Review & Rating of Black Mesa Golf Club in Espanola New Mexico
Designed by Baxter Spann and opened in 2004, Black Mesa Golf Club is a high desert links design that was chiseled out of the desert and meanders up and down the sandstone foothills of the Santa Clara Pueblo. Baxter has created a masterpiece that you need to add to your list of “must plays.”
Black Mesa is about 30 minutes north of Santa Fe and is a very challenging but fair layout that’s a blast to play with stunning desert scenery, fun holes, very challenging but fair, lots of variety, and a layout that you’ll want to play again, and again, and again – it just doesn’t get any better. In fact, one golfer we talked to, who was playing his second round for the day, said it’s his favorite course and he likes it better than Pebble Beach – except for Pebble Beach’s three ocean holes!
The first time we played Black Mesa in 2011 the conditions from tee to cup were near perfect and we rated the course close to a perfect 10. And we weren't the only ones who rated the course as one of the best. Some of the awards and accolades Black Mesa has received since opening include:
- for the 2015-2016 season Black Mesa was listed #5 in Golf Digest's "Best Courses in New Mexico"
- Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” – 35th
- Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses – #44
- Golf Week’s “Top Courses in the United States” – #50
- Golf Digest’s “Best New Affordable Golf Courses” – #1
As you drive up a dusty dirt road to the clubhouse, you may wonder what you're in for – but as soon as you see the terrain and a couple of the holes you'll know you're in for a special treat.
The fairways follow the natural flow of the land and traverse through the ridges and valleys leading to lush undulating greens situated in a box canyon or beneath rocky ridges. The contrast of the lush green fairways with the brown desert is stunning and when you add the rugged sandstone foothills, arroyos, unusual rock formations, and mountains in the background it makes every hole a Kodak moment. In fact, Links Magazine called Black Mesa "one of the most spectacular courses anywhere" and WorldGolf.com said "every hole could be a signature hole."
Just riding in the cart is a blast – the cart paths are dirt which blends in naturally with the layout and adds lots of character to Black Mesa. The cart paths twist and turn up and down the steep foothills and traverse though arroyos and up the hill sides on the way to your next shot. The cart ride reminds me of some of the ATV rides we took in the desert around Big Bend.
Every hole is different and we could spend hours telling you about each hole and how fun, challenging, unique, and scenic they are, but words won't come close to describing the course, you just need to experience it. A couple holes will give you an example of what to expect:
- on the first hole you'll have a forced carry over a pond, a blind shot over a ridge line, and a sharp dogleg left uphill past 4 bunkers (two of which are huge), an arroyo, natural areas, and unusual rock formations
- #3 is a long 603 uphill par 5 with a minefield of 9 bunkers
- #14 is 389 yards with blind shot off the tee and a huge mound and natural area splitting the fairway followed by a second shot down a roller coaster fairway to a 2 tier green
- #16 is called a "staircase to 7" thanks to a really steep trail up to a dramatically elevated tee box on this 536 yard all up hill par 5 – a 7 is the expected result
- #18 is a great finishing hole – a 429 yard par 4 that's tight and downhill with lots of opportunities to get in trouble – bunkers, dog leg right, arroyos, and more
Back Mesa Golf Club is long with 5 sets of tee boxes ranging from 5157 to 7307 yards and it's challenging with blind shots, forced carries, over 100 treacherous bunkers, sloping and heavily contoured fairways, significant elevation changes, and challenging green complexes. It's a fair course, but don't bite off more than you can chew and you'll need good club selection, excellent course management skills, some precise shots, and you need do whatever you can to keep the ball in the fairway. Make sure you study the GPS, the yardage card, and the breaks. The second time you play Black Mesa, you'll find it much easier.
New owners took ownership of Black Mesa in 2014 and prior to their taking over the course had been neglected and conditions had deteriorated significantly. The course was in very bad shape with the loss of fairway and rough grass, broadleaf dandelions taking over most of the grass, damage by crows and ravens in search of grubs, lack of water and fertilization, and greens that had turned brown and were about dead! The new owners are putting the funds and effort back into restoring Black Mesa to pristine condition. When we played in August 2015 the conditions had improved significantly but you could still see areas that were mending and in other places you see the progress made with lush fairways and perfect greens. The Director of Golf states that by the middle of November the course will be close to perfect on the conditions of the bunkers, greens, fairways, tee boxes, and rough. On our visit, Black Mesa was very playable and we could see the improvements made and envision what it looked like before the change in ownership. Don't let the conditions stop you from playing this outstanding course.
The fairways at Black Mesa range from wide open let it rip to tight and twisting. All of the fairways are heavily contoured with slope and mounds and some are like a roller coaster ride. The rough is wide and cut very playable but if you miss it you're in an arroyo or most likely lost in the desert.
The bent grass greens at Black Mesa still had some damaged areas when we played but they were playable and recovering nicely. They range from average to huge and have plenty of slope, contour, tiers, valleys, and more to make three putts common for me. Most are raised and you'll have lots of uphill and downhill shots plus they are all well guarded with bunkers. Black Mesa puts a premium on the approach shots. The greens hold the ball well and run true. And they are fun to putt.
The bunkers were also a work in progress and unfortunately they were wet from a recent rain. There are over 100 fairway and green-side bunkers but we found them relatively easy to avoid if we played smart. The sand is firm and gritty to help keep the wind from blowing it back into the desert. The bunkers ranged from small pot bunkers to some huge treacherous monsters and faces range from small to a couple feet.
Bottom line – don't miss an opportunity to play this fantastic golf course that's a blast to play, scenic, challenging, a reasonable value, and recovering back to it's excellent conditions.
I've kept the pictures from the first time we played the course in 2011 to show you what it will look like before the end of 2015.
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The pro shop has everything you'll need, the grill has some good food (sandwiches to dogs to a great chili cheeseburger), the service is great, and make sure you spend time on the range and putting green before heading out.