Pinon Hills is situated in the
northwest corner of the state, in the Four Corners region, where the
boundaries of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. It’s a
rugged, rather remote area that’s largely occupied by native
Americans from the Navajo Nation with sensational scenery to be found
in all directions around the course .
Described as “the best muni in America,” by one commentator, it’s well worth a major detour to play – Albuquerque and Santa Fe are both around 200 miles away – because “the fee to play the pride and joy of Farmington N.M. doesn’t just represent good value, it’s a gift from the golf gods, given the exceptional quality of the course.”
Architect Ken Dye (no relation to Pete Dye), a partner with Baxter Spann in their Texas-based design company, set out the course within a 1,000-acre site, half of which wasn’t usable because of the gradients involved, and only around 100,000 cubic yards of earth was moved during construction as Dye allowed the terrain to dictate the routing.
The par threes are particularly pleasing: the 235-yard 3rd plays across desert scrub to a multi-tiered green, the 157-yard 6th requires a carry across a ravine, the raised tee on the 196-yard 13th offers great views south to Farmington, and the green for the 15th (where the 228-yard back tee sits on the edge of a cliff) lies beside a dry wash, backdropped by striking rock formations.
Few people will likely never play Pinon Hills because of its remote location -- in the far northwestern corner of New Mexico -- not far from where the Four Corners area is located. The municipally-owned layout is well done and is the handiwork of architect Ken Dye. The layout has changed slightly over the years with the nines having been reversed from the original plans.
One of the strongest attributes of the course is its modest greens fees. The land is rolling and the various holes have plenty of differentiation in them. Unfortunately, Dye must have felt the need to add a bit more to the equation as a number of the putting surfaces have more heave and ho to them than the North Atlantic on a stormy day. The beauty of the land -- both onsite and offsite -- did not need such a heavy hand at all times.
Initially, not long after the course opened -- there were advocates who touted the course as being among the best 20-25 public courses in all of America. That was overly ambitious in my mind but the course does deliver in so many ways because Dye has smartly added contours to the fairways and the need to play power and finesse shots is always a must item on the menu when playing Pinon Hills.
Those who do get to this beautiful area of the Land of Enchantment will see how affordable golf and high quality design can work together and not be seen as an impossibility from ever being so smartly carried out.
by M. James Ward