Santa Fe Golf Trail Vacation

"Let's take a golf vacation to play the Santa Fe Golf Trail in New Mexico!" got no objections or "sorry not interested" or "I'm too busy," so we did it!

As an avid golfer and outdoor enthusiast I could only take so much of the 100 degree days, destructive fires, dry warm low level lakes, camping without being able to grill, and horrible conditions on most of the Texas golf courses due to no rain. The drought and record number of days over 100 in 2011 was taking it's toll. So I started looking where can we go that's not too far from Dallas, where it's 85 with no wind and fires, and where there are some great golf courses with lush green fairways. A little elusive golf birdie whispered "Fly into Albuquerque, Southwest is cheap, and play New Mexico's Santa Fe Golf Trail!"

A little research on a vacation playing the Santa Fe Golf Trail got me pretty excited - 8 courses all of which have lots of awards and accolades as some of the best in New Mexico and the US, several outstanding resorts with good stay and play packages, some real deals on tee times as well as airfares, and a forecast of 85 and sunny every day! So we booked a flight and some lodging, made the tee times, rented a car (found one on Priceline for half the normal cost), packed the clubs, and hit the road for a week to play the Santa Fe Golf Trail.

What a blast and from the 12th to 20th of September 2011 we:

  • played 180 holes of golf on 8 fantastic coursesSandia Golf Club Pro Shop
  • found two courses that were perfect 10's after searching for over 5 years and playing over 300 courses from Florida to California
  • got pricked by cacti a few too many times and stung by some huge black New Mexico ants while looking for my golf balls
  • went through 6 sleeves of new Bridgestones and a half bottle of Advil
  • stayed in four great resorts, the Hard Rock Hotel, an upscale townhouse, and a Marriott Courtyard (nice, but a real let down after the four star resorts)
  • won enough at one casino to pay for a round of golf and lost enough at the other casinos which would have paid for dinner, 4 rounds of golf, two sleeves of balls, and a couple drinks - oh well, I'm on vacation
  • ate and drank way too much and consumed a few too many of the best Pina Coladas I've ever had
  • ate enough Hatch green chilies (on eggs, hamburgers, sandwiches, chili stew, and even in a delicious green chili fettuccini) to last me a life time
  • lost a few Margaritas and dinner on golf bets and some domino games
  • enjoyed some laughs and good times (except for the golf bet losses) with some good friends from Tucson and one of my University of New Mexico fraternity brothers
  • experienced near perfect golfing weather and some magnificent scenery

And came home sun burned, tired, really sore, 5 pounds overweight, and with sand from the bunkers in my pockets, hair, ears, and several other uncomfortable places! All of which is a sign of a fun vacation!


I could give you a day by day and blow by blow of what we did but it would probably take you a couple days to read about how much fun we had, where we stayed, how horrible I played, where we lost and won our money, places I enjoyed all that Hatch green chili, the bars and bands we enjoyed, the hot tubs we hoped would rejuvenate the sore muscles, etc. etc. etc. So to save you all that time I'll try to net it out and just write about the highlights. So, grab a couple drinks, find a comfortable chair, and settle in for a long golfing vacation article.

Pool area at the Hard Rock Hotel & CasinoWe flew in (don't you just love Southwest!) on Monday afternoon and immediately headed to the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Albuquerque for our first Pina Colada, my first sample of some great Hatch green chilies, and a toss of the dice at the craps table. The pool was good, the Pina was excellent as was the Hatch green chili fettuccini, but the craps table was crappy! The Hard Rock Hotel is across the freeway from our first round of golf at Isleta Eagle Golf Course. It seemed like a new hotel, with lots of gaming options, some very interesting rock and roll memorabilia, some good choices for food and beverage, and a good golf stay and play rate. However, the craps and blackjack table weren't very good to me - I lost enough to pay for a dinner for 4 at our favorite Dallas Mexican restaurant. Read our review of the Albuquerque Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to learn more.

Our good friends, Bill and Barbara who are avid golfers from the Tucson area, joined us for the next four days of fun and frivolity. Bill and I have known each other since high school and all of my major injuries (broken finger, femur, wrist, and a couple other bones plus stitches in the chin, lip, and back of my head as well as a few other incidents) have all been having fun, if you can call it that, with Bill skiing, playing football, trying to ride a horse, rigging a snare, fighting, and other exciting adventures. Needless to say I was expecting the worse. But I was looking forward to taking his money at golf playing Bingo, Bango, Bongo and skins plus some side One of the holes at Isleta Eagle Golf Coursebets and taking he and Barb down in dominos. I figured he was tired and groggy from driving six hours, so I fed him some beer and starting making our wagers.

After a good nights sleep, except for the bad dream about losing my house and money at the craps table, we teed off to play our first 27 holes of golf at Isleta Eagle Golf Course. It was amazing to see lush green fairways in the middle of the desert instead of the patchy brown fairways the lack of rain has caused on most Texas golf courses. Each of the nines (Mesa, Arroyo, and Lakes) were a little different and fun to play. A good start! Read our review of the Arroyo Nine, review of the Lakes Nine, and review of the Mesa Nine.

The next morning we checked out and headed to play at Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Course which is on the other side of the Sandia Mountains. After a scenic 40 minute drive, our jaws dropped as we explored the Paa-Ko Ridge clubhouse and saw several impressive looking golf holes - we knew we were in for a special treat! Paa-Ko Ridge is nationally rated in the top 100 courses and it's a must play, bucket list course. The first nine was a perfect 10 - scenic, challenging, fun, lots of variety, excellent conditions, and a good value. The next nine was more of the same and came close to a 10. Unfortunately, it started raining just as we teed off on the third nine. Here's a link to the review of Paa-Ko Ridge's 10th to 18th and Paa-Ko Ridge's 19th to 27th. You should go out of your way to play Paa-Ko Ridge!

Paa-Ko Ridge Golf CourseBeautiful Paa-Ko Ridge golf holePaa-Ko Ridge Golf Course in New Mexico

Buffalo Thunder Resort Another 40 minute scenic drive on the backside of the 10,000' Sandia Mountains took us to Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino just outside Santa Fe. What an impressive resort and casino with good food, a great pool, over 1200 slot machines, live music, and a fantastic golf course. Don't know what happened but we were upgraded to a huge beautiful suite with two kiva fireplaces, large living area, huge bedroom, and a great view of the pool, mountains, and some of the golf holes. What a fantastic Resort (and not just because we got the suite and made Bill very jealous) - in addition to great amenities, Buffalo Thunder is like an art gallery with sculptures and artwork from every Native American Tribe in New Mexico. Check out our review of Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino.


The next morning was a short drive to play Black Mesa Golf Course. Wow, wow, and wow - a jaw dropper and another perfect 10, which is a first for all 18 holes. We've played and reviewed over 300 courses from Myrtle Beach to California searching for a perfect 10 and we found it at Black Mesa. Part of the reason that some of the great courses we've played don't get a 10 is because they typically cost over $175 a round - a good value for Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, but a tad pricey for the rest of us. Black Mesa was $77 and only $55 at twilight and you can typically find a special! We haven't played Pebble Beach but we did talk to a fellow golfer who told us he likes Black Mesa much better than Pebble Beach, except for a couple of the ocean holes. Read our review of Black Mesa.

Black Mesa has beautiful lush fairwaysWater in the middle of the desert at Black Mesa Golf CourseBlack Mesa Golf Course

After buying the first couple rounds to pay my golfing bets to Bill and another losing night at the Buffalo Thunder Casino, we were off to play their 27 hole golf course. Towa Golf Club has three very Boulder Course at Towa Golf Clubunique, scenic, and fun to play nines that play along the top of a mesa with fantastic vistas, through some boulders and unique rock formations, and across the desert with forced carries and deep arroyos. And it's home to the only island green in New Mexico. Click on the Review of the Boulder Course, Review of the Pinon Course, and Review of the Valley Course to learn why we liked each of these courses.

After 90 holes in 4 days, I was ready to soak in the huge jacuzzi tub at The Residence Club at El Corazon de Santa Fe. The Residence Club is an upscale well appointed townhouse in the heart of Santa Fe - unfortunately, we only got to enjoy it for less than 12 hours because the next morning we had to check out and head back to Albuquerque (40 minutes away) to play Sandia Golf Club. The Residence Club is a great place to stay because it's in the heart of Santa Fe and walking distance to shopping, excellent restaurants, several art galleries, and fun nightlife. Review of Residence Club.

We said our good byes to Bill and Barb, paid off my golfing losses, and thanked God that for the first time in many get togethers withl Bill, I was injury free, but a little lighter in the wallet! I may have preferred being injured than having to suck up my pride and turn over my golfing losses. From Santa Fe it was a quick drive south to Albuquerque to play Sandia Golf Club, where one of my college fraternity brothers was joining us. I quickly decided after my previous humiliation and after seeing Jack's swing on the range and his golf balls flying straight and around 250 yards, I would not be placing any bets with him.

Sandia Golf ClubAnother impressive course - Sandia Golf Club was the most upscale and meticulously maintained course we played - excellent service, colorful landscaping, nothing out of place, lush conditions, wide forgiving fairways, stunning views, and some outstanding holes. It's not surprising that it's Golf Digest's "Best Places To Play" and GolfWeek's "Top 100 Golf Resorts." Check out our review of Sandia Golf Club. After playing another fantastic course, I'm starting to think that I'm dreaming all of this and most likely had died and gone to golfers heaven.

For some reason, I was actually playing well on the first 4 holes at Sandia and I was keeping up with Jack. And since I usually play better on the back nine, my competitive spirit took over and we made a couple small bets on the rest of the round. My next tee shot was in the water, followed by several in the desert, and a large number in the bunkers. I was beginning a large collection of bunker sand out of my hair, shorts (yep, those shorts), and shoes to take home. Which means I ended up buying Jack and his wife dinner at a very good restaurant called Prairie Star.

After dinner, we checked into the Marriott Courtyard in Bernillio, which was close to our next course, and again tried to loosen up the sore muscles in the hot tub. I noticed that I deposited at least three cups of sand at the bottom of the hot tub. The Marriott didn't have a casino so I saved some money and got a good nights sleep before an early morning tee time at Twin Warriors Golf Club at the stunning Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa.


Oh, by the way, if you made it this far congratulations. Take a break, hit the restroom, and grab another drink. I guess I didn't make this article as short and sweet as I wanted to, but we're almost done. Just for reading all of this you deserve a gift, so send me your name and address and I'll mail you a Texas Outside Koozie to say thanks for hanging in there!

Twin Warriors Golf Club (review of Twin Warriors Golf Club) and the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa are fantastic and have won the following awards and accolades:Cascading waterfall at Twin Warriors

  • Golf Digest ranked them among the Top Indian casino owned golf courses in America and among the top 75 resort courses in the world
  • GolfWeek listed them as #4 in the “Top 10 New Mexico Courses”
  • Conde Nast Traveler’s listed the resort in the “Top 100 Golf Resorts in North America, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, Ireland, & Scotland” and had Twin Warriors as #50 in their top 100 courses
  • Golf Digest ranked Twin Warriors a the 3rd "Best Course in New Mexico" and the 49th "Best Course in America" in 2006

Twin Warriors is a true high desert course with lush fairways, perfect greens, lots of forced carries, deep arroyos, interesting rock formations, stunning views, and cascading waterfalls. I got to experience the cactus, plenty of desert shots, some steep and deep bunkers, and a few arroyos! Down another sleeve of golf balls and 4 more Advils and a few bucks to Jack. Plus after that much golf my golf glove was shot, just like my game. But I could and did buy another golf glove, but never found a golf shot or game to buy! Maybe I should just gamble, I know I am not a good gambler but at least it doesn't require Advil and nobody giggles and heckles me when I duff a shot.

Twin Warriors & Tamaya HyattThe Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa are as impressive as its golf course - a pueblo style well appointed resort with plenty of amenities and outdoor activities, some of which included: hiking and biking trails, tennis courts, 3 pools, riding stable, fitness center, 16,000 square foot spa with a variety of services, a couple good restaurants, Native American artwork and sculptures, and a outdoor patio with a stunning view, kiva fireplaces, and cozy furnishings. Wish I could have spent time in the fitness center trying to wear off some calories from all the good food and drink or in the spa loosing up the muscles which would surely help my golf swing. This was the first resort that we stayed at and the only one without a casino - which is good news, I saved some of my hard earned money and could now afford to treat us to a steak dinner and one more Pina Coloda. Click on the link to read our review of The Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort.

Tamaya Hyatt ResortBuy now my muscles, dry parched skin, chapped lips, and stiff back and body were starting to yell at me "hey, we've played 135 holes of golf in 6 days, had more Advil than we can count stuffed down our throat, still have some cactus needles stuck in our body parts, been blasted by sand, sprayed and rubbed with enough sun tan lotion to last a year and still got burnt, digested way too much green chili, beer, and margaritas - when can we call it quits and relax in front of the TV?" I whispered (I didn't want anyone see me talking to my body) hang in there, we are close to the end with only 45 more holes to play, and the longer we stay here we avoid the 106 degree temperatures - that seemed to satisfy them.

Santa Ana Golf Course with stunning views of the Sandia MountainsMonday morning after a hearty breakfast we checked out of the Tamaya Resort and took a short 5 minute drive to play 27 at Twin Warrior's sister course. Santa Ana Golf Club is a public course with three nines that have a little bit of everything that makes golf fun and challenging - forced carries, deep arroyos, elevated tee boxes and raised greens, water, strategically placed bunkers, great conditions, very affordable rates, and some stunning views of the Sandia Mountains plus a great green chili stew. Check out our review of Santa Ana's Star Nine, Cheena Nine, and Tamaya Nine.

We drug our bodies (notice the "our" - Mrs Texas Outside was finally starting to slow down - 'bout time!) into the impressive lobby of the Sandia Resort & Casino. We were greeted by a fierce looking Indian Warrior sculpture, walked past other life size well sculptures and art work into a mammoth foyer with one ending opening up the the ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching of the huge casino and the other end with a stunning view of the pool, cascading water fall and lush green and fairway of the 18th hole on Sandia Golf Course, and the stunning Sandia Mountains.

We checked in, opened the door to our room and our jaws dropped again - we had a huge living area with a floor to ceiling window on the 7th floor overlooking the pool, golf course, and mountains plus an oversized bedroom with the same large window. Oh, boy how did we get this suite?

Sandia Resort & CasinoSunset at Sandia Resort & CasinoView from our room at Sandia Resort & Casino

After we got over the wows and verified we were in the right room, it was off to the hot tub and pool to munch on some appetizers, sip some Pina Coladas, and watch the sunset turn the 10,000 Sandia Mountains crimson! It just doesn't get much better and the Pina Coladas were the best I've ever had - so I may have had a couple too many, which might have been the reason I only lasted at the craps table for an hour before I blew my tiny budget!


Sandia Resort & Casino is outstanding and well deserving of it's 4 star rating. Great food (try the steakhouse on the 7th floor at sunset!) and a huge buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffet; 140,000 square feet of your favorite casino games; lounges and bars with good live entertainment; a relaxing spa; a big fitness center that I never visited; a fantastic pool area; a stunning 4,000 person outdoor amphitheater where Santana was playing the night we were there; and of course the outstanding Sandia Golf Club. Click on the link to learn more about Sandia Resort & Casino.

University of New Mexico Golf course view of AlbuquerqueSeven down and one to go - I think I can make it! The Championship Course at the University of New Mexico was a perfect end to a perfect trip. I only wish I could have played it as well as I did when I should have been in class at UNM. I didn't remember all of the elevation changes, the stunning views of downtown Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Bosque, the lush green rolling fairways, the challenging green complexes, and some of the very fun holes - all at a very reasonable rate! Plus it was fun trying to par (ok, boggie!) some of the holes that Tiger and Phil Mickelson and several other pros played during their NCAA regional and national championships. Review of the Championship Course at the University of New Mexico.

It was depressing to stuff the clubs back in the travel bags and board a flight back to Dallas. Within minutes I was snoring and dreaming about returning to play these courses again.

When you schedule a time to play the Santa Fe Golf Trail, keep in mind that Albuquerque (elevation 5312') and Santa Fe (elevation 7260') are high desert destinations, which means the weather can be warm in the summer and cold with snow in the winter (bring your skis and ski Sandia Peak, Santa Fe, Taos, or Angel Fire). The good news is that it's always sunny, the winds are gentle, and it seldom rains on your game. The weather in Santa Fe is typically 10 to 15 degrees lower than Albuquerque.

Here is a link to the reviews of the golf courses on the Santa Fe Golf Trail and a link to the reviews of each of the New Mexico resorts and places we stayed during our trip to New Mexico.


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