The 27-hole Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club is set under the watchful guard of the Sandia Mountains. With three loops of nine holes, there are numerous playing configurations especially when you factor in five different sets of tees on each hole. Choose your tee carefully as this monster stretches out beyond 7,500 yards from the tips.
Holes are routed around arroyos, rocky outcrops and a variety of native vegetation with fairways laid out in quite wooded surroundings at elevations between 6,500 and 7,000 feet above sea level. The original 18-hole course opened in 2000 with the additional nine added five years later.
One of the most difficult holes on the property is the par three 4th – appropriately named “Dye-abolical,” – where the tee shot plays across an arroyo to what's reckoned to be the largest putting surface in the state of New Mexico. As this triple-tiered green measures 100 yards from back to front with a drop of 13 feet in between, pin placement is all important in the quest to secure a score of three or better at this hole.
Designed by the Finger Dye Spann firm of architects, Paa-Ko – meaning the root of the cottonwood tree in ancient Pueblo – is undoubtedly New Mexico’s finest course and it’s hard to know which two of the three loops of nine make the better course, so we suggest you play all 27 dramatic holes. We doubt you’ll get better value for money within a 500-mile radius.
The main reason why Paa-Ko Ridge has attained a number one position for all courses in New Mexico rests squarely on how high a value far too many people place on off-course scenery. The course is situated in the Sandia mountains that adjoin Albuquerque and making the trek from the city to the site is a fun drive. When you arrive the fresh scent of the towering ponderosa pines with juniper and pinon mixed in and you encounter a site free of any interfering clutter really makes for what should have been a glorious round of golf.
Sadly, Paa-Ko Ridge is the golf equivalent of the restaurant that provides the perfect setting yet when the food is brought out you scratch your head in bewilderment -- is that all there is?
Let me point out that if one were to take architect Ken Dye's Red Hawk layout in Las Cruces and hook it up against Paa-Ko the former would easily rate higher from a substance standpoint. Paa-Ko has 27-holes and frankly the two best nines are the 2nd and 3rd nines. Even if one were to go this route with a new combination the sum total of what Paa-Ko provides is simply lacking in overall consistency in terms of the holes one encounters.
Dye has a tendency -- at times -- to overdo his hand and you see that with a few of the putting surfaces at Paa-Ko. The par-3 4th on #1 plays 183 yards but sports an inane extremely lengthy three-tier green that clearly overpowers the naturalness of the location. You also have holes that stand apart from the profound contributions Mother nature has created -- the short par-4 6th on #1 and the long dog-leg left par-4 7th also on #1 are other clear examples of where man's hand is too obvious.
The totality of holes on #2 are a good bit better. I truly liked the downhill par-5 15th which tempts the big drive and then for those who have dared and been successful tempts the boldest of plays to reach the green in two shots with a play over a series of trees protecting the right side. The green is neatly situated with a pond that forms the rear boundary.
#1 and #2 at Paa-Ko also lack a first rate quartet of par-3 holes respectively. With the exception of the aforementioned 4th on #1 the others are excessively long -- with the 8th and 14th stretching beyond 260 yards. The lone bright spot comes with the par-3 16th on #2 which requires a skilled shot to a diagonally angled green with a frontal pond awaiting those failing to execute.
The best of the holes comes late in the round with the hilltop tee pad at the enchanting par-4 17th -- but here it's more about the view than anything else. Fortunately, the ending hole -- a par-4 of 474 yards -- is what Paa-Ko should have had more on the menu. The tee shot requires serious thought on the merits of hitting driver to a fairway that tapers down considerably. Those who risk the bold play can reap a major dividend with a short iron into the green. Those failing -- will quickly hear from their playing companions the most dreaded words in golf -- "reload." The 18th is about quintessential decision-making and execution -- placing the tee shot and delivering on the approach.
The better combination of nines for visitors is playing #2 and #3. The #3 nine provides for a far more robust routing -- whereby #1 and #2 follows a general west/east, east/west direction. The main issue with #3 is that there's an equal number of par-3, par-4 and par-5 holes. When this happens the substance of the par-4 holes is often compromised and that is true here. Again, it would have helped matters for the inclusion of a dynamic short par-4 and par-3 in the routing too.
As I said at the outset, a visit to Paa-Ko Ridge during prime time playing conditions will make for a grand time if celebrating the outdoors is central to your needs with golf included. But if you are the golf architecture connoisseur who places a much higher premier on overall shotmaking and hole differentiation you will likely leave feeling that something far more compelling could and should have been brought to life on this site.
M. James Ward
Paa-ko Ridge has it all…….all the things I don’t like about much of golf course design in the latter half of the 20th century. Walking is possible, but not recommended. I saw nobody walking the day I was there.) I’m guessing there is around 2 miles of cart path between greens and tees. And in a number of cases the cart path is the only way from the tee to the fairway. This isolation ruins memorability. But that’s not the only memorability problem. Hole after hole starts from an elevated tee and ends at an elevated green. And the elevated greens are all bunkered so that an aerial approach is the only possibility. It seemed to me that a lazy architect had a certain template in mind (elevated green and tee) and if he found a pair far apart from the previous or next hole, so be it. This is quite the antithesis of the minimalist approach which works much harder to find different types of holes that can be connected in a more interesting and memorable way.
And how about a pair of 200+ yard par 3s…………from the forward tees. (237 and 224 from the middle tees) What fun is that? Even with a little help from the altitude.
This is not a poor course. I will acknowledge that the green contours were fun and challenging. But that’s about the only thing that impressed me.