ending with a 100 yard shot but a poor angle into the accessible green. The green is angled to the right with a right central bunker. The view from the tee is great but the hole did not seem to offer much to me.
The last par 5 is a long one at just under 600 yards. This hole curves to the left and is essentially an arc of a half circle. The defining feature of this hole are the nine bunkers that come into play on the second shot from 130 to 55 yards from the green. It’s a bit of overkill but the collection of six bunkers on the left definitely gets one’s attention. The green has a falloff on the left side where two deeper bunkers await.
The finishing hole plays to an uphill green from an elevated tee with a pond coming into play for the length of the hole on the right side, then with a cut-out to protect even the left side of the green as well as the front. Every approach shot must go over the water. The green seemed thin to me from the fairway but actually has a lot of room. It is one of the more undulating greens on the course so par is a well earned score.
I wish I would have had time to play the Sunrise course as I know many players here have a slight favorite.
The Sunset course is a big challenge both in length and nice contouring on the greens. There are well placed bunkers throughout the course. The course is in very good condition everywhere whether its tees, fairways, bunkers, or greens. My only regret, of course, is walking the course as I was not in good shape for it having over-extended myself the previous day both with a 5K race (at elevation), a round of golf, six hours of driving, and beginning to have a head cold. This certainly fits in with some of the finest work of Jack Nicklaus although not at his highest level. Even if there was only one course, the members would have a fine club. Two courses of this quality make for one of the best residential clubs in the USA.