Ken Dye’s Paa-Ko Ridge often receives votes for the best golf course in New Mexico, but it’s hardly his only foray into the “Land of Enchantment.” Much farther south, near Las Cruces, Dye laid out another high-end public-access facility at Red Hawk Golf Club.
The White Sands Missile Range is located on the outskirts of Las Cruces, and players may need to bring their own rocket-propelled equipment if they’re hoping to play from the tips. Measuring more than 7,500 yards, players better hope that the desert sun has baked out the fairways a bit. Although the 600-yard par five at No. 5 is no joke, the most intimidating hole from that distance may be No. 3: This par three measures more than 240 yards from the tips, and features water all along its right-hand side.
Those who choose to play the correct tees, and play Red Hawk for what it is, will be treated to photographic views at all angles, with the rising peaks of the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park rising in the background. Although Las Cruces is a somewhat urban environment, Red Hawk sits just far enough out on the fringes to give a more natural golf experience.
This course throws everything your bag can handle at you with long approaches into the very strong wind (sometimes so strong play becomes impossible), flip wedges downwind and uphill, downhill, etc. You have to earn your flat lie with a perfect shot. Landing areas are large enough to reach for driver, but barely. The sun bakes you uninterrupted in the high desert here. The wasteland between you and the nearby mountains stretches out to the horizon and swallows a surprising amount of golf balls.
While this may feel like a rough day, the effect at Red Hawk is just the opposite. It's invigorating. It's fun. It's varied. The short par 4s are truly special. The second shot on the par 5s are relentlessly thought provoking. Yet you must commit to every shot and in this wind. The finish is excellent. Overall this course is a true treat and a phenomenal value.
The only elements that distracted from my experience were1) the state of the bunkers (basically rock hard and inconsistent upon my visit) and 2) the very very slow play when I played on a Saturday afternoon.
Ken Dye has made a name for himself in the designing of a number of courses in the desert southwest of America. In the Land of Enchantment much of his acclaim centers around the qualities he put into motion with the creation of Paa-Ko Ridge in Sandia just outside of Albuquerque.
But if one heads to the far southern portion of New Mexico it's wise to stop in Las Cruces and play his architectural achievement with Red Hawk.
The course is completely exposed the daily winds that can easily whip through the property. It's not uncommon for 4-5 club to blow at certain times. Dye has provided a routing that is always in a state of motion forcing players to make constant adjustments.
The opening hole sets the tone. The fairway pinches the drive zone with fairway bunkers awaiting the hapless play. The green is set on a diagonal so the best approach is from the left. Dye has provided ample fairway widths given the winds that can blow but there's always a preferred playing angle into the putting surfaces.
Two of the finer holes on the outward side is the long par-3 at the 242-yard 3rd hole. So many architects often avoid having long par-3's because many players do not have the needed firepower to handle them. Having such holes does have a clear place and the 3rd is especially done well. Water is on the right side but there's just enough land for players to run the ball onto the target. Just across on the other side of the water hazard at the 3rd is the short par-4 6th. Here Dye tempts the bold play from the tee as the max length of the hole is 342 yards. Push the tee shot a hair to the right and it's "splish splash." Pull the shot too far left and a series of bunkers can inflict some serious scorecard pain. The green is narrow and quite deep – it’s a solid counterpoint hole that really showcases keen decision-making and high-level execution.
The concluding hole on the outward half is one of the State's best holes. The 474-yard par-4 generally plays back into the prevailing wind. There's a menacing pond that guards the left side -- for the tee shot and approach. Dye has once again provided a run-up area for those unable to fly the ball to the target but the space provided is a difficult one to negotiate.
The inward half is a bit less in terms of its qualities from a hole differentiation perspective but make no mistake in believing the golf demands are anything but rigorous. The holes are set in a manner where prevailing winds can come across holes -- such as the 10th and 11th blowing from left-to-right and the final three holes playing generally with a right-to-left wind blowing.
Dye concludes Red Hawk with two stout par-4 holes. The penultimate plays 472 yards and features a tapered fairway. The closing hole at 457 yards is exceptional. In this situation the hole turns right but the preferred location is on the left side -- just be sure to avoid the fairway bunker that lurks in the area. Flanking bunkers guard the green, but again Dye leaves an opening -- albeit a narrow -- for any run-up shots. One other thing there's also a pond that is near enough to draw your eye -- and hopefully not your ball.
The course is generally kept in very good condition and the fairways can run out appropriately. Just also realize the rough is often dense and just long enough to prevent easy escapes.
Red Hawk will likely get far too little attention because it's not exactly in a golfing hot spot. Those who venture to the area can also easily access the nearby city of El Paso and play at Butterfield Trail, a quality Tom Fazio public layout which is roughly 60 miles away. Or you can play another good Dye layout with Painted Dunes Desert Course -- also in El Paso. Red Hawk is one to keep on your to-play list whenever heading via I-10 through the border area of New Mexico and Texas.
by M. James Ward